The Origins of the Civic Society
The Civic Society was formed in 1968 to fight the proposed plans to route the St Ives Bypass down Ramsey Road, across the Waits and Ingle Holt Island and then across the river to Hemingford Meadow. The siting of the St Ives bypass as it is today is as a result of our early campaigns. Since that time our interests have been many and varied. We continue to try and influence what happens in and around the town and work together with the Town Council and other organisations on matters of common interest.
Our membership continues to grow and presently stands at just over 400 households (over 600 individuals)
Read an account of the foundation of the Civic Society - 'The Watchdogs of St Ives' (Download PDF)
And in the beginning....
Bit by bit, this ancient, unique and beautiful town of St Ives was losing its character. Nobody in particular seemed to blame, nobody seemed able to do anything about it; but there was growing dismay not only among those who had loved the town all their lives, but equally strong amongst those who have come recently to St. Ives, choosing to live here because the town with its neighbourhood has a charm and character they do not find anywhere else. All saw that if St. Ives neglected its heritage it would sink, slowly but surely, into something mediocre, featureless, third-rate, a depressing repetition of a hundred other depressing places.
A small number of people who lived in or near St. Ives met on 11th July 1968 in a private house and there discussed the problem. It was decided that a Civic Society was the way forward and to call a public meeting.
The first public meeting 27 Sept 1968
The Mayor of St Ives opened the meeting. Members of the steering committee hoped for an attendance of about 60, but they underestimated the amount of public interest: about 150 people crowded into the hall and over 100 of them agreed to join the new society, which thus got off to a flying start. Mr Michael Green then addressed the audience speaking about the historic beginnings, the fine bridge and waterfront and the many fine buildings. He ended by talking briefly of the proposed western relief road a matter that his audience thought vital and it was agreed to call a Society meeting as soon as possible.
On 19th September the "Hunts Post" greeted the initiative with one of its rare editorials. From it we quote:
‘ for St. Ives means to make a proper study of what is best for the town in future. It is going about this business in a way at once intelligent, perceptive and commendable. It is going to form a Civic Society, whose terms of reference will embrace a broad study of the town, its people, its commerce, its buildings and its recreations. It proposes to hold meetings at which alternative courses of action can be studied and debated before decisions are taken; at these meetings there will be invited speakers, experts in their own fields, who will express either their own views or the views of the organisations they represent.
The Society wants its membership to embrace a complete cross-section of St.Ives life; in this way they reckon that ultimately they will be able to put their finger on what St Ives wants for St.Ives. And at some stage they may well make recommendations and suggestions to the statutory authorities. In this way St. Ives is hoping to avoid what has happened elsewhere - a development plan produced without public opportunity to study alternatives.’
So the first tasks of the society were:
a) to make a study of the Riverside areas and
b) to campaign to fight the proposed Western Bypass
Over the next months following a meeting in October, letters were sent to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government giving the broad grounds on which was thought consideration of an eastern route was justified. Articles appeared in several national publications supporting the same line and further meetings took place. On 21 November a letter was received from Lord Kennet, Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, stating he had invited the County Council and the Borough Council to a meeting to review the matter.
Discussions went back and forth and in 1972 an appeal to fund the Civic Society case for the Eastern Route at the public enquiry was launched raising £1321, of which £200 came in during the enquiry. The Civic Soc. were very brave to undertake this course of action as they had no idea of the overall total cost. However their actions were rewarded at the end of June 1973 when the Secretary for State ruled against the Western route and the rest is history.
So what of the present day?
The Civic Society examines all proposed planning applications whether they are from individuals who are planning house extensions or larger building projects from builders such as that opposite Waitrose or on the Permanex site, and comment if we feel it appropriate. Submissions are sent to the Town, District or in the case of something such as the Guided Bus project to the County Council.
Just a few of the planning concerns which we have influenced over the years:
The Conservation of the houses on the eastern side of Crown Walk, instead of a modern development the existing buildings were converted in 1976
No 3 The Quay (with its dutch gable) was in danger of being pulled down and was saved.
And just to remind you of how St Ives has changed:
1979 the development of the former Sheep Market ie Boots, Budgens.
1980 the By-pass opens – 12 years after the Society’s formation. The Free Church re-opens after alterations and refurbishment to form community facilities.
1985 The new Post Office in Bridge St opens (and closes in 1990).
1986/7 Broad Leas Court was completed.
1990 Waitrose opened.
1992 the new Library opened
In cases such as the Guided Bus project and closure of the Bridge Street Post Office we organise special meetings for our members and other interested parties to express their views.
We highlight problems such as poor drainage, pavements and traffic problems and act as a conduit to the various public bodies of issues brought to us by residents within our area of interest.
The society doesn’t just cover St Ives but also the surrounding villages of the old Rural District Council.
Many of the issues which affect our area require specialist expertise. In such cases we might commission someone to undertake a study and produce a report. This has happened recently in the case of the New Bridges causeway and the Guided Bus.
We are fortunate to have over 600 members and their subscriptions fund the very interesting monthly talks and any special projects. We always welcome new members.