Cirencester is a Gloucestershire town within the Cotswolds AONB. It has a wealth of history particularly during Roman Britain when the town was second only to London. In the present day, it is the self-proclaimed heart of the Cotswolds.
At the heart of Cirencester is the market place which has been home to a market since the 11thcentury. It is under the shadow of the towering Parish Church and enclosed on two sides creating a linear space. The market place became congested because of the growth in vehicle traffic in post war Britain, in 1975 a new ring road was constructed to alleviate some of this town centre thoroughfare however the market place remained congested, unwelcoming and an unattractive.
It was in 2011 when the regeneration project was kick started by Cirencester Town Council who raised the funds and appointed a team to take an objective look at the town centre and prepare a traffic management plan and a masterplan.
The scheme focuses primarily on creating a shared space that is primarily for pedestrians, where vehicles are allowed, but not at the expense of the free movement of pedestrians. To create this shared space the design features a section raised “table” where the carriageway is either flush with the pavements or with a 50mm curb as a navigational aid to visually impaired pedestrians. Where the pavement is flush with the edge of the carriageway the edge is demarked using corduroy paving. These low or flush curbs increase the pedestrian permeability of the market place and provide access for a variety of pedestrian movements.
The space out the front of the parish church is now only accessible to pedestrians and occasional essential church access. It is the location of the regular markets and is paved with large sandstone units.
Providing the market with modern services whilst retaining the character of the area is achieved by recessed services and drinking water supplies to cater for events and market days.
At the eastern end to the market there is a small area for car parking and a taxi rank. Previously there were more parking spaces however they were restricted to certain days to cater for the market. The parking is clearly indicated with a change in paving pattern to a herringbone type layout.
There is a small ‘island’ in the traffic which is home to the parking meter, cycle racks and a few benches.
At the other side of the church, the western part of the renovation the traffic table has been raised to extend the shared space to the adjoining streets. The paving has been adjusted to focus on the two trees and a new tree has been planted with a round picnic table next to it.
There is a very clear hierarchy of paving on this scheme it has been well thought out to subtly define the intended role of each area. I think this works particularly well along the market street where there is no upstanding curb but it is clear where the road begins. This arrangement also means, in theory, that drivers take more care as the space is clearly shared between vehicles and pedestrians.
The paving arrangement at the western end of the scheme at the start of the shared space has also been designed to subtly indicate pedestrian routes; furthermore, asserting the pedestrian dominance on the space. However, could this unintentionally be restricting pedestrians making the shared space irrelevant?
Another feature that I feel is a strength in this scheme is the large sandstone flags in the market place. These stones feel rugged and create a heritage link to the market.
The scheme is very hard, there is a lot of stone and it is lacking in trees. Only one tree was planted as part of this project and that was an uncomfortable looking Robinia pseudoacacia. The tree is incarcerated within a stainless steel guard as if it is about to escape and cause a ruckus at the parish church. The seating besides it looks exposed and uninviting. The existing cedar tree behind it is a great specimen combined with a wraparound bench is a desirable place to sit. The market street itself is baron of trees, disappointing considering the urgent need for trees in urban areas. In this case there was objection to trees blocking the view of the architecture and potential damage of valuable archeological remains with tree roots.
Black plastic planters let this scheme down. Presumably the whiskey barrels and plastic troughs were a more recent addition and whilst the planting itself is attractive it feels alien. Perhaps in spaces like this planting could have been designed in from the onset or could this have had good potential for a SUDs planting scheme.
In places the quality of construction and maintenance is poor. Provisions are in place to ensure that areas where paving is removed it is not filled in with bitmac but replaced like for like. This has clearly been done however repairs are still of poor quality with inaccurately cut and laid block paving and poorly integrated services.
The market place of Cirencester has been transformed and it is a great improvement from the previous town center. Whilst it is disappointing to see a treeless town center the place feels safe and inviting.
It has received mixed feedback from locals often surrounding the length of time it took to construct and the damage that had on trade. The project was very slow running and caused a great deal of unnecessary disruption. One comment that has stuck with me is from the owner of a bakery that went out of business due to the long disruption, “the only Roman town that’s had worse done to it is Pompeii.”
Now the dust has settled the market place has overall benefitted from the much needed and much overdue regeneration it is just disappointing that the works took much longer than initially planned and there are so few trees.