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11 May, 2020 - 20:00 By Tony Quested

Apartments scheme ’blossoms’ for prime Cambridge site

Plans have been unveiled to convert the former Carl Zeiss office building and land in Coldham’s Lane in Cambridge into a boutique development of 33 apartments.

Kirly Group Holdings, the Cambridge developer of the scheme, believes they will prove ideal for young professionals in the science & technology driven city.

Deputy chairman Marcus Johnson says the current timetable calls for a show flat to be delivered within three months and for all apartments to be delivered to occupiers next summer.

Kirly Group’s property development division saw the opportunity after Zeiss – a German developer of scientific optics – moved two Cambridge operations into one dedicated HQ building at Cambourne Business Park.

Johnson said: “We actually only saw this a couple of months ago but after the lockdown started negotiations moved very fast. We were keen on the site because the building is ideal for conversion. 

“It's in a great area close to the lake and when Marshalls moves there will be a whole new urban area with lots of facilities on the airport side. The setting in attractive gardens instantly attracted us and Cherry Hinton is in some ways the best bit of the city, being on the edge of the countryside but close to town. It is a lovely building and built to very high specifications.

“We bought the site last month and moved very quickly with the assistance of law firm Howes Percival who turned around the legal agreements faster than I believed possible. We actually agreed the price on a Thursday and completed at midday on Friday.”

The price paid is commercially sensitive and not being revealed but the offices were to let at well below £30 per square foot. The building sits on about one and half an acres of land and has its own access road from Rosemary Lane – another plus with a rapid development timetable in mind.

The current plans are for 33 units ranging in size from about 32 m² ( 344 ft.² ) and 43 m² (470 ft.²)  There may be one or two larger and one or two smaller but most will lie in this range, says Johnson. “We are aiming for mainly one-bedroom apartments but the current plans also include three studios.”

The target market? Johnson says: “We are expecting to attract young professionals who want to be close to the city, possibly attracted by the David Lloyd fitness complex across the road and the ability to cycle into town or into the country straight from their front door. 

“Although there are due to be 33 flats they are in four blocks and each block has a different look and feel; some have access to the private garden,  others have complete privacy and some have wonderful views. We aim to cater for a wide range of tastes but all apartments will be desirable and of high quality.”

Marcus Johnson

In an ideal world the group, which was founded by Nigel Brown of NW Brown fame, will have all the initial permissions and regulatory steps completed by the first week of June. 

The company is in final negotiations with builders so no specific prices for the apartments are fixed at this stage. But because the developer is spared the costs associated with a completely new-build but is reusing an existing building Johnson says the apartments will be “really good value compared to some of the city centre developments. 

“Provisionally we are expecting the smallest to be around £200,000 and the most expensive around £300,000 in today's prices. Quite how much inflation there is over the next year who can tell? The final sales prices will be set when we are further down the road.”

The development is bringing vital work to a number of local businesses, Johnson says. “The principal advisers, and indeed the inspiration for the scheme, are Bloomhall and  29 Architecture. 

“Jason Frost and Dawn Oakley have helped us in two other schemes in Cambridge and Dale Robinson is one of the fastest and most business orientated architects I have met. 

“Interiors and fit-out specialist COEL produced designs for the show apartment within a week or so of being asked. All the firms we use are local including Cambridge Security who keep the building safe.”

Johnson believes the timing of the development is a tonic for Cambridge as a place to live. He says: “I am convinced that this area of Cambridge from the airport to the lake and Cherry Hinton Hall is going to be one of the nicest residential suburbs of Cambridge.

“The need for accommodation for the science-based industries we are attracting is clear and Cherry Hinton is particularly attractive to those who will be working on the biomedical campus. 

“Whether people are working for Abcam or AstraZeneca or at Addenbrooke’s Hospital at the campus the need for reasonably priced accommodation within cycling – walking for the fit – distance is huge.”

Cherry Tree Apartments – named for the blossom-blessed local environment – will be the third office building where Kirly Group has applied for residential use from office use. 

One was on Tenison Road and the other one is on Newmarket Road. The company is also tentatively involved in a possible similar scheme in Norwich.

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