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Love our High Streets - Kingswood

Regenerating Kingswood

There are several projects underway aimed at improving and regenerating the Kingswood town centre and surrounding areas.

Background

At the end of 2018, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) agreed to fund a £10 million programme to reinvigorate high streets in the WECA constituent councils of Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol City, and South Gloucestershire.

WECA asked us to identify where the funding could make a real impact to our local high streets and communities. We put Kingswood forward as a location with a traditional high street and a rich heritage and proposed a package of projects that our share of the funding (up to £3.3million) could support as part of plans to reinvigorate the area and tackle some of the challenges that have been reported from the community.

This initial funding has been the catalyst to start work in Kingswood and bid for additional funding to enhance the area.

Initial engagement in 2019

We ran a first phase of public engagement from 25 January to 18 March 2019, including a public event on 18 March 2019 in Kingswood high street.

From the consultation survey we received 244 responses, 97% of which agreed with the proposed objectives for the Kingswood Love our High Streets project. 91% agreed with the initial funding proposals with only 4% saying they tended to disagree.

Many respondents also provided additional written comments to support their answers to the survey, these have been helpful for us to understand key matters of interest and any points of concern.

The biggest issue drawing further comment was the mix and type of shops with 43 specific additional written comments. There were numerous references to the prevalence of charity shops, coffee shops, betting shops, nail bars and fast food outlets. There was a desire for more independent shops, a cultural offer, market space, anchor stores, family restaurants, soft play etc. This issue was similarly prominent on social media with a lot of discussion about how the former Store 21 site in particular might be better used.

Anti-social behaviour also came across as a critical issue. We received 33 comments on this topic including smoking, drugs, young people on bikes, alcoholism etc. However, their comments also highlighted a lack of facilities for young people. There was a recognition that poor quality of the public spaces was deterring people from the high street and was not a deterrent to such anti-social behaviour issues.

The quality of buildings and the amount of vacant buildings was also a cause of concern for many, particularly; the former pharmacy site, the Linden Hotel, former Store 21 and the Whitfield Tabernacle all of which are particularly prominent town centre buildings in Kingswood.

Parking was also a significant and controversial issue. This also received several comments on social media. Some felt there was insufficient parking, that more free parking needed to be available and that parking restrictions should be better enforced. Some supported residents parking areas, whilst some were against. Some supported park charges but many more wanted free parking.

Aims for Kingswood

Following the consultation, we are revisiting our objectives for Kingswood high street and the surrounding area. These are as follows:

  • increase the number of people visiting Kingswood high street
  • cleaner, safer and active streets with high quality public spaces and cleaner air
  • bring empty premises back into use and upgrade the quality of high street premises
  • provide new employment opportunities and enhance the training offer for existing business
  • promote awareness of the heritage of the high street
  • provide a mix of new development opportunities and experiences to the high street
  • promote walking and cycling opportunities, access to green spaces and improved health and wellbeing opportunities
  • develop local skills with a focus on new technology

Love our High Streets

We have already started work on a range of initiatives as part of the Love our High Streets funding.

Whitfield Tabernacle is benefitting from £682,000 from this funding to repair, re-roof and re-open, kick starting the improvements to this historical building.

We have funded a new Ecosweeper to clean the high street and solar-powered compaction bins are awaiting installation (post-Covid-19 restrictions).

In addition, we are developing a targeted approach to empty properties with a Community and Business Grant Scheme under business case development and are continuing to promote a grant-funding package for low carbon business interventions.

Future High Streets Fund

Building on the Love our High Streets project, we are now bidding for additional funding as part of the Governments Future High Streets initiative. With this addition funding, there is an opportunity to re-purpose and provide a new range of uses and experiences in Kingswood. Leisure, cultural experiences, food and beverage, markets, residential and new places to do business are features of a changing, vibrant and successful high street.

We want to invest in revitalising Kingswood high street and provide a new, inspirational public realm that respects and enhances Kingswood’s rich heritage, and creates a destination where people want to sit, work, to dine out, enjoy shopping, enjoy real life experiences, absorb heritage and culture, and participate in activities in attractive public spaces.

Our funding opportunity comes from the Future High Streets Fund which was announced in October 2018. It has two key purposes: to support local areas to prepare long-term strategies for their high streets; and to help fund local high street projects including:

  • investment in physical infrastructure such as public and transport access, improving traffic flow and congestion relief, enabling new housing and employment development, and the regeneration of heritage high streets; and
  • investment in land assembly, for example to support the densification of residential and employment around high streets in place of under-used retail units.

Our bid for Kingswood was secured in August 2019, and since then we have been working on a developing a Masterplan for the town centre.

We are currently seeking views on draft proposals to include in the business case for the Future High Streets funding, you can have your say until 7 June 2020.

