THE biggest thing to hit Hemel Hempstead since the new town of the postwar years is about to land.
Despite a number of false starts, council bosses insist this time the town will be getting a much-needed overhaul.
First came the civic zone, then Waterhouse Square and now Hemel Evolution is upon us, promising ‘bricks on the ground in the next two years’.
Those with long memories will remember similar promises – a replacement for the Pavilion to be completed by 2006, a revamped town centre by 2013.
This time it’s different, says Councillor Steve Holmes, after the latest plans were agreed at a meeting of Dacorum Borough Council’s cabinet.
“This is probably the biggest thing to hit Hemel Hempstead in years,” says the planning and regeneration chief. “The last time we had something this big was in 1952.
“It has taken 20 years to get to this point, after that wonderful false start with Waterhouse Square.
“This is much more viable.”
Whereas regeneration plans of the past have taken an all-in-one-go approach, this time things will be done in stages.
Controversially the plans do not include a new arts and entertainment venue, so the Pavilion will remain a memory.
“It’s officially off the table,” Mr Holmes says. “Will the council provide? I think the answer has to be: ‘No’.”
The first area to receive attention will be the old town, with the new ‘public service quarter’ probably next on the list.
Other parts of the scheme have been broken down into bite-sized chunks – the Water Gardens, the Marlowes shopping zone and the market square.
The timescale on these elements is not clear at this stage, but Mr Holmes says he expects most of the job to be complete by 2017.
The old town
First off the High Street will be made one-way, allowing travel from Queensway towards Piccotts End.
This will provide extra space for more on-street parking, meaning more passing trade for shops, and a new taxi rank.
Some sort of entrance at the junction with Queensway is planned, perhaps including gates, so the old town can be closed off for more street events like the annual Victorian evening.
The Old Town Hall will also be upgraded.
Plans are expected to go out to public consultation next February with work starting in September.
The public service quarter
A new civic centre incorporating a library and space for charity organisations will be built either on a car park in the Water Gardens or on the corner of Combe Street and Marlowes.
The current civic centre is too large – Mr Holmes says the number of council staff has halved over the past five years – and it is expensive to run, with £4 million of investment needed over the next 10 years.
Selling off the land currently occupied by the civic centre, library, police station and courts for redevelopment as a supermarket and housing will pay for the new public service quarter.
A decision on the location is expected in January or February.
The Water Gardens
Bids will be made for funding to restore the Grade II-listed gardens, but they will also be modernised with the possibility of a cafe being provided. A history trail will be created linking the gardens with the old town and the Bury.
Mr Holmes, referring to the renowned designer of the gardens Geoffrey Jellicoe, says: “Perhaps we want to revamp the Water Gardens to a modern vision of what he would like.
“There are maybe some more radical things to do in there.”
Marlowes shopping zone
An outdoor ‘food court’ with three or four vendors and a canopied area will be created near the Roundhouse.
All the metal seating will be removed with benches incorporated into updated planters.
Lighting and signage will be improved, trees planted and new play equipment installed.
Work will take place to improve market stalls.
The future of the square is dependant on where the public service quarter is built and more work is taking place to decide on possible uses.
Currently £50,000 has been set aside for planters and seating to improve the area in the short term.
“It’s a quick win to make the Market Square look better,” Mr Holmes says.
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