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Gloucester city regeneration post Covid-19

CGI of regeneration of King's Square, Gloucester - night (George King Architects)

As the UK government is beginning to relax the lock down post the Coronavirus outbreak, towns and cities authorities are wondering how to attract visitors and shoppers to spend time and much needed cash.

Gloucester City Council leadership sat down with Future Cities Forum this week to discuss the announcement of a new cabinet member for economic recovery and the investment planning for continued redevelopment of the city.

An £85 million redevelopment scheme is being planned for the King's Quarter in Gloucester for offices, a hotel. leisure and a car park, while £5 million from the council will go to regenerating King's Square creating an open air performance venue also to be used for markets and festivals. Reef is developing the King's Walk retail scheme. Gloucestershire LEP (Gfirst LEP) is also investing £4 million into the renovation of the railway station - with Network Rail - which sits close to the new bus station and the hospital.

Head of Cultural services, Philip Walker, explained:

'The majority of our planned festivals and events have been postponed to 2021, but we are changing our approach to public spaces so that we can still create cultural attractions and activity despite the C-19 restrictions.

'We will be trialling through the autumn months different ways of running festivals....we are talking to an internationally acclaimed artist about placing art works at strategic points around the city, so rather than specific events we will have a cultural trail.

'We are also seeing what we might do with light festivals over an extended period. We hope these will make up an innovative approach to working with the restrictions, while bringing in high quality art and entertainment.'

Leader of Gloucester City Council, Councillor Richard Cook, added:

'The Quays retail and restaurant district has been an immense success. We had a record £8 million visitors during 2019, which shows how successful the regeneration has been. The opportunity to link the different areas of the city is stronger now. The bus station is now complete and has won an award. It resets the urban form of the entrance to the city centre.'

Director of Place, Ian Edwards, was keen to emphasis the importance of concentrating on good public realm in the future and to help way-finding:

'Gloucester is a very walk-able city but both the County Council and ourselves will be challenging how we can improve way-finding in the city, especially to connect the Quays to the rest of the city centre. The impact of the C-Virus on modes of travel may accelerate these plans. We are having conversations with Hartpury University (the specialist equine, agriculture and sports college), about how we link their students to the city centre by walking and cycling. It's an expanding university and one that wants to offer students a combination of city living and green spaces on the edge of Gloucester. There is a lot of student accommodation in the city for the two universities.'

Ian Edwards continued:

'We are working with Canal and River Trust and they have an ambitious water place strategy including use of river taxis. Parallel to that, we are developing many sites alongside Gloucester and Sharpness canal including our old HQ building, a former warehouse which dates back to the 1850's. This will probably become a hotel. New restaurants and bars are appearing further down towards the centre from the Quays and so will help with linkage to the city.

'Our centre has a core area of retail within the Roman city. In parts of Westgate we have stunning grade 1 and grade 2 listed but there is a 25% vacancy rate in the area. The challenge with historic properties is re-purposing them and our aim is to use these for economic benefit and we will bring these forward when we can. We have now got £1.9 million funding to restore public realm and we are looking to help with the Cathedral's Project Pilgrim part 2 by putting more residential into the centre. We own a lot of the city so we have opportunity to regenerate but where we don't it's a challenge.

Philip Walker explained:

'We are going to develop Blackfriars to engage a wider range of audiences and expand the under-used parts. It has one of the oldest examples of an intact medieval library in the world. According to English Heritage the Gloucester Blackfriars is one of the most complete Dominican priories to survive from the Middle Ages in England.

'We want to bring this Scriptorium back into use and invest in fabric of derelict bits so we can use it as a visitor centre and as a wedding venue, with enhanced access and to highlight heritage vale. The aim is to bring in temporary performers and festivals into the space.'

Ian Edwards described how the historic nature of the city can sometimes cause problems with delivery logistics but as a whole Gloucester has a strong future as a hotel and creative business hub:

'On logistics and shop delivery it's challenging as these historic buildings weren't designed to take so many deliveries. With pedestrianised streets you don't need the delivery yards at rear as drops can be made more easily at specific times from the front. We have a City Centre manager who makes sure that all works properly.

'There is tremendous developer and hotel owner interest in the city. For instance we have construction company Dowdeswell working with us on the Fleece Hotel to renovate this important high street asset.

'We want students to stay and make their careers here, perhaps as entrepreneurs. There is a tremendous creative stock of individuals who have had to leave Gloucester in the past as there was not enough supporting infrastructure. In the King's Quarter we have given a building at peppercorn rent to the Gloucester Culture Trust to make a hub for developing creative entrepreneurs. King's Quarter will be an urban village with workspace, residential and restaurants. We want this to have a mix of smaller businesses which will be more dynamic and better for the city rather than one large occupier.

Future Cities Forum thanks the council's leadership for their insight into this developing city.

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