Supported by funding from the Northwest Development Agency and Lancashire County Council, the Council has commissioned a set of detailed design proposals for a number of public streets in the city centre.
Known as Lancaster Square Routes, the project aims to create a centre which both builds on the city’s history and heritage while still maintaining a modern outlook.
Areas covered by the designs include:
- Market Square
- Signage improvements to the Castle Precinct
- Market Street Illumination / Lighting
- Sun Street Square / Sun Street
- Horseshoe Corner
- Castle and Quay green space
- Castle and Priory Precinct
- Key linking routes (Upper and Lower Church Street, Ffrances Passage and Gage Street)
“Lancaster City Centre has a long enviable history and is a major source of employment and tourism," commented Andrew Dobson, Head of Planning Services.
“Unfortunately, over the years, the centre has deteriorated," he claims, "and we are now faced with a situation where the condition of the streets is poor and cluttered, which does not do enough to showcase its assets.
“Lancaster Square Routes aims to rejuvenate one of the north west’s most important historical city centres and strengthen its position as a major destination both for visitors and residents of the district.”
Councillor John Whitelegg is, however, scathing of what he sees as the council's general attitude to the town's public spaces and argues it has to take responsibility for the poor quality of what is there now - and its support for developments such as that proposed by Centros.
"The condition of the public realm in Lancaster is dreadful," he told virtual-lancaster. "Market Square is a disgrace."
Other issues also concern him. "Cars parked round Dalton Square are unsightly," he argues, "making it people, child and elderly person unfriendly."
Big developments like Centros will not help the town centre improve, he feels. "The city council enthusiastically supports the Centros development and does very little if anything to upgrade the existing public realm. This is dangerous and could easily wipe out the city centre as a destination and leave us with boarded up shops and dereliction."
Recently, the Vue cinema successfully secured permission to 'gate' the thoroughfare between Market Square and Church Street, a traditional right of way that has now been effectively privatised thanks to the Council. For John, who opposed the proposal, this is evidence of what will happen to the town if private enterprise is allowed to ride roughshod when it comes to public spaces.
"I'm very disappointed the cinema got permission to put the gates up," he says, " and this is the shape of things to come. If the dreadful Centros development gets the go ahead we will see much more of this and security guards cleansing the area of pesky people like buskers, Big Issue sellers, animal rights stalls, Its Our City stalls and all the other things that contribute to a rich democratic life."
John argues there is plenty of things that could be done to improve Lancaster without "big company" intervention. "The whole route from Stonewell up to Park Square would make a wonderful "string of pearls" sequence of squares (Stonewell, Dukes, Mill Hall, Gregson Square, Park Square) with no car parking, tree planting, public art and traffic controlled at no more than 20mph," he suggests.
• Members of the public are now being asked for their comments on the Square Root draft proposals before a final set of designs is produced. The designs will go on display in Market Square on 20, 21, 27, 28 and 30 May from 10.00 am to 5.00pm (10.00am to 7.00pm on May 28th) for members of the public to view and make comment upon. A special public participation event exploring the square route will take place on the final day of consultation.
• A special webpage, www.lancaster.gov.uk/squareroutes, has also been set up for those who can’t make it to the consultation events.
• Following the consultation a final set of designs will be drawn up and submitted to the council’s Cabinet. Subject to approval, funding applications will then be submitted to a range of funding bodies to turn the designs from a vision into a reality.