A regeneration project as large and complex as the ESG one for Hereford, further complicated by the historic nature of the city itself, is bound to throw up a multitude of questions. It is only natural that people, whose lives and businesses are inextricably linked to the city, will have concerns about such a large scale redevelopment and the impact it will have on the city and their own lives. The big question, though, is does Hereford have a future without this major investment programme?
Here we try to answer some of the more likely questions.
Q. Can Hereford sustain such a huge influx of new shops, and what effect will it have on the existing retail centre?
A. It’s a fact that an extremely high % of non grocery household expenditure in the local area is spent in towns outside the county. A lack of investment in Hereford’s city centre for many decades is responsible for this. The modern shopper expects a much wider range and quality of shops, a blend of big name High Street retailers and niche independent shops, restaurants, bars and leisure facilities such as a multi screen cinema. The new look Hereford will have all this, and more importantly, the new development will dove-tail neatly into the historic core of the city, thus bringing renewed prosperity to the city as a whole.
It’s also a fact that Hereford needs to expand its retail offer. This is a firm commitment in the city’s planning policies and if this expansion doesn’t go right next to the existing core area, it will end up in retail expansion at out of town sites like Holmer Road which would do far more damage to the centre.
The reason car dealers, shoe shops or banks all tend to cluster together is that they know that as a large group, even though they may compete, by being together, they will all have the chance to trade with a larger number of customers. It’s no different on a city scale, so adding the major high street names which people need to go to Worcester, Cheltenham and Cardiff for will attract more shoppers for all the existing stores in the city.
We also need to plan ahead for the major expansion of housing elsewhere in Hereford over the next 15 to 20 years when the population will grow very significantly.
Q. No one wants Hereford to lose its special/unique character. How will this be safeguarded?
A. From Day 1, ESG has been committed to designing a scheme which would be in harmony with the existing city centre, fusing the old and the modern into one new and vibrant city centre. Stanhope, the appointed developers, have stated: ‘The new development should retain the special character and charm of the city, be a natural extension of the town which maximises the opportunity for accessibility to the historic core. Hereford’s unique identity is to be treasured and preserved at all costs.’
Q. Will local independent retailers be able to afford the rents of the new units?
A. Whilst there can be no ‘special treatment’ offered to one set of retailers against another, local independent businesses will have every chance – and encouragement – to take advantage of the great opportunity the project offers entrepreneurs. Having said this, we are also keen to see the existing centre remain and grow in prosperity. Independents in the existing centre are a key part of making sure this happens.
Q. What help will be given to help those businesses forced to relocate to make way for the development?
A There will be about 40 businesses directly affected over a number of years, in a carefully planned way. ESG is already working closely with the first of them to ensure a smooth transition to alternative sites. One site, Three Elms Business Park, has already been bought by Advantage West Midlands, and will be redeveloped for the displaced companies and negotiations for a second site are underway. For many, the enforced move can be seen as an opportunity to expand and develop their business.
Q. In view of the current financial crisis, will the money be available to complete the scheme, or will there be cutbacks, thus reducing quality and standards.
A. There is no doubt that the current global credit crunch is affecting us all and ESG is no exception. However, history shows us that economics moves in cycles, and whilst conditions are bad, there will be an upturn. As the ESG project will still be on the drawing board for some time yet, we are not affected the way other cities are, where developments have already started. This means that we can position Hereford to be ready to benefit from the better times, and get all of our final preparations in place now.
The public funding from AWM is in place, as is Herefordshire Council’s land bank, so we are fortunately able to get on with work on solving the flooding problem, designing roads and other preparations. We also chose our development partner with care. Stanhope has consistently maintained that it is looking at the longer term view and has been around long enough to see through tough times before.
Q. But, if people can no longer get mortgages, does this put in jeopardy the building of 1000 new homes in the urban village?
A. The building of the urban village is phased over a 10 to 15 year period which will allow our housing partner, yet to be appointed, to build at a rate conducive to demand, and a third of the new homes are classed as ‘affordable’. Also don’t forget that homes won’t be ready for sale for a few years yet, so we are confident that when we are ready, demand will be there. We expect to start building in 2011.
Q. Will the new link road be completed before work starts on down grading Blueschool/New Market Street. Or will the city face yet further traffic chaos?
