Colchester's plans for change

PUBLISHED: 11:46 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:32 20 February 2013

A CGI image of the new contemporary art gallery, currently being built and planned to open in 2011

A CGI image of the new contemporary art gallery, currently being built and planned to open in 2011

New homes, new jobs and a cultural centre to rival any in Europe, Colchester <br/><br/>has a big future, says Nicky Adams


A new look for the next decade

AS Britains oldest recorded town, Colchester can be forgiven if, perhaps, it looks a little tired around the edges. While there is still much to admire about this garrison town, with its impressive castle, fascinating museums and beautiful open spaces, there are undoubtedly areas within its boundary that are ripe for regeneration and that is just what Colchester Borough Council, together with a range of partners, is planning. In fact Colchester is to be transformed with the creation of new jobs, homes, shops, transport links andcommunity facilities in four major regeneration areas in the centre, in the north, the east and the garrison.
Of course, this transformation will not be in any way instant. The slew of new jobs should reach the projected figure of 14,000 by 2021 and the planned 19,000 new homes will not be completed until 2023, but schedules are now being released and work is starting in earnest. Local people may even have spent time perusing the town centre displays showing the new face of Colchester.
Towns cant stand still, says Karen Turnbull, enterprise and tourism development officer for Colchester Borough Council. They have to grow, adapt and modify to bring character, variety and richness for the people who live there and those who visit. Colchester is Britains oldest recorded town, but here we say it is actually much more than that. It is a mixture of the old with the new and thats what makes Colchester such a wonderful place to live, study, work and visit.
Central to the plans for an improved Colchester is the Visual Arts Facility in St Botolphs. This will be the first public building to be opened in the town for more than a century and is intended to be a world-class centre of excellence and innovation for culture, education and learning. The good news is that it will be a community facility, and will be made available for the use of Colchesters residents free of charge.
The facility will be housed in a new purpose-built edifice, which will include spaces for art, learning and education, socialising, community activities, relaxing, eating, shopping and business. It is also expected to become a visitor attraction that will draw people from elsewhere in the region, the UK and even further afield, so stimulating the local economy.
A total of 25m has been committed to the project by funding partners inlcuding Arts Council England East, East of England Development Agency, Essex County Council, Colchester Borough Council, University of Essex and firstsite. It will be project managed by Mace and a schedule for development is to be announced shortly.
Firstsite is of course already operating from its current home
in the Minories, but the success of firstsite in Colchester over the past 15 years has been such that visitor numbers have soared from 12,500 to more than 80,000 and the building is unable to accommodate any more. The new centre will be fully accessible to all and will set the tone for a new Cultural Quarter for Colchester.

Towns cant stand still. They have to grow, adapt and modify to bring character, variety and richness for the people who live there
and those who visit

Colchester Borough Council launched an international development competition to find a development partner for this exciting new venture and as a result of that and public consultation, a plan from Ash Sakula/Garbe Group was selected to bring back to life many of the areas existing buildings including an old theatre now being used as a bus depot.
This will be a cultural hub for the town, a place where people can shop, socialise, be entertained, work and live. As well as a hotel, the quarter will have independent small shops and specialist boutiques, an arcade which could be used for a variety of purposes including specialist markets, music events and shows, a creative business centre offering low cost studio spaces and workshops, additional office space specifically for arts and cultural businesses, residential apartments and townhouses, public spaces, bars, cafes and restaurants.
Nearby will be a new shopping centre, on the site of the current Vineyard Street car park. Named Vineyard Gate, it will be a contemporary development that will slot into the existing town centre and have more than 65 new shops on four levels, including a major department store, as well as lots of places to eat and drink, good transport facilities and car parking.

Ready to go
The town will also have a new magistrates court which will be fronted by a hard-landscaped plaza that forms part of the eastern gateway to the town centre and usher visitors from the railway station towards Colchesters heritage route. Work on this building is due to start on site in February of next year with an anticipated 18-month build, while over the next two years 800,000 worth of improvements will also be carried out to the High Street with a focus on tackling congestion and providing a better environment for pedestrians and cyclists.
As part of these improvements for pedestrians, funding has been secured from central government through the Haven Gateway Partnership to upgrade the towns public realm, essentially open spaces for leisure and events. One of the first projects is to make the St Botolphs Priory ruins more accessible and attractive. This work is about to start and will open up a real asset to the town centre which has been relatively underused for many years.
There will be a lot of development work going on in the town over the next five years or so particularly, says Karen. Were aiming to give Colchester a bigger town centre to suit the increase in population and the expansion in the region. There might be a little bit of pain for residents and visitors while the work is in progress, but there are so many good things coming to Colchester that it will all
be worth it!

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