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Armada Way

What are we doing?

We want Armada Way to be a grand but welcoming entrance into the city centre

Over the last few decades piecemeal changes have altered the original thinking behind the Plan for Plymouth for an impressive route from the North Cross through the city centre, creating a clear visual link to the sea.

Our aim is to create a new urban park over a kilometre long, lined on either side by avenues of trees. Around 150 new trees will be planted as part of the scheme.

It is part of an ongoing programme designed to address years of under-investment in city centre streets and spaces. As well as restoring the view to create a more impressive and grand welcome into the city centre, new features will appear including:

  • play and mixed use games areas for all ages
  • water-based play space
  • dancing fountain jets
  • bike parking – a mobility hub will be going in at Mayflower Street and will be integrated into the scheme
  • improved and centralised crossing at Mayflower Street to enhance north-south connectivity
  • dramatically improved café seating areas
  • attractive places to stop and rest for everyone
  • refurbished Braille Garden and new stepped amphitheatre space for smaller scale performance
  • new running water feature with sustainable drainage and biodiversity at its heart
  • linear tree pits and replacing broken paving at the Piazza
  • refurbishing the Sundial and its setting.

The new look will also take into account the prospect of climate change with the introduction of plants and trees that are more resilient to an urban environment.

There will be a new ‘Sustainable Urban Drainage’ system that will form part of a wider strategic network in the city centre. The system includes ‘rain gardens’ and swales which integrate the drainage system with the new planting to make the best use of surface water. 

What will it look like?

Armada Way Design

Who is paying for this?

In total the project will cost £12.7 million. We have secured £2.752 million from the Transforming Cities Fund. Local contributions including Section 106 funding makes up the rest of the figure.

How long will the work take?

We have just commissioned Morgan Sindall to work up the detailed design involving architecture and landscape architecture, mechanical and electrical engineering services as well as civil and structural engineering services and ecological and arboriculture specialists.

Work is to start early next year (2023). However, ahead of the official project start date preparation work will need to be carried out to clear the tired landscaping.

About the trees

The number of trees in the Plymouth’s Armada Way will double under the new regeneration plans.

Almost 150 new trees will be planted as part of the scheme and will be a variety of native trees, selected to provide year round interest including bark texture, leaf, flower/fruit, scent, autumn colour and more usable shade during hot weather.

The tree planting scheme has been drawn up following a full tree survey by YGS Environmental to give a full impression of the condition and life of the trees along the Armada Way corridor. 

The intention was to keep as many trees as possible depending on how healthy they are and where they are, however the results of the survey sadly showed that only 22 per cent of the trees on Armada Way were suitable for long term retention.

Almost half of the existing trees are damaging the built environment. This is mainly due to trees planted being ‘field’ or countryside trees which are unsuitable for an urban environment.

Under our plans we are doubling the number and there will be a significant biodiversity gain of the region of 20 per cent. The species will be more resilient to pests and climate change, including increasing temperatures, drought and extreme weather events, something which the current trees will struggle with.

Nobody at the Council wants to remove trees unnecessarily but we also do not want trees to wilt and struggle in an unsuitable setting. We intend to replace the majority of the existing trees which will enable us to provide significantly better rooting systems to promote healthier trees, with very limited on-going maintenance (limb removal, pollarding etc) while integrating a sustainable drainage system with the new tree pits. This will ensure trees receive the amount of water and nutrients they need to prosper.      

A total of 17 healthy trees will be retained on the corridor where they can be worked into the design of the new Armada Way scheme. These include the Sweet Gum trees planted in the Piazza area around15 years ago which are reaching a good degree of maturity, and the large Tree of Heaven outside of the Copthorne Hotel.

The planting conditions for these trees will be improved through a new technical planting specification to ensure they prosper and live longer. The existing trees are planted in poor quality ground conditions, constrained by walls, structures and post-war rubble.

The majority of trees in Armada Way are reaching the end of their healthy lifespans, but the new trees are being planted with staggered lifespans to enable future replacement in a phased manner so that large scale replacement in a short period of time will not be needed.

Tree survey report

Did you have planning permission?

As this is mainly alteration to public space and on a road, the scheme is being carried out under ‘Permitted Development’ and is not subject to planning permission and is EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) exempt. We checked this with the planning authority.

Why are you removing the water feature?

It has not worked properly for 15 years. The feature was a complex structure with three separate pumping facilities, circulating chlorinated water and had passed its usable lifespan. The new feature will be more sustainable, easier to maintain and integrate other benefits.

Why can’t you fix the water feature?

