Car park to be re­placed by ‘in­no­va­tion hub’

Plan for cre­ative use of town cen­tre space

Gloucestershire Echo - - FRONT PAGE - By CONOR GOGARTY

ASITE for of­fice space and per­for­mances could be built on a Chel­tenham town cen­tre car park.

Devel­oper Work­shop Group plans to use 31 ship­ping con­tain­ers to build an ‘in­no­va­tion hub’ on the 60-space car park in St Ge­orge’s Place.

There was con­tro­versy last Septem­ber when Glouces­ter­shire County Coun­cil closed the car park to the pub­lic and re­served the spa­ces for its own staff to use.

Af­ter wor­ship­pers com­plained of dif­fi­culty get­ting to the nearby Chel­tenham Min­ster church, the coun­cil gave them spe­cial per­mis­sion to use the car park for free on Sun­days.

But this ar­range­ment would end if Work­shop’s pro­posal was to go ahead, while the coun­cil would have to find al­ter­na­tive spa­ces for its staff to park in.

The hub would help ad­dress Chel­tenham’s “poor re­source of high-qual­ity, flex­i­ble and af­ford­able” of­fice space for start-ups and small busi­nesses in the cre­ative sec­tor, the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion says.

It also aims to tackle a “lack of high­qual­ity event and com­mu­nity space in Chel­tenham town cen­tre”.

The ap­pli­ca­tion points out the town’s 0.7 per cent an­nual rate of eco­nomic growth is 1.2 per cent be­low the na­tional av­er­age.

“The town can­not re­tain its young pop­u­la­tion and fails to at­tract young peo­ple from other re­gions due to a lack of work op­por­tu­ni­ties and un­af­ford­able of­fice space and hous­ing,” the doc­u­ment reads.

In a bid to re­verse this, Work­shop pro­poses a 1,703 sq m hub with more than 1,000 sq m of work space.

The site would have two floors and a rooftop gar­den pro­vid­ing “an area of con­tem­pla­tion”.

It would make use of 31 re­cy­cled ship­ping con­tain­ers, which “tread very lightly on the earth” and would not dis­turb any his­toric arte­facts that may be buried un­der the ground.

This is im­por­tant be­cause the area around the Min­ster, which as Chel­tenham’s old­est build­ing dates back 850 years, could be ar­chae­o­log­i­cally sen­si­tive, the devel­oper says.

The ap­pli­ca­tion in­cludes a bar, cafe­te­ria and a 263sqm per­for­mance arena.

This venue would be run in part­ner­ship with Chel­tenham Fes­ti­vals and Mu­sic Works.

Rec­tor Richard Coombs, of the Min­ster, said wor­ship­pers could have trou­ble get­ting to church if the car park is built on.

“Park­ing’s al­ways an is­sue for our con­gre­ga­tion as it is for any­one do­ing some­thing in the mid­dle of town,” he added.

“The coun­cil has been very gen­er­ous giv­ing peo­ple the con­ces­sion to park there for the 11am Sun­day ser­vice.

“Around 40 peo­ple at­tend the ser­vice, and they mostly drive.

“But it’s no more of a worry for us than it is for any­one else with busi­ness in the mid­dle of town.”

The Grade I-listed Min­ster, the town’s only sur­viv­ing me­dieval build­ing, would ben­e­fit from the scheme, Work­shop ar­gues.

The ap­pli­ca­tion says “the grounds and in­ter­con­nect­ing foot­paths are at times un­safe and have be­come a source of crime and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour”.

Chel­tenham bor­ough coun­cil­lor Max Wilkin­son (LD, Oak­ley) said the car park area is a “pretty ugly and un­der­used space in the town cen­tre”.

“This de­vel­op­ment will help make it into a much nicer space,” he added.

The coun­cil­lor re­vealed he has been work­ing to sup­port the “re­ally ex­cit­ing” plans for sev­eral years.

“It would make a huge dif­fer­ence to Chel­tenham’s grow­ing cre­ative sec­tor which we know is a huge part of the town’s pros­per­ity,” he said.

“While of course we have to be sen­si­tive to the needs of the wor­ship­pers of the Min­ster, I am sure an ac­com­mo­da­tion can be found to de­liver spa­ces for those who need them on a Sun­day morn­ing.”

Work­shop’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Bruce Gre­gory said his goal is to “boost eco­nomic growth for the area through the cre­ation of a unique, busi­ness-friendly ecosys­tem”.

He be­lieves it “will serve as an in­cu­ba­tor through which the town’s en­trepreneur­s and small busi­nesses can ‘flour­ish.’

“As well as this, a pro­posed state-ofthe-art per­for­mance space within the scheme will pro­vide a year-round plat­form for cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties re­sult­ing in in­creased foot­fall to trea­sured in­sti­tu­tions such as Chel­tenham Min­ster, The Wil­son and Chel­tenham Li­brary,” he said.

The town’s MP Alex Chalk has been heav­ily in­volved with the project. He said: ‘’I’m de­lighted that this ini­tia­tive is now pro­gress­ing.

“Chel­tenham needs cre­ates high qual­ity of­fice space to house the tech and cre­ative firms as part of my vi­sion for Chel­tenham as a na­tional cy­ber hub.

“We have to step up and gen­er­ate new em­ploy­ment and leisure op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cal young peo­ple. It’s time to make Chel­tenham a town of op­por­tu­nity for all. “

Chel­tenham Bor­ough Coun­cil, Glouces­ter­shire County Coun­cil and the Lo­cal En­ter­prise Part­ner­ship sup­port the plans.

Mark Shel­don, the bor­ough coun­cil’s di­rec­tor of projects, said the agen­cies are “work­ing to­gether to ex­plore the po­ten­tial of this pro­posal and its im­pli­ca­tions,and an ap­pli­ca­tion has now been for­mally sub­mit­ted to CBC for con­sid­er­a­tion by plan­ning”.

Mr Shel­don said the site’s eco­nomic growth hub would be funded by the LEP.

It would make a huge dif­fer­ence to Chel­tenham’s cre­ative sec­tor Coun­cil­lor Max Wilkin­son

Artists im­pres­sions of how the trans­formed site could look

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