Cirencester Town Council pre-empted the changing face of the high street in 2007/08, when the community plan ‘Our Future Cirencester’ was published; whilst we didn’t pre-empt the radical change in shopping habits, we did want to regenerate the town centre so that it was fit for purpose in the future.
In 2017, the Town Council delivered radical change and received a national civic voice award; the judges commended us for taking the lead in tackling a difficult problem head on and “reclaiming the historic centre of the town for people and not cars. The Market Place scheme demonstrated the power of urban design in helping to enliven our historic high streets and sets an example for conservation areas across the country”.
The aim was to reduce unnecessary through traffic and improve access; creating a high quality public realm to accommodate market growth and community events. The town centre is now much enhanced and well used, it is the civic heart of Cirencester and was carefully designed to weave the space into the existing and changing fabric of the historic town centre.
Following the Grimsey Review in 2018, the Town Council partnered with Cotswold District Council to lead on the master planning of the town centre.
In January 2019, we jointly hosted a ‘Cirencester Futures’ conference which focused on the changing face of the high street; in part the focus was on identifying immediate needs and issues but we also wanted to influence and shape planning policy.
An artist was commissioned to capture the day’s presentations and plenary discussions:
Soon after, when House of Fraser vacated the town, we explored opportunities for a joint public/private project; and also commissioned a public transport demand study.
We recognised that as retail on the high street changed, our emerging town centre had to be community-led. It has to be the hub, the beating heart. There are many in our community who are lonely or live on their own. From young people to the elderly.
Being able to access the town centre and having a reason to visit is therefore vital; it may be the only contact someone has in their week and why our focus has shifted in seeking to create an experience and a community hub:
We have been resilient and robust in our response to COVID, creating on-line shopping directories and providing emergency funding and resources to the local community.
Our markets are now back and as non-essential retail and leisure begin to re-open we are exploring with Cotswold District Council how, through social distancing measures we may be able to change the way in which people access and move around the town centre on a permanent basis.
In looking forward, as to what the new normal looks like and using this opportunity to respond proactively to the wider climate emergency, we have set up a range of community led thematic groups to consider critical issues, as part of preparing a neighbourhood plan; we remain optimistic for the future of our town.
Andrew Tubb, Chief Executive Officer
Cirencester Town Council
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