Revamp puts Hereford streets ahead

 Following Herefordshire Council’s completion of the refurbishment of one of Hereford’s premier shopping streets, the city is now ‘ahead of the game nationally’ when it comes to high-quality designed streetscapes. This is the view of the designer of Widemarsh Street’s new look - Ben Hamilton-Baillie - who declared himself impressed with the end result when the street was officially reopened last weekend (4 December 2010).

Widemarsh Street has been dramatically refurbished as part of the council’s promotion of the city centre as a shopping and tourist destination. Work has been completed on schedule after improvements started at the beginning of 2010. Many retailers are reporting increased numbers of shoppers compared with the same period last year.

The official reopening by Councillor John Stone, chairman of Herefordshire Council, was part of a festive celebration, which included a dusk parade of lanterns by local children. Despite the rain and cold, there was a large and receptive audience when a town crier introduced the ribbon cutting and the unveiling of a plaque, after which, the Golden Valley Singers choir launched into a selection of Christmas carols.

Renowned innovative streetscape designer Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who attended the reopening, said: “I am impressed with the simple quality, style and robustness of the end result. Hereford is ahead of the game nationally in that it has delivered one of the first, best-practice, shared and integrated street space examples in the country, at a time when the government is recommending this ground-breaking approach.

“What is also good about the Herefordshire Council scheme is that it uses high quality, locally sourced materials, such as Royal Forest Pennant sandstone from the Forest of Dean, at a time when other major schemes are more likely to source materials from China or India. In Widemarsh Street, Hereford has set the clear standard it expects in regenerating itself”.    

The Government’s recently released Manual for Streets champions high-quality street design that uses shared space and puts people’s needs at the heart of the design process. Hereford is one of the few examples in the UK that uses the best practice in shared space that is rapidly becoming established across Europe.

At the reopening, youngsters and officials joined a lantern-lit procession through Hereford’s High Town and down Widemarsh Street. The event was attended by local dignitaries including the chairman of Herefordshire Council, the mayor of Hereford Councillor Anna Toon, leader of the council Roger Phillips and Councillor Brian Wilcox, cabinet member for highways and transportation.

The festivities are continuing with two traditional fairground rides – a wooden horse carousel and a helter skelter ride – surrounded by real Christmas trees in Widemarsh Street. This means that Widemarsh Street, while remaining open for deliveries and taxis, will reopen for general traffic on Tuesday 4 January.

Councillor Brian Wilcox said: “It was wonderful to see such a strong turnout for the official reopening of Widemarsh Street, and to see the streets of Hereford city centre bustling with people. It vindicates our decision to invest in this important gateway to High Town as part of our vision to promote Hereford as one of the region’s key shopping destinations and support our local economy. I was also grateful to see so many local business people, who have been very patient throughout the construction period, turn out to celebrate the reopening”.

The refurbishment scheme was delivered on behalf of Herefordshire Council by Amey Herefordshire and Alun Griffiths Construction Ltd.  Expert design advice on the scheme was also provided by Hamilton Baillie Associates and Powell Dobson Urbanists.

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