It's hard to keep up with all that's happening in the City Centre and close to it, especially in Westgate and Kingsholm wards. Here are some of my highlights in no particular order:
Impact of the Knife Angel
The Knife Angel's month in Gloucester raised the profile of all work against knives and violence and for peace, with a programme and final reflections that the owner said was the best yet of any city the sculpture had been to.
It also brought 130,000 visitors to our city centre - a great lift at a quiet time of year for the Cathedral and businesses in the 4 Gates. 1,000 school children from across the County attended an educational workshop.
So all credit to the work by my Chief of Staff Jennie Watkins and Cllr Justin Hudson to deliver the Knife Angel - both recognised in the High Sheriff's Police Awards - our Police, the Cathedral team and the 45 partners / sponsors. It's a great example of how the City Centre benefits from creative thinking and good programme delivery by many, including the Hollie Gazzard Trust and Increase the Peace.
Indigo - our first ever 4 star hotel brand coming soon
It's now public, as the building itself shoots up every week, that Indigo is the chosen 4 star hotel partner for Reef PLC and the City Council's £107 million venture to redevelop the old bus station into The Forum.
The hotel should be finished by 2024 and quite apart from all the Kier PLC construction jobs the hotel will create c70 FTE jobs when operating.
Just as important, the Indigo hotel will host corporate and private events that may otherwise happen in Cheltenham or elsewhere, and bring visitors who like 4 star comfort to stay in our city centre for eg festivals like the Gloucester History Festival, Goes Retro, Tall Ships and sports events like Gloucester Rugby games.
Work starts on the underpass at the Railway Station
Since 2008, I've wanted to see the underpass from Bruton Way to Great Western Road redone - above all to make it wheelchair, mobility scooter and pushchair friendly, as well as a safe and less grizzly experience.
It's now happening - despite everyone telling me this would always be in the 'too difficult' bucket the underpass closes today and work starts next week, finishing before Gloucester Day on 2nd September.
So thank you to all the partners involved - GWR, Network Rail, both Councils, the LEP and the Department for Transport. There will be no more steps, unless you can and want to use them.
And the joy of technology means that anyone (but particularly if you work at the GRH or live in Great Western/Horton Roads) can go through the station instead of around London Road by using a free SmartCard - which you can sign up for here.
Full fibre links for Hempsted brought forward
As many will know CityFibre is investing £31m in Gloucester to install the fibre needed to offer 900 megabits of download speed to just outside residents’ houses, which then enables you to contract with one of many providers to access top speeds for internet data (great for working from home). Already 15,000 residents in Gloucester can already do so (click here to see if you have access already). But what about Hempsted, where works seemed to have stalled?
At a meeting I organised last week CityFibre, the County Council and I agreed the remaining work getting cables across the bridges and over the canal would be prioritised with an aim to complete before Hempsted Primary returns in September. This brings completion forward 8 months which is good news especially for pupils, teachers and parents.
Gloucester is the most connected of the 15 cities / large towns City Fibre is working on in the SW of England – ahead of eg Swindon and Bath. We just need to make sure City Fibre doesn’t leave ‘difficult’ elements like Hempsted to the end, and I’m delighted they’ve now promised to speed up that work.
Roadworks on Llanthony Rd
For years residents badgered me about the bottle necks on Llanthony Rd: after many years of discussions, and eventually winning £12.9m from the Department for Transport (through the government’s Levelling Up Transport fund award to the County Council), the good news is that the shape of the Llanthony Road lane expansions is already clear.
After concerns from local businesses the Council agreed at a meeting I organised to amend the road layout so that Sudmeadow Rd can still be used for entry and exit (latter via Hemingsdale Road), subject to planning permission. Cycling routes towards Quedgeley and the canal routes will also be much safer.
Roadworks should be finished this Summer and I will urge for the road to be open earlier, if possible.
Heritage award funds improvements to Westgate St
Gloucester City Centre has been for a long time combined the glorious and the ghastly, and the planners of 50-60 years ago have much to be ashamed of. But no-one can dispute that things have greatly improved recently.
During the last 13 years that I’ve been MP we’ve had over 30 Heritage Lottery awards which have transformed first St Michael’s Tower, then (among others) the Museum of Gloucester, the outside setting of the Cathedral (and much inside too), St Mary de Crypt, Llanthony Secunda, the Waterways Museum and the Archives (now the Heritage Hub) in Kingsholm.
What hadn’t greatly changed, apart from Gloucester Historic Buildings Trust work on a couple of buildings like the café opposite Shire Hall, was Westgate St. But that all changed with the Historic England grant of c£1.45m to improve facades on and just off Westgate St.
See the former Meeks or the corner of Bull Lane, with others (like no 41) under scaffolding. They’re already looking or will look great.
Alongside continuing private sector investment (Gloucester Arts & Crafts, Gloucester Antique Centre, Chance Malone in the old Citizen offices, Northgate St all the investors of College St, and now Charlie’s new boutique at the corner of Three Cocks Lane) and the Civic Trust’s great refurbishment of the old Folk of Gloucester, Westgate is looking up. Eastgate boosted by the arrival of Primark and Blue Jamaica.