A. Building the new link road is the first step and the re-configuration of Blueschool/New Market Street to single carriageway will not start until this is completed. Every effort will be made to minimise the impact on traffic flow during the redevelopment work, but it must be recognised that this project does not set out to cure Hereford’s inherent traffic problems. The fight for a by-pass will continue. Who knows, the success of Hereford as a regional shopping and business centre in the future could well persuade Government that the case for a by-pass is a right one.
Q. What priority is being given to building both north and south park and rides so that they are completed ahead of the loss of car parking at Merton Meadow?
A. Herefordshire Council has already announced that the Northern park and ride will be built at Holmer. Meanwhile, the search for a site to cover the Southern approaches continues. The northern site will be operational before road building starts, to help with the planning of how to manage traffic. We are hoping to get a programme from Herefordshire Council shortly for when the southern park and ride will be available and ESG will be doing its bit to help with this.
Q. Merton Meadow and other parts of Widemarsh are regularly hit by flooding. Is it wise to building houses here?
A. Our engineers have been working on this problem for over two years and have come up with a solution. This will entail channelling floodwater from the Yazor Brook directly to the River Wye before it reaches Hereford. This won’t just solve the flooding for new houses. Many homes, other buildings and the northern side of the hospital complex are already blighted by this problem. ESG will be solving that to benefit people that already live and work in Hereford.
Q. What happens to Hereford United’s Edgar Street stadium?
A. It remains where it is, directly adjacent to the new retail/leisure quarter on the old livestock market. Hereford United’s promotion to Division 1 is a bonus for the regeneration project, as it will bring in many extra thousands of football fans, most of whom will take the opportunity to shop and enjoy the other family style facilities the revitalised city centre will offer. ESG is talking to both the club and the company which will be redeveloping the ground about the commercial opportunities of redeveloping the stadium.
Q. But what about car parking for the football supporters if Merton Meadow is to be built on?
A. A new multi-storey car park, with twice the capacity of the existing Garrick House one, is being built on the retail quarter. But it will be cheaper and more practical for the supporters to use one or other of the two proposed park and ride car parks.
Q. In view of Hereford’s traffic congestion, what other plans do you have to ease the problems?
A. Solving Hereford’s traffic problems is not a specific role for ESG, but we recognise, as does Herefordshire Council, that the issue must be tackled and solutions found. Throughout the whole 100 acre redevelopment site, we have planned cycle and pedestrian routes linking directly to the city centre and to the railway station. After listening to public comments on the Masterplan, ESG is now planning to create an innovative and sustainable Transport Hub alongside the railway station as a centre for all forms of public transport, from buses, taxi to hire cars and bicycles.
Q. No one likes the name ‘Edgar Street Grid’ In marketing terms, it is vital to have a ‘brand’ name that the public can relate to?
A. Later in 2008, we plan to ask the public what the names of the new streets in the area should be. We have also already dropped the name "Civic Quarter" and will be looking for a new name for that area. But we don’t think the Retail Quarter should be named because we have agreed with Stanhope that all promotion for this development will be city wide, getting more people to come to Hereford, old and new. As for the new housing, "Blackfriars" has already been adopted.
Q. Many of us participated in the public consultation process following the launch of the Masterplan last summer. What has happened since?
A. ESG has taken on board many of your views and concerns, and the amended Masterplan will be presented to a further public meeting on July 8 at The Courtyard. You can attend the meeting, but will need to register first by contacting Julia@esgherefordshire.co.uk to reserve a seat. The Masterplan, in general terms, has won the support, not only of the local population, but also of several august bodies, such as the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and English Heritage.
Q. What happens now?
A. Now we get down to the real nitty gritty of design work and preparing planning applications for each phase of the development. The public will be consulted at each stage. In the autumn, plans for the retail quarter and the flood alleviation scheme will be put forward for public debate, prior to applications to the Planning Authority, as will the concepts for developing the Catherine Street area, and the new Transport Hub. The selected partner to develop the 1000 home Blackfrairs Urban Village will be announced in summer 2008, followed later by an exhibition of their ideas for the village. There will be workshops covering various aspects of the work over the coming months. Again, you can register your interest in attending. To help broaden the scope of public involvement in the project, a Stakeholders Forum, with representatives from a cross -section of local groups, has been set up and meets regularly. Any organisation wanting to be represented on the Forum should contact Julia@esgherefordshire.co.uk.