Stevenage town centre regeneration: What is changing?
PUBLISHED: 06:59 15 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:22 15 January 2020
Stevenage Borough Council has big plans for its £1 billion regeneration of the town centre over the next two decades - but what will it mean for the town?
Visitors to the town centre in recent months will have noticed a major increase in development activity.
So far, Market Place has benefitted from the introduction of a play trail, work has started on Queensway North - the former Marks & Spencer building - and the Town Square, which have both seen new retail outlets and leisure and residential facilities.
There have also been a number of private developments - such as Park Place - nearing completion.
Hundreds of residents have taken part in a number of consultations held by the council as well as private firms hoping to be a part of the huge redevelopment of the town centre, including Mace, which has recently submitted a planning application for the biggest development in the regeneration plans, called SG1.
Stevenage is set to benefit from the provision of up to £25m from the New Towns Fund to further develop its regeneration plans. All in all, there's a significant amount of activity taking place in the town at the moment.
The regeneration programme is a boost for those looking to see upgrades to the central areas of the town.
Across the country, town and city centres are facing challenges. Reports from late last year by PriceWaterhouseCooper revealed that around 16 shops are closing every day, the highest rate since the survey began in 2010.
In Stevenage, the regeneration plan is to revitalise the town, to provide a place for people to live, work, relax and play. This plan learns from studies like The Grimsey Review, that recommend kickstarting town and city centres by including a combination of shops, bars, restaurants and leisure facilities, creating a more vibrant town, more demand and a place to spend time both in the day and during the evening.
But how will the regeneration reshape Stevenage? Partnerships have been signed with organisations including Mace, the firm that built the Shard and the London Eye, and Reef Estates to deliver the major, 20-year, £1bn programme that's set to transform Stevenage.
Reef is currently redeveloping Queensway North while Mace - working in partnership with Ashe - has started work on the major upgrade of the Town Square in the past few months.
Mace is also delivering the single largest scheme - SG1 - which will transform the existing town centre, creating a new Garden Square, a new linear park at Southgate Park and a new boulevard in the centre of the town. Those behind the plans say The Hub is a key part of SG1 and will provide a shared space featuring a new library along with health, voluntary, council and other groups under one roof making services significantly more convenient.
Part of Queensway is under development, with contractors from Reef already on site in the former M&S unit and the adjacent buildings.
Work is also under way to upgrade and relocate the existing bus station to meet 21st century needs.
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The new interchange will provide bus users with a modern, heated, indoor waiting area and café, with significantly improved facilities, toilets, and live passenger information boards.
The relocation closer to the railway station combined with the introduction of new streets that are part of the SG1 development, will also aim to improve public transport links across Stevenage and beyond.
Stevenage Borough Council is set to submit planning permission for the new bus station, located in what is currently a car park south of the Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre, with hopes of opening it in 2021.
The existing bus station site will become a location for a new Garden Square in the heart of the town that will offer an attractive location relax and enjoy, with new cafes and places to eat and drink.
SG1 explained - the detail
The proposals for the SG1 project submitted by construction company Mace is set to cost £350 million and will come in a number of phases.
The large development - which will be financed by private funding and land sales - is due to begin its first phase this year, subject to planning permission.
If adopted, phase one will see the development of Swingate House and car park - the opposite Westgate multi-storey - the old police bullding and social services, which are currently derelict, and adjacent garages.
It will also see 760 new homes with a new Southgate Park.
The second phase, which will begin in approximately 2023, will see the development of the new Garden Square, located where the current bus station is.
Stevenage Borough Council has plans to move the bus station to a site south of the Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre, with hopes of completion by 2021 - subject to planning.
Phase three and four - set for 2024 and 2027 respectively - will include the development of the new public services hub and two new residential blocks and the demolition of the Plaza, council office, Mecca Bingo. The current library and ear clinic will be developed into 750 new homes.
Councillor Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council, said: "It is crucial that we adapt and improve Stevenage to help make the town centre a place for us all to enjoy.
"I am proud of the heritage of the town and looking forward to a bright future."
For more on the developments go to stevenage-even-better.com, or visit the Visitor Centre, which is open in the Town Square, from Wednesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm.
Consultations will continue to take place as planning proposals are brought forward, so that residents can have their say on the plans.