Mixed use development proposals for the future of the Priory Walk, Colchester

Priory Walk area in Colchester - We are delighted with the opportunity to carry out further design proposals for the regeneration of this area.

The existing buildings occupy a large site within the Conservation Area that was completely cleared of the historic street pattern in the 1960’s and replaced, in haste, with brutalist, economic, brick buildings. All trace of the narrow ‘Art’s and Crafts’ arcade and any other historic fabric that once stood on the site has vanished.

During the 1980’s a pastiche period frontage, was permitted and applied to the 1960s brutalist elevations including falsework parapets, fenestration patterns and rooflines. This was carried out in much the same way as the creation of a wild-west movie set.

Fast forward to present day and the existing buildings appear tired. There are constantly present maintenance issues and the elevation feel more ‘fake’ than the day they were planted on. This is accentuated by the poor quality of construction and retro-fit issues, and a significant contributing factor is the general down turn of footfall in the area resulting in empty buildings and poor maintenance. When problems arise they can be left untreated for years –a significant number of the retail units have been vacant for several years.

As well as being located in the Conservation Area the site forms part of the ‘Planned Cultural Quarter’ of Colchester earmarked by the Borough Council for regeneration. Colchester Borough Council’s policies for the location encourage the introduction of mixed use development in order to retain the vitality and viability of the town centre.

Priory Walk was engineered as a link between the shopping streets and the land to the east of Queen Street, which has historically remained relatively undeveloped. We see these links as critical ,and a key aim at feasibility stage, was to create further openness and future opportunities for creation of walk ways and open public space – improving the connectivity of pedestrian areas.

As we were given the opportunity to look at both ends of Priory Walk, including the old Keddies building on Queen Street and the Long Wyre Street end, we have sought to plan-in future spaces and connectivity between the separate proposals. This has been achieved not only by using a similar architectural language between schemes but also with physical space and ‘private yards’ that could be opened up in the future to create further connections in to green space.

The proposal for the Long Wyre scheme is to demolish the existing retail units, which are largely unoccupied and redevelop the site as mixed-use residential scheme, thus reducing the amount of unoccupied retail floor space in the area and at the same time bringing the vitality that will result from residential development.

The Keddies Department store building on Queen Street building will not be demolished, rather stripped of poor quality, underperforming, elevational fabric while the the super structure is re-used. A new healthy building envelope can then be designed to deliver a better quality, sustainably designed elevation that meets the criteria for residential development.  

The existing Gym occupies the top floor of the Keddies building and this will be relocated to the ground floor  allowing the ground floor commercial space to retain its active frontage, and providing a better location in terms of access and acoustics.

Overall the new design, consisting of good quality materials, windows and ‘greening’ of the buildings lift the character of the area above it’s present period pastiche. Variety will be given to the streetscape, and more affinity with the conservation area.

We are also working with Colchester Borough Council on construction proposals, for new ‘Creative Grow-on Space on Queen Street, occupying The Old Bus Depot site. The proposals for the Priory Walk schemes are built on our knowledge of the local area and lengthy dialogue with the CBC Planning team around the new grow-on space scheme. The combined proposals offer a viable opportunity for an attractive and sustainable regeneration of a strategic site in a way consistent with the Borough Council’s aims and objectives.

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