Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District
HIGH STREET BOULEVARD
‘Grotty’ city centre stretch set for £630k transformation But market to be axed to make way for leafy avenue
The city’s busiest but ugliest shopping street will be transformed into a welcoming, leafy boulevard if a £630,000 facelift gets the go-ahead.
A scheme due to be put to councillors tonight (Thursday) reveals a major upgrade with a new ‘avenue of trees’.
It is being planned for St George’s Street which the council says urgently needs upgrading because of its tired appearance and the trip hazard of deteriorating paving. Officials also fear the area is currently giving a poor impression of the city and believe new trees will ‘soften’ the appearance of the street’s “unattractive post-war shop frontages”.
What they propose is a far more attractive, ‘de-cluttered’ re-paved street scene with an avenue of 14 semi-mature trees, new seating, space for public art and performance, a statue, new lighting, cycle racks and even a fountain. But a casualty of the revamp will be the market - where up to 40 stallholders are expected to permanently lose their pitches.
In a report to the council’s policy and resources committee, officers say potential new tenants of the Whitefriars shopping centre - now owned by the authority - are being put off taking up units because of the street market.
The centre’s operator New River highlights the stalls as a “primary risk to the operation of the shopping centre as it is seen as detrimental to the area.”
It is the second time the council has put forward proposals to revamp St George’s Street.
In 2016, it presented plans involving removing many of the trees, which met with opposition and led to the scheme being shelved.
But the urgency of implementing a new revamp is flagged up by officers in the report who say: “The need for improvements in St George’s Street is now even more acute to prevent the on-going deterioration of this part of the city centre and the impact it has on surrounding areas, residents, businesses and visitors.
“There is also the desire to ensure a vibrant trading environment around Whitefriars, which is now a council asset, against a background of changes to the national and local retail picture which is resulting in reduced footfall.”
They add: “Creative thinking is needed to provide a high street ‘experience’ that can be enjoyed by visitors and the local community so spaces become the focal point for social interaction, encouraging visitors to dwell for longer.” The re-paving will certainly be welcomed by shoppers, especially pedestrians with mobility difficulties.
The funding for the work, which is expected to take six months, is already set aside in the councils’ capital programme budget.
If the proposals are approved by the committee tonight, they will be put out to public consultation before coming back to the council for the responses to be considered.
‘The need for improvements in St George’s Street is now even more acute to prevent the on-going deterioration of this part of the city centre and the impact it has on surrounding areas ’
If approved as expected, the measures to upgrade St George’s Street will be further welcome investment in the city centre which has already seen improvements in Palace Street and Orange Street.
Two re-developments are also on the drawing board with the £25 million scheme to turn the defunct Debenhams site into 12 new shop units at ground level with 74 flats above, which was given planning permission in January.
Plans are also due to be submitted next month for the redevelopment of the redundant Nasons store site in the High Street.
It will include a retail arcade and market hall with public open space and 56 flats and serviced apartments.
The proposals have already been broadly welcomed when they were put out to public consultation last November and now a planning application is due to be submitted which includes some minor tweaks.
More than just shopping
The scheme for St George’s Street has been welcomed by Canterbury Society chairman Jan Pahl who says they are a “huge improvement” on what had previously been proposed. She believes it is vital that such a historic and visited city as Canterbury offers the best quality environment.
“At the moment it’s a complete mess and the market does look a bit grotty so it has to be welcomed,” she said.
“But it must include an experience rather than just shopping so it’s good to see these improvements not only include more trees but space for public art and performance.”
Frank Dicks, 78, left, out shopping in St George’s Street on Monday, told the Gazette: “I’ve just had a douhip ble operation and my wife has had a knee replacement, so it’s a trip hazard for us and urgently needs doing.”
One piece of public art being earmarked for St George’s Street is a statue of Christopher Marlowe, which is being planned by The Marlowe Society in Canterbury.
It is working with sculptor Steven Portchmouth to work up concept drawings which, if approved and the funds raised, would be installed near the St George’s clock tower. The structure is all that remains of the medieval church of St George the Martyr where Marlowe was baptised.
The statue will be a lifesize figure of Marlowe formed in metal which will stand on a York stone plinth.
The council has also been approached by Canterbury Rotary Club which is planning to commemorate its centenary by funding a sculptural drinking water fountain.
A potential area has been identified near the Longmarket end of St George’s Street, although it too would require planning permission.