Barnsley set to adopt new blueprint to tackle urban design

Barnsley is in an excellent position to respond to emerging trends following the pandemic with the opening of The Glass Works and the introduction of new diverse uses of the town centre.

With retail trends and consumer behaviours evolving, it is necessary for the town centre and its surrounding areas to continue to diversify. As demonstrated by The Glass Works, new businesses and activities add vibrancy and help to secure a sustainable future for the town centre economy.

The Council’s Cabinet will discuss a report on Wednesday 13 July, which recommends the adoption of a new Town Centre Design and Sustainability Strategy, drawn up by independent consultants following almost two years’ research.

Barnsley’s Cabinet is expected to refer it to Full Council for approval and, if adopted, the strategy will impact on future town centre projects and initiatives and be a material consideration in future planning decisions.

The Town Centre Blueprint looks at how Barnsley town centre can positively respond to the contraction of retail and how to tackle urban design issues including how to support the move towards zero carbon by 2045.

Online workshops and surveys with traders, shoppers, and residents have helped informed the plan with the work starting in December 2019.

Consultants URBED say that while many of the recommendations in the report are already in progress, like most towns across the UK, Barnsley needs to rethink its relationship with retail and look to a future town with more diverse uses.

When adopted, the strategy offers a major refresh of the 2016 Regeneration Plan by Arup. It is also supported by a delivery strategy that identifies potential projects and key themes and a Town Centre Action plan to ensure effective delivery.

The strategy suggests plans be put in place to ensure void units are turned to alternative uses, either through finding new uses or reconfiguring the town centre in some areas. This may mean being bold and courageous and repurposing empty shops and offices for residential, leisure, health and wellbeing or social enterprises.

The report adds that Barnsley, like all cities and towns post-pandemic, will need to be less dependent on retail and introduce more and diverse cultural assets, additional housing, civic services, events space, and workspaces.

As the town centre continues to recover from the impact of the pandemic, the report identifies how important independent retailers and family-owned businesses are to the identity of the town centre, and that these businesses be further supported to lessen the reliance on “big-chain retailers that are consolidating into larger urban centres and growing their on-line presence”.  

It suggests that developing a wider “indie town” outer core, with a focus on ‘reinvention’, could support diversification to independent retail and alternative uses.

Work to support independent traders is already well underway, as are plans to ensure the town’s employment space can meet the changing requirements of a post-pandemic workforce.

A cultural zone around existing cultural assets like The Civic, Parkway Cinema, Lamproom Theatre, Cooper Gallery, Experience Barnsley and improvements to Eldon Street, Church Street, Mandela Gardens could boost the early evening economy.  

Improvements to routes to the east of the town could improve connectivity to the Metrodome and to Oakwell Stadium, councillors will hear.

Housing could also improve under the plan by developing high quality housing in the town centre as well as in surrounding suburbs, bringing more people and families to live in the area which could benefit Churchfields to the north-west, Townend Roundabout, Pitt Street and New Street, with improved crossings over West Way. Townend Roundabout would benefit from a reconfiguration with detailed feasibility studies recommended as the next steps.

Green spaces would be improved, including larger green spaces around the periphery of the town centre. Smaller scale green sites, like pocket parks and green roofs as well as small growing spaces, could be included in the core of the town centre.

The report concludes that a sustainable Barnsley town centre should foster community, support healthy living, feel inclusive, be accessible to all, and be child and age friendly.

Leader of Barnsley Council, Sir Steve Houghton CBE, said: “We’ve made significant progress in transforming Barnsley town centre over the last ten years, creating new employment, and driving economic growth. The twin challenges of a drastically changing high street and global pandemic have tested every town and city centre across the UK, but Barnsley has withstood the challenge well.

“The Town Centre Design and Sustainability Strategy gives us an ambitious way forward. There are some tremendously exciting suggestions in the strategy, with many already underway, and it gives us something to aspire to when funding and investment opportunities are available.

“If we stand still, the borough’s economy will stand still, so we will continue to seek investment opportunities to support proposals like The Town Centre Design and Sustainability Strategy to make Barnsley a place of possibilities, where people want to live, shop, work, and socialise.”

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