- Gareth Davies
Unlocking the City of Hereford as a Regional Historic Capital. June 2020
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
Hereford has been a regional centre for the middle Welsh Marches (Borderland) since medieval days. It holds a unique position at the centre of the County of Herefordshire as well as serving a large area of the Borders stretching well into Mid Wales and taking in small towns such as Llandrindod Wells, Builth Wells, Knighton and Hay-on-Wye.
It is the administrative centre of the county which serves the small market towns of Leominster, Ross-on-Wye, Ledbury, Bromyard and Kington. It is fortunate in that competition from other centre is hampered by distance; 23 miles to Worcester, 29 miles to Gloucester, 53 miles to Shrewsbury, 45 miles to Newport, 42 miles to Cheltenham and 57 miles to Cardiff. It is only in the east of the county that Worcester, Gloucester and Cheltenham offer alternatives for the towns of Bromyard, Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye.
The centre of the city at High Town was pedestrianised in the late 1960’s with the completion of the inner ring road and the new Greyfriars bridge across the River Wye. Today the area along with the lane leading down to the cathedral close forms a most attractive part of the city.
It continues to be recognised that the wellbeing and economic health of the city is vital to that of Herefordshire as a whole and also to a wider region of the Welsh Marches stretching into mid Wales together with adjacent parts of Shropshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.
Retail Erosion in the 21st Century
However, the City of Hereford has somewhat fallen behind the times and its position has suffered an erosion as a retail hub in the 21st century. Towards the end of the first decade an attempt was made to stem this erosion. The concept of the Edgar Street Grid was born. This involved the redevelopment of the area to the north of the historic city including the cattle market and Merton Meadows leading to Edgar Street, Commercial Road and the railway station. The redevelopment included a mix of land uses including retail, leisure, affordable housing, education and light industrial/commercial. It was intended to restore the city as a key shopping and business destination in the region.
The ESG Executive team proudly announced in 2010: Welcome to a new Hereford, which is on the verge of a bright new future...the city is changing...and for greater economic prosperity. Despite these bright words, there was considerable disquiet amongst the council, retailers and the general public. The disquiet centred on the impact a new retail quarter would have on the traditional city centre, by then already showing signs of decline. Connectivity between the old and the new was also a major issue. The then prospective MP Jesse Norman said: I certainly agree that development should begin with the historic core.
The cattle market was moved and a new retail quarter was built including a multi-screen cinema. A new link road from Edgar Street to Commercial Road was completed in 2018 and that is as far as the ESG has got! The historic High Town has suffered and the hoped for greater economic prosperity has turned into an accelerating decline.
Why is this? A combination of reasons can be suggested. Putting aside the aftermath of the creation of Herefordshire as a unitary authority and national budgetary cuts in local government finance, a number of reasons can be postulated:
The failure of the ESG retail centre to stimulate regeneration of the city centre.
The failure to realise and build on Hereford’s strength as a city of the small independent · quality trader and not just another city of national chains.
The growth of online shopping.
Traffic congestion on the main radial routes into the city centre.
The lack of a modern, frequent internal public transport system that offers a good alternative to the use of the car and assists in reducing congestion.
Poor access to the city centre for those who wish to walk, cycle or need to use mobility vehicles.
Hereford has traditionally been a city of the small independent trader. That is what appealed to the population as well as drawing in considerable number of visitors from South Wales, Mid Wales and the West Midlands. In a world of national retail chains which can be found in any city or town, it is the factor of individuality together with the quality of goods that is going to score in regeneration. Often such merchandise cannot be found online and people still prefer to see, examine and purchase in a friendly and attractive environment. The central core of Hereford can have all these. The fact that Hereford is also a city of the arts with a well-known college should also be developed.
