New moves to re­store the jewel in city crown

Gloucestershire Echo - - BUSINESS - ed­[email protected]­ Ed­ward STILLIARD

TAKE a walk down West­gate Street and the his­tory hits you al­most ev­ery­where you look. A me­dieval ho­tel, a for­mer theatre, the re­puted fam­ily home of Dick Whit­ting­ton, and a mu­seum where vis­i­tors can find a Tu­dor mer­chant’s house.

It is talked of by many as a jewel in Glouces­ter’s crown, but even civic chiefs ad­mit that one of the orig­i­nal streets of Glouces­ter is look­ing a lit­tle tired.

For many vis­i­tors it is the first of the city’s pri­mary streets they see af­ter vis­it­ing the Cathe­dral, Glouces­ter’s most fa­mous land­mark.

But many of them prob­a­bly would not know there is a for­mer theatre or a 15th cen­tury rest­ing place for pil­grims trav­el­ling to Glouces­ter.

Get­ting the his­toric street look­ing like it used to has be­come part of Glouces­ter City Coun­cil’s plans.

Re­cently, the author­ity was awarded £1.9 mil­lion to give the street some TLC. It is one of 68 high streets across Eng­land that will get a share of a £95 mil­lion pot known as the High Street Her­itage Ac­tion Zone, but civic chiefs are aware they need to give it a catchier ti­tle.

Some of this will go to­wards re­ju­ve­nat­ing the fire-hit grade I-listed Fleece Ho­tel, which could re­ceive the same treat­ment as some of the build­ings in Chel­tenham. But busi­nesses in the his­toric street and vis­i­tors to the city stand to gain from this pot of cash, too.

The grant will help bring about im­prove­ments on the street it­self, from The Cross all the way down to the Folk of Glouces­ter, for­merly known as the Glouces­ter Life Mu­seum.

One hope is for an in­crease in in­ter­est in the street through ar­chae­ol­ogy and ed­u­ca­tion.

At the end of it all, civic chiefs want to repli­cate the suc­cess of what has hap­pened in parts of South­gate Street, which have seen sym­pa­thetic restora­tion works car­ried out on sev­eral shop fronts and land­marks fol­low­ing pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion.

For the past four years, South­gate Street has been given a facelift as part of a £1.2 mil­lion project.

Eco­nomic de­cline had left the area greatly need­ing some in­vest­ment and the street look­ing unloved.

This project was de­signed to ar­rest that de­cline by sup­port­ing busi­nesses and land­lords to in­vest in their prop­er­ties, en­cour­ag­ing wider in­vest­ment and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

That led to civic chiefs restor­ing ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails such as win­dows, doors and shop fronts and en­hanc­ing prop­er­ties where ‘in­sen­si­tive al­ter­ations’ had taken place.

One of the big­gest changes has been at St Mary de Crypt church, which has come back into pub­lic use.

Hugh Worsnip, of Glouces­ter Civic Trust, said work in South­gate Street had “very suc­cess­fully” made the area be­tween the docks and the city cen­tre more at­trac­tive.

“If there’s a lot of old junk it means that peo­ple don’t find it very at­trac­tive,” he added. “It’s our pri­mary street. All the shops are chang­ing hands and we want to make them as at­trac­tive as pos­si­ble.”

What both the Glouces­ter Civic Trust and the city coun­cil want to see hap­pen through the cash is “to give more rea­sons for more peo­ple to spend more time here”.

Ian Ed­wards, head of place for Glouces­ter City Coun­cil, said: “It’s about re-pur­pos­ing our empty and un­der-utilised build­ings and re-pop­u­lat­ing the city with busi­nesses and res­i­dents, af­ter rais­ing the qual­ity in keep­ing with the am­bi­tion of the Fleece and the qual­ity at the Cathe­dral.”

One of the ways the cash will be spent is by help­ing busi­nesses do up shop fronts.

Mr Ed­wards added: “It will be the sort of scheme where we will put cash in, you put cash in, and we get a bet­ter job done.

“There will be match-fund­ing. Whether it’s 50/50 is yet to be de­cided.”

Get­ting peo­ple into the empty spa­ces above the shops is some­thing both Mr Ed­wards and Mr Worsnip want.

“We’re very keen that re­dun­dant spa­ces above shops should be used as ac­com­mo­da­tion so that the street is lively, so that the city isn’t de­serted at night,” Mr Worsnip said.

While get­ting more peo­ple to move into the flats above will help the hous­ing cri­sis, one busi­ness­man is not so sure it could work.

Mick Cant, of Glouces­ter An­tiques Cen­tre, be­lieves that grade I-listed build­ings, like the one his busi­ness oc­cu­pies, should be rate-ex­empt.

He said: “It costs us far more to heat this build­ing than a mod­ern of­fice build­ing.

“We can ei­ther let these build­ings go or use them, but to use them and main­tain is so very ex­pen­sive. The work that’s re­quired is phe­nom­e­nal.”

He is also not con­vinced that con­vert­ing the top floors of a build­ing into flats is so easy.

“The re­stric­tions placed on us are ex­tremely strin­gent and all that costs money,” he said.

Asked what he thought about West­gate Street, Mr Cant said: “It looks run­down be­cause you’ve got so many empty busi­nesses.

“For­tu­nately, not too many peo­ple look up­wards. You can see some quite se­ri­ous de­cline down this street,” cit­ing the for­mer char­ity shop next to The Sword Inn.

Paul James (C, Lon­glevens), leader of the city coun­cil, said West­gate Street was “our most com­plete his­toric street”.

“It does need some help to make it the jewel we know that it can be and I’m de­lighted we have been awarded this grant fund­ing to help it reach its full po­ten­tial,” he said.

“The award also in­cludes fund­ing for The Fleece, which will boost the ef­forts we are al­ready mak­ing to re­gen­er­ate this im­por­tant site.”

The grade I-listed Fleece Ho­tel, and inset left, looks a sorry sight to­day but is set to be re­ju­ve­nated

Mick Cant, of Glouces­ter An­tiques Cen­tre

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