Thursday, 11 February 2021
What does the future hold for the Broadmarsh Centre in Nottingham?
It’s a huge concrete reminder of the pandemic’s impact on an already struggling retail industry, but the half-demolished Broadmarsh Centre in Nottingham also represents a rare opportunity to shape a city centre asset as its residents and businesses desire. As part of a public consultation into its future use, Nottingham Partners recently hosted a roundtable featuring key stakeholders on the future of the site, with Dan Robinson in attendance.
The Broadmarsh Centre has been left in a half-demolished state since the first Covid-19 lockdown
A “blot on the landscape”, a “running sore” and a “crater in the centre of Nottingham”. These are three phrases used by Paul Southby as he introduces the Broadmarsh riddle.
The future of the shopping centre that crowns the Broadmarsh area on the edge of Nottingham city centre, built across a thoroughfare between the railway station and Old Market Square, has been a headache for decades.
After numerous false dawns, a breakthrough had finally emerged as owner intu employed a contractor to knock it down ahead of a rebuilding job that would replace the concrete barrier with a more welcoming glass façade and reimagine the centre as a hub for both retail and leisure anchored by a cinema and bowling alley.
But then Covid-19 struck, the contractor was pulled off site as intu collapsed into administration and the lease was handed back to Nottingham City Council.
Charged with responsibility of finding a future purpose for the site, which won’t be clear of demolition until March 2022, the council held a 10-week consultation titled The Big Conversation to gather public opinion at the end of last year.
Paul, chairman of the Marketing Nottingham place marketing organisation that hosted a virtual roundtable in December to bounce off ideas, believes the 23-acre Broadmarsh development site doesn’t have to be a liability but can become an asset once more.
Intu had planned to revamp the shopping centre before it collapsed into administration
“There can’t be another city in the country that has what I’d call the opportunity to make this right that we have here in Nottingham,” he says.
Mel Barrett, who joined as chief executive of Nottingham City Council in September 2020, adds: “This project is tremendously exciting given the scale and it will be defining, not just in terms of Nottingham, but regionally and nationally – while it will be of international interest.”
Broadmarsh decision must reflect how post-Covid city centres will look
In many ways, the Broadmarsh symbolises the juncture many cities find themselves at in a post-Covid world.
With the consensus being that there needs to be far less dependence on retail space and uncertainty about how many workers will return to city centre offices, there’s a need for a bolder vision about their future purpose.
Mel says: “Humans are social animals and want the opportunities to be together. Once we’re beyond coronavirus, we’ll return to that and the ability for it to play a major part in redefining how we use city centres will be important.”
He also believes it’s crucial to consider the “liveability” of city centres for not just young people, but families and older people.
One of the prevailing desires developed during lockdown for many people was a fondness for nature and an online petition calling for an open green space to be created instead of the Broadmarsh Centre development has been signed by 11,600 people.
Victoria Green, CEO of Nottingham family-run property company Spenbeck, says this would help to not only attract visitors but keep residents and workers in the city centre.
She suggests creating such an environment in the first phase of a larger masterplan that splits up the Broadmarsh area for different types of “sensitive” development.
“That’s a pragmatic approach because, at this point, nobody knows what post-Covid looks like, but neither can we sit in limbo forever,” she adds. “So we can get a strategic balance by giving the city what it needs now for people to enjoy and look at it as the first phase of the regeneration while we get our ducks in a row.”
Councillor Sam Webster, the city council’s portfolio holder for finance, growth and the city centre, admits it’s “fairly obvious” that a green public realm will be part of the masterplan, particularly as it would support the council’s Carbon Neutral Nottingham 2028 plan.
But he warns it’s “not the be all and end all” as the council will consider a mixed-use approach also encompassing employment and aspirational housing.
Nottingham can take inspiration from cities ranging from Oslo to Sheffield
Oslo has become synonymous with contemporary architecture, with old areas transformed in recent years to create a brand-new skyline.
But the Norwegian capital isn’t just a living gallery for world-class designers – its new neighbourhoods have captured the imagination of investors too.
John Morgan, director at Leonard Design Architects, which has been involved in the Broadmarsh area masterplan, believes Nottingham could learn a lot from such examples on the continent.
“Nottingham should be benchmarking itself not against Birmingham, Leicester and Liverpool, but actually against European cities as well,” he says.
