Review: Town centre regeneration and refurbishment

The first phase of the Glass Works project in Barnsley involved refurbishing the market hall, and integrating that better into the town centre should help anchor the next phase, finds Clare Plant.

A modern environment has been created for the market (PIC Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council)
A modern environment has been created for the market (PIC Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council)

The Glass Works project is a 3.8 hectare, £130 million town centre regeneration scheme, funded by Barnsley Council and supported by developer Queensbury and Henry Boot Construction. The first phase, which opened late last year, included the refurbishment of the town’s long established indoor market, as well as a new library and community hub. The second phase, due to open in late 2020, is to provide cinema and bowling facilities, as well as restaurants and shops.

Barnsley Council has long taken the lead in the challenging process of rejuvenating its town centre. Its vision has not been simply to enhance the retail offer, but also to secure socio-economic benefits, including around new 1,100 jobs by 2025, and encouraging new visitors into the town. This continuing vision and the economic commitment to finance the scheme has seen the project progress despite challenging economic circumstances.

Connecting spaces

The market has been a key feature of Barnsley town centre since the thirteenth century, and the project sought to reassert its role and connect it into routes across the centre. A fundamental element of the current scheme involved an early review of the original masterplan. It resulted in the clearance of vacant buildings in order to reconnect historic routes through the centre. This also improved accessibility to newly created spaces, including the multi-level market hall. The new market hall is now integrated with the wider town centre, with open access from Cheapside and Market Square.

The approach also ensured that the upper level of this space did not become stagnant, which often happens in traditional market hall layouts. The refurbished spaces were also adapted to meet modern access requirements and improve legibility, increase footfall and encourage use of the public realm. At the centre of the market is an atrium which is now a flexible space designed to accommodate events and pop-ups.

In the current technological era, the Glass Works project team also applied innovation to engage the local community in the regeneration process. During the construction period, a number of events were run that offered virtual reality (VR) tours of the proposed space using VR headsets. This ensured that people’s connection with the spaces was not lost as buildings were demolished or altered.

Delivery challenges

Within the context of the challenging modern retail sector, delivery of the scheme has not been straightforward. The council’s original development partner pulled out in 2013 and despite extensive remodelling of the scheme, as late as 2018, the council placed the Glass Works on its strategic risk register, due to escalating construction costs and difficulties in securing retail occupiers.

However late last year, the council secured £7.43 million from the Sheffield City Region Mayoral Combined Authority’s local growth fund. The funding will be used to deliver the new shops and restaurants, offices, and the demolition of a multi-storey car park in the second phase.

The overall success of the scheme will only be known in time but the integration of uses within the remodelled town centre space, together with the blending of new technology and traditional town centre uses, is a bold step towards addressing our failing town centres. The markets will serve as a stronger anchor to the town centre, providing more variety and a more evolving offer than traditional department stores, which have in any case fallen on hard times.

Clare Plant is a director in planning consultants DLP’s Sheffield office.

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