Sharper focus Plans for Hereford’s Edgar Street grid are being revised to integrate it more with the city centre, and open the way for the appointment of a preferred developer for its retail element. Adrian Morrison reports

The continuing saga of Hereford ‘s Edgar Street grid regeneration took another twist last month, when the urban development company responsible for it decided on a radical revision to its masterplan.

Plans for the 100-acre site north of the city centre are to change to address concerns about the development’s effect on the city’s retail pitch and to meet untapped office demand.

The board of the UDC, ESG Herefordshire, agreed on 26 June that a revised masterplan should have a “much sharper commercial focus” with a greater emphasis on urban design and increased density.

Jonathan Bretherton, chief executive of ESG Herefordshire, says:

“Hereford has the opportunity to maintain its place as a major centre in the West Midlands. But if it does not take these steps, it is going to go into decline. It has to reinvent itself”.

ESG Herefordshire plans to issue the revised masterplan in the autumn after a number of studies and consultations have been carried out. Around the same time, it plans to begin the process of identifying a preferred developer for the project’s retail element – which will not be affected greatly by changes to the masterplan.

ESG has decided to make revisions now for several reasons. First, the urban development company only appointed a chief executive, former chartered surveyor Bretherton, in February. After that, the board set about dealing with the thorny issue of how to regenerate the ESG area without creating competition with the struggling city centre.

More significant, however, was Herefordshire council’s decision not to relocate to the proposed civic quarter, and what uses should now be brought to the area.

To address these issues, the revised masterplan will introduce a mixed-use aspect to the former purely retail development of the cattle market, which the ESG includes.

It will look at improving the proposed link between the ESG and the site to the city’s retail pitch by creating a “dumb-bell” that will bridge the inner ring road’s “concrete collar”.

The retail quarter is to be extended by three acres to strengthen its connection to Widemarsh Street and provide what Bretherton refers to as a “sharper commercial focus by increasing footfall through the whole retail area.”

Jon Turner, director of Hereford surveyor Turner & Co, believes the revised proposal is sensible, although he is adamant that a supermarket is required to release value in the ESG.

“I have been trying desperately to get a fitness centre into Hereford, and it is very illuminating that national operators don’t want to be here”, says Turner. “Similarly, a multiplex cinema. But are there any operators that want to come here?” he asks.

As significant is the council and the UDC’s desire to create a city centre office market in Hereford. ESG Herefordshire believes it has identified up to 25,000 sq ft of latent demand from the professional sector. The city does not have an office market as such because rents languish around the £10 per sq ft mark and decent sized opportunities are rare. Bretherton believes the ESG area can provide the space and push rents up to £15 or £16 per sq ft.

Turner is sceptical that any private sector developer will build speculatively in anticipation of a 50% rental uplift. However, he says: “In fairness to ESG Herefordshire, it is raising the bar and trying to get to where Worcester is. But it will have to consider selling plots so businesses can develop their own offices”. In addition, ESG Herefordshire wants to persuade the local primary care trust to develop a 54,000 sq ft office in the civic quarter. It also wants to attract a library and cultural centre.

The revised masterplan, which will incorporate and enhance the ruined Black Friars Priory, will also look to increase the number of homes in the urban village from between 600-700 in the original proposal to 1,000. This will involve creating higher density developments as well as extending the spread of units. There will be a 35% affordable housing allocation.

Referring to funding for the regeneration project, Bretherton says: “The public sector is putting in up to £50m, of which regional development agency Advantage West Midlands is contributing around £20m”. However, he adds: “This amount is subject to the usual private sector gearing. I wouldn’t like to say an exact figure, but it will be very significant – as high as we can get it”.