Access to the City Centre
Poor access to the city centre, associated with traffic congestion is often quoted as a reason for Hereford’s decline. This has led to continued calls for a bypass. But will a bypass solve anything? The answer to come out of a number of transport studies is no, because traffic congestion is mostly caused by the population of Hereford itself. Less than 22% of traffic in Hereford is through traffic. The journey to work, to school and college, to shop, to hospital etc. are all made within the city not around it.
A bypass is likely to further a decline in Hereford as a retail centre not improve it. Surely the policy should be to attract visitors into Hereford, not send them around it to other retail centres. All the pointers are that the main radial routes into the centre will see no relief from a bypass. In fact the situation will be exacerbated by housing growth on the periphery of the city whose traffic generation will quickly fill any small amount of spare space on the radials that a bypass may create.
Clearly better access to the city centre will depend on significant improvements to the public transport system and the creation of safe, traffic free walk/cycle routes not by the building of new roads. The forward-looking report ‘Sustainable Public Transport for Hereford’ in the Sustainable Transport Herefordshire series identifies all the above.
In 2017 the Urban Review Panel of Historic England visited Hereford. Their report recommended that Herefordshire Council evolved a transport strategy which included an urgent need...to consider how Herefordshire Council might affect modal change to encourage people to use modes other than the private car to access facilities. They also strongly advised urgent attention to improving the station forecourt area (where again the project for a transport hub has stalled) and providing good connectivity between the station and the centre. Interestingly, it was also suggested that the new university NMiTE should get more closely involved with these types of project for improvement to the city’s environment.
Creating a Healthy, Safe Environment
Air quality, safety and a traffic free environment are the key to the future. Hereford has a major start in this with High Town already pedestrianised and linked to Cathedral Close. A positive part of the Edgar Street Grid was the creation of a pedestrian friendly tree line boulevard along Blueschool Street/Newmarket Street (the current inner ring road). This was dependant on the completion of the new link road between Edgar Street and Commercial Road. This link road has been open for a while but the scheme for the inner ring road has stalled.
The Government’s Town Fund
Hereford has been successful in securing a place in the Government’s Town Fund., conditional on the submission of a Town Investment Plan by the local authority. This report identifies the problems facing Hereford if it is to maintain and build on its status as an important Historic Town of the Marches. We would hope that any town investment plan will include the following:
A strategy to restore Hereford’s place as a city of the small trader offering quality merchandise and produce. The recent purchase of the Maylord Orchards site in High Town is a significant step in this direction. Councillor Gemma Davies, cabinet member commented: We view the future of this area, which is in the heart of our city, as so much more than a retail outlet. We will now have the ability to create a vibrant place where people will want to visit, live, work and do business. We want to open the door of opportunity to local businesses, individuals and the wider community, providing them with a central space and shopfront that they wouldn’t previously have had access to.
Early completion of the shared space environment scheme for Blueschool Street/Newmarket Street. Coupled with this could be plans for the improvement to the siting of the City Walls as part of a feature highlighting the historic nature of the city.
Provision of a modern, frequent internal public transport system that offers a good alternative to the use of the car and assists in reducing dependence on the car for short trips into the city.
Significant improvements to the connectivity of the railway station with the historic core, including a start on the long promised transport hub at the station with improvements to the forecourt environment. This should take account of the needs of those with mobility problems.
A strategy of safe, traffic free walk/cycle routes into the city centre.
Reinstatement of shopmobility to a surface location at Maylord Orchards and safe provision to access the city centre for those who need to use a mobility vehicle.
The important link between transport and land use is emphasised in the case of Hereford. Understanding this is fundamental to the regeneration of the city. Herefordshire Council are proving brave in undertaking a much-needed reassessment of future transport requirements in the city, especially in respect of the climate emergency and the need to move to zero carbon. They deserve every encouragement in this direction as part of the need to make Hereford a clean, healthy and environmentally attractive place to live in and to visit.
Sustainable Public Transport for Hereford: Herefordshire Sustainable Transport Group July 2019
Urban Panel Review Paper Hereford: Historic England October 2017