(updated 15/7/11, comment from Lancashire County Council added): Lancaster City Council is ramping up some improvements to Lancaster city centre which look sure to put a bit of shine back on its look.
That's the official word from Regeneration Officer Kate Smith, after virtual-lancaster raised concerns - shared by city centre businesses - about the recent replacement of broken paving stones with 'infill' tarmac by the County Council, who is responsible for most of the city's streets.
|Infill tarmac has replaced broken paving|
stones on Penny Street
"A team from Regeneration at the City Council made a presentation on progress of the 'Square Routes' project with some interesting developments in improvements to the street fabric which we will see take place later this year and early next, particularly centred on Market Square and Ffrances Passage."
Because Penny Street, where much of the remedial work has taken place, is an adopted highway, the County Council has responsibility for its upkeep, but Kate Smith says the County have advised that the tarmac infilling is a temporary solution and they are currently considering a full re-surfacing along Penny Street which may happen this year or next.
"The condition of the main pedestrian thoroughfares in Lancaster City Centre has significantly deteriorated over the years, mainly due to an increase in heavy goods vehicles using the pedestrian area to make deliveries to shops and businesses," Ian Welsby, Head of Public Realm for North Lancashire, told virtual-lancaster. "Our first priority has to be to provide a safe and level surface to prevent slips and trips, which is why tarmac has been used to make temporary repairs where we've had to remove damaged paving.
"We're currently working with Lancaster City Council to investigate a wider scheme to conserve the historic character of the city by replacing areas of existing paving with new paving of a higher specification, which can withstand the higher demands being placed on it."
Such work would sit well with the City Council's plans. It's now generally accepted that investing in quality public spaces generates economic benefits; it enhances visitor experiences, stimulates growth in the visitor economy, raises property values and helps to increase income and profit for local business.
"Whilst this is not our direct responsibility, the appearance and functioning of the city centre is clearly very important to us," says Kate. "For this reason, we've been working up an initiative called Lancaster Square Routes."
The Northwest Regional Development Agency awarded money to the council in late 2008 to prepare detailed design proposals to upgrade a number of spaces within the city centre. Lancashire County Council also awarded money to support the involvement of an artist throughout the project.
The council then sought comments from all users of these spaces, including residents, visitors and traders to help analyse and evaluate the current issues and potential opportunities.
"In 2009/10 we commissioned a design team led by consultants Gillespies to produce a series of detailed design visions for how key spaces and routes along the city centre's east-west axis could be transformed," Kate continues. "These visions seek to better connect the retail and commercial heart with the more cultural offerings towards the Castle and quay, and includes detailed designs for Market Square, Sun Square and Horseshoe Corner amongst others."
|Design for a new look Market Square|
Artists and architects Amenity Space worked alongside Gillespies to enhance these proposals, and created the video, above about the proposed improvements as part of the Lancaster Square Routes project.
"By investing in quality public realm, we're seeking to improve activity and therefore raise the social and economic performance of the city," Kate argues. "These visions constitute a programme of work that is variously deliverable over time as opportunities and funding permits.
"Each location proposed for improvement makes for a physical project that in turn can be disaggregated into work packages."
By breaking up the program, the Council can implement according to the availability of funding, the primary constraint on delivery.
"We have the funding in place to deliver a first phase of works to Market Square this autumn, completing before the Christmas period commences, and then undertaking works along Ffrances Passage early in the new year, edging into Gage Street if funding permits. Both of these will include surfacing and lighting improvements."
As Horseshoe Corner is one of the key spaces identified by Square Routes the City will be working closely with the County as they consider the Penny Street improvements - so hopefully that ugly-looking tarmac won't be there for too long.
Combined with a major refurbishment of St. Nicholas Arcades, the new look to Lancaster's historic centre, created in consultation with local people, looks set to really spruce up the city.
• More information, including the approved designs can be found at www.lancaster.gov.uk/squareroutes
• Lancaster's Fading High Street? Penny Street Photographs, June-July 2011