We’ve tried many times over the years but the pumps keep breaking down. Installed in the late 1980s it was originally a man-made stream with pumps which enabled diluted bleached water to travel uphill. This is not the most sustainable water feature both for the environment and for maintenance.

Will the new water feature be sustainable?

Yes and it’s going to be fun as well. It will have a water play feature, dancing jets, as well as a stream running the length of Armada Way. This will act as both an ornamental feature and sustainable drainage with reed beds. The aim is reduce the amount of surface run-off water entering the combined sewer system after heavy rainfall.

Why haven't you finished the other scheme before starting this?

In an ideal world, the Old Town Street/New George Street scheme should have finished ahead of Armada Way starting. However the scheme hit issues in its first phase which slowed progress. Like other construction schemes, it was also affected by the post pandemic supply chain issues including the supply of granite.

Are you providing seats?

Yes, the details of specific seating areas are being worked on but there will be more outdoor seating areas and more outdoor seating for food and drink businesses.

What about the wind tunnel which existed previously in Armada Way?

We are proposing a large number of trees planted in two avenues, staggered in pattern, which will help to reduce the effect of wind on the corridor.

How are you controlling cycle speeds downhill?

The cycle lane will be separated from the main pedestrian route. To control speeds we are avoiding a direct straight line where speed can be built up. We will be adding chicanes to key areas to reduce speeds and make cyclists aware that they are crossing pedestrian priority spaces.

Why can’t we have better shops rather than new landscaping?

The High Street has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. Long before the pandemic, the rise of online shopping had already had a negative impact on high streets up and down the country. We can’t force shops to open in Plymouth, but we can create conditions which encourages them to come to Plymouth.

One of Plymouth’s long standing issues is that its city centre footprint is massive – equivalent to Manchester’s central shopping area but without the population to support it. We want to change the mix that the city centre offers, attract more people to live here, spend their leisure time here, eat and drink. We want to broaden the offer so that the city centre has much more to offer as well as great shopping.

Why can’t you maintain what you already have?

We have the opportunity and the funding in place (£2.7 million out of £58.8 million from the city’s TCF allocation and £10 million our capital programme) for a transformational scheme which will act as a huge catalyst to regeneration of the city centre. This involves thinking big and bold, creating a scheme which has longevity and takes into account best practice in landscape design, sustainability and planting. Rather than work around existing, tired infrastructure, the new scheme will give the city a new, high quality city centre park for many decades to come.

What is the plan for maintenance?

The scheme has been designed to be as low maintenance as possible both in terms of infrastructure and planting. We aim for this to be no more of a maintenance cost than the existing landscape on Armada Way. We have enhanced maintenance for two years for all the new soft landscaping within the scheme budget, as well as specialists working with our Street Services teams to establish a sustainable maintenance regime after that. We also hope to encourage apprenticeships in green space management with local education establishments across this period. All of this will be covered in a detailed technical planting and surface maintenance plan.

Why can’t the council lower the rents or rates?

The rateable value is set by the Valuation Office Agency and the council issues bills based on these values. While the Council is a freeholder of retail properties in the city centre, the vast majority of units are subject to long leasehold interests. The Council has very little control over the day to day management of these properties and the rents charged, which are set by the leaseholders in lettings to third parties.

How much will this cost and who is paying?

The scheme will cost £12.7m including £2.7 million from the TCF. In March 2020 we received £51.2m in capital funding from the Transforming Cities Fund. (The overall programme invests in walking, cycling and public transport to make it quicker and easier for people to get around the city more sustainably – especially to and from their place of work or learning).

The remaining fund has been set aside in the Council’s capital programme – money we are allowed to spend to invest in economic growth. This is not money we can move to other areas and we are obliged in our agreement with the Department of Transport to match fund the TCF projects. It is a significant investment but we want to encourage new visitors, new homes and new businesses into the city centre.

Is there going to be a disabilities assessment?

All our projects have disabilities assessments carried out. We will also be liaising PADAN as the more technical design aspects are developed.

What is the council doing to sort out the empty shops?

We’re working with Plymouth Culture, the City Centre Company and Vacancy Atlas to fill vacant spaces with cultural projects.

Working with landlords, we identify vacant units that can be made available on a ‘meanwhile use’ basis. The meanwhile use licence will be offered rent free for up to six months. This gives people the chance to test ideas that can then be refined for a sustainable future on the high street. It also aims to increase footfall, bring new audiences to the city centre and try out new products and experiences.

In the long term we aim to create a new experiences to increase the amount of time people spend in the city centre as well as improve and expand the city centre night time economy. For more information visit the Plymouth Culture website.