A Masterplan for Kingswood Town Centre

The development of our proposed Masterplan has identified key opportunities to secure a future for the high street and wider town centre. It has identified sites where we should target investment and where there are opportunities to promote schemes with the private sector.

The approaches, sites and key projects set out in the Masterplan will directly inform the council’s next Local Plan – which will set out the statutory policies and allocations for growth and change in Kingswood over the next 15 to 20 years.

Central to the masterplan is the Whitfield Tabernacle on Park Road. This Grade I Listed Building has been identified as the catalyst site for a wider investment programme in Kingswood. Currently in a poor state of repair and little more than a derelict building, for the past 12 months we have been working very closely with The Whitfield Tabernacle Trust to develop a scheme to stabilise the building and open it up to the public.

The Masterplan, Future High Streets Fund and the development of the Masters Church presents a very timely opportunity to secure restoration of the Tabernacle. Working with the Trust, we have secured a £682,000 funding package from the West of England Combined Authority and a Listed Building Consent application has since been submitted to undertake the works.

The wider Masterplan looks at a package of potential interventions across four key areas in Kingswood:

  1. Retail / business quarter (Kings Chase – LIDL);
  2. Historic and cultural heart (Regent St and Conservation Area);
  3. Civic quarter (park, library, council offices etc); and
  4. Urban living neighbourhood (Moravian Rd and under-utilised industrial land).

The Masterplan is considering the connectivity between these areas, the green spaces and heritage assets of the town centre. It also promotes walking, cycling and public transport access into the town centre from the surrounding area.

The Masterplan is still being developed, and we will hold a full consultation on the plan at the appropriate time.

Whitfield Tabernacle Conservation Area

The Whitfield Tabernacle Conservation Area sits in the heart of Kingswood town centre and we hope it will soon be accessible again from Regent Street as it once was before falling into disrepair. The site comprises of the Grade I listed Whitfield Tabernacle, Grade II listed Masters Church and Grade II listed Chapel House.

The Tabernacle has a rich ecclesiastical history, reaching back to George Whitfield who, with his friends John and Charles Wesley and John Cennick established the Evangelical revivalist movement in Bristol during the 1730’s. This revival eventually became known as the ‘Methodist Movement’. They preached for the first time in the open fields at Rose Green and at various other sites in and around Kingswood. Wesley himself also preached in the open air for the first time at Hanham Mount, near Mount Hill Road.

Open air preaching had brought the non-conformist message to huge numbers of people with crowds of between 200 and 10,000 recorded and the response from the people was immediate and dramatic.

After John Wesley’s New Room in Bristol (built in 1739), the Whitfield Tabernacle is the earliest of the non-conformist places of worship built throughout the world during the 18th and 19th Centuries. It was opened in 1742 and played an important role in the development of the evangelical revival of the mid-18th century.  At this time Kingswood was a coal-mining and industrial area. Its significance has been recognised for nearly three hundred years. Locally, there are still many people within the local community who remember visiting the Tabernacle pre-closure and the building is recognised by visitors from around the world who are dismayed by its present condition. George Whitfield is better known in the United States where he had an effective mission, so many of the visitors to the Tabernacle site are from the US.

The Tabernacle is recognised as part of Methodist Heritage. In 1906, the former Calvinist Methodist Church became a Congregational Church. With the formation of the United Reformed Church, they became Whitfield URC, remaining active as a hall for the church Sunday School and local youth/uniformed activities until late into the 1980s when the URC joined the local Moravian Church to become the United Church in Kingswood – but they still trace their roots back to 1739. The Tabernacle was finally closed in 1992.

By the mid-19th century the Tabernacle was too small and outdated to accommodate the growing congregation and a new church (The Masters Church) was built nearby. The church was designed by Henry Masters and was completed in 1851. It served until 16 October 1983 when the church was finally closed due to falling attendances. The Masters Church is now being converted to 19 apartments with three dwellings behind.

The Trustees of the new Whitfield Tabernacle Trust believe that a sustainable future for the building is possible, restoring & adapting the property to become a community landmark that will make a positive social and economic impact in this disadvantaged ‘Priority Neighbourhood’ area; this is supported by community engagement activities.

The cemetery on the site will transfer to our ownership as part of a legal agreement within the planning permission. This will provide valuable space for new green space as a public park.

The Whitfield Tabernacle Trust have the ambition to use a fully-restored Tabernacle as a Performance Arts Centre and Cultural Cinema and are working with us to ensure we have a robust business case to support our funding proposal. We believe that such a site, set within the context of a restored Masters Church and a new public park will provide an inspirational new cultural offer for Kingswood.

The Whitfield Tabernacle Trust are keen to hear from people with an interest in the site or with expertise you might be able to offer this passionate community group. Contact engage@whitfieldtabernacle.org to express your interest.

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