“The city has set itself some incredibly aspirational and challenging green targets, so therefore we should be looking far wider.
“Our team is doing a number of projects in Oslo and we always say they’re genuine about the people who live and work in developments.The Oslo skyline has taken a contemporary twist
“People are at the heart of decisions but they’re also making financially viable and profitable developments that external investors are interested in because they’re getting it right for how they’ll be used.”
There’s also examples closer to home, given that Sheffield City Council was left with a large site that had been destined to be a shopping centre which didn’t get built.
The 1.5 million sq ft Heart of the City II regeneration scheme has instead involved a phased approach to build shops, a hotel, homes and Grade A offices, including a flagship HSBC office.
“It respected the heritage and historic street pattern, and it’s managed to create different funding strategies for each of those blocks,” says John. “Sheffield has shown how to make it work.”
The Lace Market regeneration offers a prime example of how to tap into the city’s heritage while satisfying current and future needs.
Victoria – whose company has played a central role in the Lace Market transformation as one of the area’s main property owners – also draws inspiration from London, which has reinvented many areas with designs based on how streets were originally mapped out.
She suggests bringing back some of the old street names and potentially restoring some of the original topography, adding: “We’ve got such a rich heritage in the city and it’s a massive opportunity to fuse this together with the sustainable design-led future uses.
“Whatever multi-function scheme we look at, tourism should be front and centre of it because many people all over the world will know about Robin Hood, the caves and lace. So let’s use the Broadmarsh area to hit people in the face visually with what Nottingham is about because you only have one chance to make a first impression.”
Surrounding development sites in Nottingham suggest city is moving in right direction
While the Broadmarsh is the “crater” in the middle of Nottingham and a puzzle that needs solving, there are spurts of positivity surrounding it.
Cllr Webster describes a “golden thread of development” that begins at Trent Basin, the eco housing project on the north side of the river, and extends to the 40-acre Island Quarter site – finally being developed into a mixed-use scheme after decades of laying derelict – Nottingham College and the Broadmarsh, finishing at the castle.
Work is underway on the Island Quarter development
“There’s just an immense amount of development happening there and more investment than any of us have ever known to happen before in Nottingham,” he adds.
“But it’s really important that this time we get the right solution for Nottingham. It’s not the Broadmarsh Centre anymore and I think that’s one of the positives.
“One of the things that’s certain for me is that the site as we’ve known it and the buildings as we’ve known them for the past number of decades won’t be there any longer.
“I think external investors are noticing what’s happening here – so yes, we’ve got challenges, but the opportunities are much greater than the challenges.”
How Nottingham can attract inward investment
A clear vision will be critical to enticing inward investment, believes the chief executive of Nottingham City Council.
The council has already been awarded an £8m Government grant to transform the Broadmarsh but private backers will also be needed to realise its full potential.
Mel Barrett says: “We need to be clear on what the proposition is to create that sense of what’s possible for potential investors.
“Clarity, consistency and certainty of decision-making are important if people are thinking about putting risk money in place when they’ve got alternative choices for where they could put that investment.”
Mel, who has worked on regeneration projects in London, Oxford and Basingstoke, believes a long-term institutional finance package may be involved in funding any development schemes and admits he wouldn’t be surprised if a joint venture was formed between developers.
Reflecting on his previous schemes, he adds: “Quite often, some of the foreign institutional investors seem to be more alive to seeking opportunities.
“Canadian and Japanese pension funds really do seem to enjoy that exposure to UK-based investments, where our rule of law and stable environment mean they’re quite comfortable to long-term investments here.”
Nottingham must become a city for pedestrians
Improving pedestrian access between Nottingham Castle and the city centre will be a key part of future-proofing Nottingham, believes Cllr Sam Webster.
Once the castle redevelopment is complete, he says the council is aware there will be a greater footfall from both the railway station and Old Market Square to the tourist attraction, via the traffic-heavy Maid Marian Way.
Cllr Webster says: “If we can improve the experience, safety and heritage aspect of that route, then I’m in favour.”
John Morgan points out that traffic will be diverted away from the city centre by the new Broadmarsh car park and bus station. Moving the entrance from Collin Street to Canal Street will enable the road outside the old Broadmarsh Centre to be pedestrianised, making access to the city centre from the railway station far easier.
This article appears in the February 2021 issue of the Chamber's Business Network magazine. To read the online edition, click here.Back