Gloucester History Festival’s spring weekend and new King’s Talks
Last autumn we had to postpone the entire History Festival – which coincided with national mourning. We decided to put on a Spring Weekend with some of the very best talks to reassure our supporters it was business as usual. The new Spring weekend in Blackfriars is 21-23rd April (Book here – some talks are booked up already).
The regular autumn History Festival is 2-17th September and booking starts in the early summer.
Meanwhile we are gradually introducing a new series of Kings Talks – and the next one is on the book ‘100 things to know about Gloucester’ by authors Paul James and Matt Cass at 6pm on the 31st March. Book as above! There will be a rolling programme of free talks for school children during the Summer term and details will be confirmed asap.
Four new National Portfolio Organisations for a strong culture future
To get one National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) is good: to get four is outstanding. The £2.7m over 3 years to The Guildhall, Strike A Light, Gloucester Culture Trust and the Libraries from Arts Council England (ACE) is a big boost to culture in Gloucester.
The Guildhall widens its offer – from classic films to Electric Light Orchestra retro and the latest gigs, from Holocaust Commemoration to 50Plus Fair (23rd March, see details here.)
As up to 5,000 students come to the Uni of Glos City Campus in Kings Square soon, good to get this extra investment so that students have lots to look forward to and spend here.
More brownfield social housing too..
The biggest ever Rooftop Housing project with Gloucester City Council to develop 300 homes behind Tesco at St Oswalds (180 affordable or social houses) will be signed soon.
Meanwhile the Gloucester City Homes development off Northgate St (opposite the rear of Spreadeagle Court) is for 25 new social homes and The Forum development includes a new car park for 300 cars.
This comes just after the NHS Health & Care Trust reached agreement with GCH to develop the long abandoned Holly House site at Coney Hill and Bromford’s agreement to develop the former Hatherly Rd school (not the flourishing Infants school next door) for social and affordable housing. It’s good news that both housing associations continue to invest strongly in Gloucester.
Elsewhere (new to Gloucester) Eutopia homes have recieved planning permission to transform the long abandoned railway sidings in the Railway Triangle into at least 300 new homes. All these brownfield sites make any case against greenfield sites stronger.
Progress on the new City Campus (ex Debenhams)
How are the Uni of Glos plans for the health and later teaching courses for students, and the Wellbeing Centre, Library and Café for public access doing?
Things got a bit delayed over bat surveys but good progress is now being made internally and externally.
The aspiration is for the first students move in right at the beginning of 2024 and then the Wellbeing Centre and Library open. I will organise further meetings to try and deal with roadblocks. The knock on effect on life in Kings Square and businesses close by will be huge, which is why speed is of the essence.
1,600 trees planted at new Hempsted Woods so far and solar panels this Summer: more to come
Last year Hempsted Primary pupils were the first to plant new English trees at the Green Energy & Eco Park, which is the future of most of the 360 acres not used for recycling at the Recycling Centre (see previous enews here).
Over the last few months they and pupils from two other schools have planted more trees and site owner Enovert have planted many themselves too. The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, who I introduced to Enovert about 18 months ago, have also linked their own plan for a Severn Treescape along 60 miles of the banks of the River Severn to this scheme.
Both benefit from government funding (via DEFRA) for their ambitious planting and I’m supporting a bid by the GWT to the Forestry Commission in order to speed progress up – because although 1,600 trees is a big step forward we won’t get to 100,000 very fast at this rate. I continue regularly visits schools – four in the last ten days – and all pupils (and teachers) respond positively to the idea of planting trees.
The first of the solar panels arrive this summer, and the number should escalate quite fast. At the same time the research on bird patterns continue before any onshore wind application. I remain committed to amending the planning rules on onshore wind to enable Councils that want it to get it. Made in Gloucester green energy whether solar, or onshore wind, and paving the way for hydrogen (because of water from the River Severn at the bottom of the Recycling Centre) should be an important shared goal.
Social regeneration not forgotten..
The City Mission winter shelter at the former Tommy Rich’s off Eastgate St and by Hampden Way opened in time for this winter and provides space for 13 people who are temporarily homeless, and is a great addition to what statutory charities like P3 and the YMCA already provide. I was very pleased enable a two year funding contract from a foundation for them.
Also worth highlighting is the new NHS Glos Health and Care Trust gardening project off Horton Rd for some of their mental health patients. Listening to some Wotton Lawn patients describe how this has changed their approach to life reminded me that not all health issues can be solved in a surgery or by a doctor.
…nor our Ukrainian refugees
On the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine the Ukrainian Association in Gloucester arranged for a gathering at the Mariners Church and a silent walk to the Cathedral for a very moving service - and a chance for me to thank many people who have given time, love and money, to translate for, guide and help them, to teach and doctor them: and organise the service.
One Ukrainian women said to me that she never imagined they would be so welcomed by the City and cathedral. Long may this feeling last.. even as we also mourn and fundraise for the disaster in Turkey and Syria. This is a City of Compassion.
P.S. This summary isn’t all inclusive – do share what you think I’ve missed to a few other things for another update! Do share this with others and encourage them sign up to get the information direct.