Building for the future in… Chelmsford
PUBLISHED: 12:19 16 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:19 16 September 2014
With plans afoot for the development of Essex County Cricket Ground among other areas in Chelmsford, Nick Dines assesses how the city will change in the coming years
Outsiders often think of Chelmsford as the county town of Essex, birthplace of radio, its outstanding grammar schools and the V Festival, yet with the annual migration to Hylands Park over for another year, the city’s unprecedented level of regeneration has become the new talking point.
An area rich in history, Chelmsford recognises its heritage, yet its challenge is to successfully fuse its thriving traditional Roman market town roots with an exciting contemporary impetus and the award of city status in March 2012 appears to have heralded a swing in momentum for greater investment.
A fine advertisement for Chelmsford over the years, almost 50 years on from first settling into their current home, the community-friendly Essex County Cricket Club finds itself on the cusp of an exciting era.
Wherever you find yourself in Chelmsford city centre, ECCC’s County Ground floodlights are never far from view. Now joined by the addition of a substantial crane, things are on the up.
Working in unison with development partner MCD, the County Ground and its surroundings will eventually be transformed into a modern cricket venue, increasing capacity to 8,000 seats and revitalising the club with a new media centre, pavilion and conference facilities.
The ambitious multi-million pound scheme also vows to vastly improve pedestrian connection between the ground and city centre, thanks to a new footbridge across the River Can towards Central Park, complemented by a bustling thriving public piazza.
Central to the development will be four high-quality residential towers, comprising more than 300 high specification, one and two-bedroom apartments overlooking the action at the crease and boasting desirable panoramic vantage points.
While planning permission for the landmark project was initially granted back in June 2010, the first phase of Kier Construction’s build is now underway with the construction of the residential apartments adjacent to the river.
Akin to a batsman aiming for a century, patience is always required throughout the initial phase to reach the end goal. As Chelmsford City Council’s Inward Investment, Economy and Growth Manager Stuart Graham declares: ‘It will really cement the cricket club’s position as a key facility in the city centre.’
Coping With Change
With an estimated city population of 192,000 by 2022, housing is one of the focal points behind Chelmsford’s redevelopment plans. Bidwells, one of the UK’s leading property consultancies, is currently involved in one of Chelmsford’s major housing developments, City Park West, which will instigate a vibrant new community in the very heart of the city.
The dynamic Genesis Housing Association development, which ➤ remains sensitive to the city’s historic fabric, will provide a much-needed creation of homes in an extension of Central Park, redeveloping the former Anglia Ruskin University central campus site.
Delivering 219 homes along with commercial and retail space, phase one of the build, due for completion by March 2015, will be supplemented by the recently submitted phase two. This will provide a further 386 high-quality residential units across an array of living tenures, as well as in excess of 57,000sq ft of commercial space.
‘One application such as this can generate a huge amount of business from associated professions,’ Bidwells partner Ray Houghton enthused. ‘There’s certainly an increase in the vitality of Chelmsford and a new-found confidence.’
Witnessing the transformation on a daily basis directly opposite the firm’s Duke Street offices, Ray added: ‘Chelmsford is establishing itself effectively as an excellent tertiary sector and there’s a demand now for really high-quality commercial buildings, where you’ve got quite a few independents moving out of London to set up here.’
Fast-forward to the future and Ray foresees a dilemma, with family housing increasingly in demand. ‘We have a green belt and we need to protect that, but it’s important that we take a brave view on the future and support our young people for future generations.
Planning, rightly so, has to be a very thorough process. We’ve been working to ensure what is delivered is what people actually want locally and isn’t just a pretty picture on an architect’s drawing board.’
With more than 7million passenger journeys per year, Chelmsford Railway Station is one of the busiest in the South East of England. Commuters will reap ➤ the rewards of the extensive multi-million pound modern facelift, which has seen Greater Anglia invest £3.2m in station upgrades, improving capacity, facilities and circulation.
Whether by rail or road, Chelmsford boasts convenient and swift transport links directly into Central London, carrying train commuters into Stratford in 24 minutes and Liverpool Street in 34 minutes.
You can add to the equation the swift access to the M25 via the A12 and that Stansted can be reached in 25 minutes and Cambridge in 45 minutes, but the flipside is the potential to lead locals away from the amenities on their doorstep.
Already blessed with existing shopping complexes The Meadows and High Chelmer, as well as the pedestrian-friendly high street, when word spread of the future arrival of major retailer John Lewis, social media buzzed.
With work finally expected to begin in the early part of next year on the flagship development, a project that would also see the arrival of a new cinema, retail shopping units and popular chain restaurants, Chelmsford could be projected into the upper echelons of the UK’s retail league tables.
‘We want Chelmsford to be the most successful retail centre in Essex and the John Lewis development will help us achieve that,’ admitted Stuart from Chelmsford City Council. ‘That will be a major jewel in the Chelmsford retail crown, as shoppers flock from far and wide, and it will have wider benefits for adjoining retailers. It’s also giving confidence that Chelmsford is a good place to open a business.
‘As a council we work closely with businesses, the development industry and Essex County Council to try and make Chelmsford a vibrant new city, which is a great place to live, shop and socialise in. The more varied we can make the city centre, the more likely we can hold on to locals and also attract those from surrounding areas.’
Another sight for sore eyes is the welcome return after 16 years of a Waitrose to Chelmsford, with construction of the upmarket store located on Victoria Road due to begin this autumn.
Alongside John Lewis and Waitrose, the future arrival of such high street establishments as Jamie Oliver’s lauded chain of Italian Trattoria restaurants are a significant coup for the city.
Witnessing developments with a vested interest, Sian Hurrell, manager of The Wine Cellar Bar & Bistro on Duke Street, enthuses: ‘Anything that brings more people into Chelmsford is a good thing. If one particular sector does well, everyone hangs onto the coattails, propelled upwards with momentum.’
Posed the question of whether investment would have happened if Chelmsford hadn’t gained city status, Stuart admits: ‘It puts us on the national map and means investors are looking at Chelmsford more seriously now, which has helped with our plans moving forward. After years of planning, it’s exciting to see sights coming out of the ground for new homes and commercial developments.’
Billed as an integral period in Chelmsford’s history, becoming not only a first-class retail destination, but also a vibrant living location, it looks like The Sunday Times will be continuing to list burgeoning Chelmsford as one of the best places to live in Britain. n