Plymouth City Centre is unique. After much of the centre was razed to the ground during the Second World War, the planners in Plymouth took the brave decision to completely rebuild its centre with modern buildings on brand new boulevards. Though some are now tired, many of those buildings incorporate beautiful detailing and artworks with richly differing architectural styles. Just as York is famous for its medieval city and Bath for its regency architecture, Plymouth deserves its place in our National story as the country's finest and boldest post-war city centre. The Plymouth City Centre High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) programme – 'reinvigorating the Abercrombie Estate' is a four year programme about celebrating, enhancing and adapting the City Centre's post-war heritage and making it a more attractive, engaging and vibrant place for people to live, work and spend time.
The Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) project is managed by The Box, Plymouth Octopus Project, Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Culture. It's part of a £95 million government-funded programme which is being delivered by Historic England over the next three years to unlock the potential of 60 different high streets across the country.
More than £100,000 has been awarded to Plymouth to help reimagine our city centre through community-led cultural activities. The Cultural Programme led by Plymouth Culture
has three strands: activation, vacancy spaces and public art. Activation involves using creative and cultural activities to help bring spaces in our historic city centre to life. These spaces include buildings, streets and the in-between places that provide opportunities for cultural encounters. The activities will use both traditional and digital technologies and will involve lots of different art forms to revitalise the area.
In year one, the team will work with community-led arts organisation Take a Part and contemporary art gallery KARST to co-commission and co-design artwork with professional artists and the skating community. A similar process will be used in year two to work with a different community.
In the second part of the work, Plymouth Culture will make use of vacant spaces for cultural activity (Meanwhile Use - Plymouth Culture). Ultimately the goal is to drive a sustainable future and reimagined high street, and that needs to include a focus on creative social enterprise models, including community ownership.
Working alongside partners such as Plymouth City Council and the City Centre Company, organisers will launch a series of funded artistic commissions to test cultural, creative activity in empty shops. Vacancy Atlas, a team of experts in this area, will support this process from promotion, to lease negotiation and a long-term rolling programme. This work will support the development of best practice tool kits and feasibility studies with creative collectives to help identify spaces on the high street which can be owned and run by the creative and cultural sector.
The role of public art is critical in shaping and manifesting the cultural identity of place. This includes 'tradition' public art such as sculpture but also temporary installations, design aesthetics and street furniture. A public art steering group for the city will be established in partnership with The Box, which will take ownership of the Public Art Plan. This will focus on engaging experts and communities in the decision-making process and ensuring the city’s public art is valued and celebrated. The Cultural Programme aims to make our high streets more attractive, engaging and vibrant places for people to live, work and spend time.
Many of the façades of the highest quality buildings are showing the long-term effects of pollution and environmental factors. Grants are being offered for façade restoration and shop front works based on a 50 per cent contribution from the landlord and 50 per cent from the High Street HAZ project fund. The HSHAZ project officer is currently working with landowners in the conservation area to access the grant facility. If you would like to know more about this scheme as a business or building owner in the conservation area, please get in contact HAZ@plymouth.gov.uk.
The Civic Square
The Civic Square is being restored with plans that include an upgraded coffee pavilion, soft landscaping works and tree-planting, and a new sustainable urban drainage system for the square in Armada Way. The council aims to create a public realm design for the Civic Square that fully responds to the opportunity to celebrate and restore the most important heritage features of the square. The Square will be adapted and enhanced to improve its functionality, appearance and its ability to support and cultivate the public life of the city, and to support and enable the mixed-use regeneration of the Civic Centre by Urban Splash. With the Civic Centre redevelopment into conferencing, events, workspace and residential use it will repurpose and revitalise this area of the city centre, driving major new footfall, increase events use, encourage dwell time and public use of the Square and be a catalyst for wider investment in new workspace and city centre living.
Public realm improvements on Royal Parade
The public realm improvements seek to preserve and enhance the character and appearance of the conservation area by reinstating some of the important heritage features of the original post-war street design and removing/replacing negative features.
The Royal Parade scheme aims to encourage more of us to use public transport to travel to the city centre, improve bus journey times as well as curb emissions and reduce the congestion currently seen on Royal Parade. The plans will mean that a number of bus services that serve the city centre will operate from Mayflower Street rather than Royal Parade. Royal Parade will also see measures put in place to better organise queues for buses, improved passenger information and improved waiting areas for bus passengers.
We are still at an early stage in the scheme's design but improvements being considered include:
- changes to layout of bus stops on Royal Parade to improve bus movements
- new bus shelters, positioned within new bus stop layout to make more space for pedestrians
- removal of railings in central reservation to modernise the look and feel of the area
- Improvements to St Andrews Cross roundabout fountain
- moving a number of bus services that currently operate from Royal Parade to Mayflower Street instead, these particular services have yet to be decided, but this reallocation of departure stops will reduce congestion at bus stops currently seen on Royal Parade.
Other public realm improvements include the restoration of Gdynia Fountain on Royal Parade. The fountain holds cultural and civic significance as it symbolises the links between Plymouth and the city of Gdynia in Poland. Read our Lights, pumps, action for Gdynia Fountain news item for more information about the restoration of the fountain.
Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan
Our newest Conservation Area – The City Centre now has an adopted Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan. This was adopted in March 2022 and the document can be viewed on our conservation areas page.
The city centre was designated as a conservation area in July 2019 to ensure Plymouth's unique post-war architecture has more protection. In fact Plymouth's City Centre Conservation Area is the first post war City Centre conservation area in the country. The area forms an important part of the wider city centre, which was rebuilt, following its destruction during World War Two and is based on the 1943 'A Plan for Plymouth' by Professor Patrick Abercrombie and James Paton Watson.
Plymouth has a wealth of post-war architecture with the highest number of twentieth century listed buildings in the country. The new City Centre Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan will ensure we keep our rich cultural offer at the heart of everything we do.
The legacy of a completed Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan is a clear reference guide to developers and planning officers in the consideration of changes to buildings and spaces.
The HAZ community engagement plan is creating an infrastructure that supports communities to learn about the city centre's Plan for Plymouth, as well as helping local people develop their own projects and events.
We work with the community in two ways. Firstly we target a type of community and engage them in an exciting and free programme of walks and talks. Secondly we are providing a grant scheme for this community to apply for funding. This will give several entry points into a relationship with the heritage of our city centre.
The 'High Street Sparks' funding scheme has been set up to gift up to £2,500 (and in exceptional cases £5,000) to community projects that will help breathe life back into Plymouth's city centre. The funding focuses on projects that put the spotlight on a specially designated conservation area around Royal Parade and the Civic Square and respond to its heritage. For more details of this year's projects (2021/22) visit The Box website.
Whilst everyone is welcome to engage with us, we are also targeting a different type of community each year. When we started our engagement work in 2020 we were very much focused on the digital realm with all our work online, this engagement we called communities in bubbles. In 2021 we worked with communities of interest, in 2022 communities of geography and in 2023 communities with protected characteristics.
Our goal is to deliver a programme that goes beyond traditional community engagement models through an innovative partnership approach that develops involved and informed citizens. When it comes to architecture not many of us know our Post Modern from our Beaux Arts, so understanding the different architectural styles that make up a city can be confusing – but thanks to a new animated film, Plymouth residents can learn much more about the heritage right under their feet.
'Plymouth – City of the Future' has been produced by animator Robin Holland at Saltash-based Carbon Pixel Limited for the High Street Heritage Action Zone Project. The film can be watched on the High Street Heritage Action Zone's Vimeo channel and on The Box's High Street Sparks web page.