Case study: Regenerating a city's former industrial quarter

With its mix of uses and accompanying improved route to the city centre, Leicester's Great Central Square forms a gateway to the Waterside regeneration area, Josephine Smit finds.

Great Central Square has become part of the Leicester cityscape (PIC Morgan Sindall Construction)
Great Central Square has become part of the Leicester cityscape (PIC Morgan Sindall Construction)

The recent completion of Leicester’s Great Central Square mixed use scheme marks the latest step in a broader regeneration taking place to the north west of the city centre. Developer Charles Street Buildings Group’s scheme brings office space, two hotels and other leisure and retail uses to this evolving area.

The scheme forms a gateway to the Waterside area, more than 60 hectares of former industrial land around the river Soar. The council has targeted this area for regeneration and investment, providing an early catalyst with Friar’s Mill, its conversion of a historic mill building to managed workspace, which it created five years ago with backing from the European Regional Development Fund.

Challenges

Great Central Square was formerly occupied by the Stibbe factory, but its industry has long gone, as has the rail link served by the nearby Victorian Great Central station. Both the site and the station, like the greater Waterside area beyond, are close to the city centre, but have suffered in being cut off from it by the inner ring road. Along the ring road, pedestrian and cycle provision has been fragmented and crossing points limited, while the streetscape became dominated by highway and traffic.

Two years ago, as the site’s redevelopment got under way, Leicester city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby summed up the challenges presented by this location, saying, “It has been very frustrating to see this other side of the central ring road quietly dying, while so much of the city centre flourished."

Solution

Great Central Square’s mix attracts both visitors and workers to the area. There are two Accor hotels – a 154 bedroom, 10 storey Novotel and a six storey Aparthotel Adagio containing 95 studios and apartments. The newly completed, five storey No 1 Great Central Square provides more than 3,000 square metres of office space. The station building, which is being refurbished, will contain leisure uses, including a Lane 7 indoor bowling centre.

Development is complemented by a ‘super crossing’, giving pedestrians and cyclists safe and easy access across the ring road, which has been delivered with council funding. “The local authority has taken a holistic view to revitalising the Waterside area of Leicester, with the connectivity investment key to this,” says Charles Street Buildings director, Joseph Murphy. This super crossing allows people to make a single crossing of the ring road, without needing to go through numerous crossing points, and provides a direct route to the city centre and its nearby retail centre.

In order to make all this happen, the developer has worked with Leicester City Council and a number of architects. Stephen George + Partners worked on the scheme’s masterplan and its office and station, and Leech Rhodes Walker worked on the hotels. Andrew Davis Partnership designed the public realm with its open, traffic-free space.

Contractor Morgan Sindall Construction and construction consultant Pick Everard worked on the new build element, completing work on No 1 Great Central Square late last year following a rapid construction programme. “Delivering a mixed use regeneration scheme comprising leisure, retail and commercial space of this scale in less than two years has required a truly collaborative approach from everyone involved,” says Richard Frape, project director at Morgan Sindall Construction. The renovation of the station is set to be completed this spring.

City mayor Soulsby praises the end result: “The ambitious scheme has helped to transform a long-neglected part of Leicester and, by incorporating major highway and public realm improvements, has created an attractive new gateway between the city centre and the Waterside regeneration area.” There is plenty more development in the pipeline in the regeneration area. The council is itself delivering a 350-home residential-led project, having secured local growth fund support to acquire a site where it is working with development partner Keepmoat. Ultimately, the aim is for Waterside to have a cohesive townscape, vibrant residential and mixed use quarters, more attractive pedestrian and cycle friendly streets and riverside walks, and to be reconnected back into its city.


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