Cllr Richard Cook is the Leader of Gloucester City Council.
Gloucester has recently been described by one of our local journalists as “outshining the South West”.
This comment was made in an article written by the journalist after he had participated in a tour of some of the City’s current regeneration projects – namely the Forum, Kings Square, and the University of Gloucestershire’s new city centre campus.
Beginning this current regeneration programme a few years ago, was the redevelopment of the old bus station, replacing it with an award-winning new transport hub. Across the road from the transport hub lies the train station, which has commenced redevelopment with a new exit from the car park and improvements to the existing access – using £6 million of funding through the Local Enterprise Partnership and Network Rail, with several more improvements still to come to the forecourt and station building. These improvements welcome visitors to the city.
Nearby, the Council spent over £5 million to redevelop Kings Square, a very large open space surrounded by trees and plants contained in beds which are bordered by granite features shaped to resemble the Severn Bore. The fountains in the square are an absolute delight for youngsters to play in. It’s lovely to watch as the children try, at first, not to get wet, but then end up thoroughly soaked. It is expected over time that the square will become a successful cultural delivery hub, as it is also overlooked by the Music Works and the Gloucester Culture Trust “Jolt” operation.
Kings Square will be overlooked by the Forum. A £107 million investment, it will comprise 125,000 square feet of grade A office space, a brand new 4* 131 room hotel to be operated under the banner of the IHG group, a new car park, a gym and some retail operators. It will feature all the latest sustainable building techniques, a green wall and will be largely powered by solar PV panels. It is expected that up to 1000 workers will be based in the office space when it opens late in 2024.
Other phases of the Forum development included residential opportunities. The first phase was of 19 high-specification apartments, all of which have now been sold. A further phase was made available to Gloucester City Homes who are currently building 26 affordable flats. A final phase of apartments to provide more local accommodation will be ready to commence in the near future.
On the other side of Kings Square is the former Debenhams building. This has been purchased by the University of Gloucestershire who are currently converting the building into their new city centre campus. They have benefitted from approximately £12 million of the Levelling Up Fund award received by the City Council a couple of years ago and are now on target for taking in their first student intake of up to 1000 students in September 2024 and expect to increase the number of students attending this campus to 4500 over the coming years. The city centre library is expected to move into part of this space too.
Nearby in the Cathedral Quarter the Council has been coordinating the spending of nearly £2 million funds provided by Historic England. This was to help provide grants to property owners in the area, helping them make improvements to their mostly historic properties. A wealth of medieval architecture has been uncovered, but some great work has seen many properties, previously empty, now converted into residential accommodation above retail.
In another nearby area close to the city centre, Rooftop Housing, a local Housing Association have agreed with the Council to build up to 300 homes, 200 of which are expected to be affordable, on a brownfield site on which the cattle market used to operate. Clearance of the site has been enabled through receipt of brownfield remediation funding. Behind the train station in another brownfield site; Eutopia Homes have recently received planning permission for another 315 homes on unused railway sidings. This is equally close to the city centre.
The Council has made it clear that they recognize that the city centre needs to have more residential occupation so that it doesn’t appear to shut after 5pm. They recognize that the city centre is no longer able to support a retail offering such as made up the city in the past, but that there has to be something else to come to the city centre for, and much of that will be student led, with professional opportunities in the newly built Forum to keep many of the students in the City after their courses. The Council has a focus on both heritage and cultural offerings, so that there will additional reasons for residents to come to the city centre, and with more people comes more opportunities for further investment.
I’m proud to live in a city which has so much to offer. Our city MP once described the city as “Being on the up”. It’s still got a way to go, but the foundation stones have been laid and our neighbouring towns and cities in the South West are having to put on their sunglasses.