On this page you can read about the responses of the Civic Society to the Big Town Plan proposals:

2021 Statement
2020 Statement
2018 Statement
2017 Report in response to BTP presentation

General statement about the Big Town Plan by Shrewsbury Civic Society      February 2021

This statement was also published in the Civic Society’s Spring 2021 Newsletter

Shrewsbury Civic Society welcomes the Big Town Plan’s new move to Celebrate Heritage but has concerns.

Shrewsbury Civic Society’s main objective is the ‘preservation, development and improvement of the town’s architectural and natural heritage for the benefit of townspeople’. Consequently, we warmly welcome the inclusion of a priority to “Celebrate Heritage” in the latest version of the Big Town Plan.

From the outset in 2017, the Civic Society has been involved with, and made occasional public statements about, the evolution of the Plan. This is our fourth. Previous Big Town Plan (BTP) documents hardly mention the significance of Heritage and Shrewsbury’s unique built environment as a consideration. This is now included as a new “move” or principle, redressing the omission and recognising how heritage and our historic buildings are valued by townspeople, attracting visitors and helping tourism. It is the starting point for any improvements.

Big Town Plan leaders have widened the scope of the priorities and the process is still evolving with a very high level of public involvement, using a variety of media. These have been especially helpful during the pandemic. The feedback is revealing the strong latent interest of local residents and others. The Civic Society encourages everyone to ‘have a say’ via the Big Town Plan website.

The Society’s committee members have been considering the detailed proposals so far and are pleased with those which could offer substantial improvements, such as “nurturing the natural environment” and reducing traffic. However, members are v disconcerted by the language of the document, worded with over-generalisations and use of hyperbole. This “developer-ese” inhibits the identification of the plan’s positive features. Several of the proposed developments may be attractive for visitors but reduce convenience for residents, for example, some plans concerning access and public transport will be regressive. We are carefully reviewing these.

At the recent BTP webinars, many national and local speakers emphasised the unique strengths of the town’s historic buildings and suggested the need for expert high-quality design of any changes. The 2018 version of the Big Town Plan included ways to control design quality but none are included in the latest document. The Civic Society has been talking about this and we are hopeful of a bespoke system. 

Civic Society member Mike Carter said, “There’s some great improvements in the latest version of the Big Town Plan and it’s wonderful to have the town’s heritage celebrated as a theme. It’s a pity that the document’s language reads as a form of salesmanship, because that may undermine its strengths.  Nevertheless, we are still hoping for some system that will ensure the appropriateness and highest quality of design for any future developments in the town centre and beyond”.

The Society’s Chairman, Mike Dinneen said, “Public involvement has been a real feature of the Big Town Plan and the Civic Society has followed and commented on its development. This new version takes the Plan forward, following the master-planning work. The Society supports the best quality improvements and hopes for sustainable developments that will improve the town for its residents and others.”

STATEMENT CONCERNING THE BIG TOWN PLAN (Spring 2020)

Often assumed, yet unstated, is the fact that Shrewsbury is an unusual and rare town of genuine, architectural and heritage significance. These features are the most durable ones in maintaining the quality of life and a stream of visitors, or in other words, its sustainable economic future. Consequently, any alterations to the Town Centre need skilled evaluation to ascertain that they will enhance, and not erode, these qualities. 

The Civic Society has such issues as its substantive objective.  We welcomed the Big Town Plan in a statement in October 2018. Then, as now, we were keen to see that any new development or altered streets or buildings would be carefully assessed for their impact on the existing built environment, both neighbouring and wider. We welcomed the idea of a “Design Charter” although this may now have been subsumed into Shropshire’s emerging Local Plan Update. Perhaps more specific to the town was a “Shrewsbury Test”, as this could have the potential to execute the rigorous evaluation similar to that which ‘design reviews’ might provide. 

We think that the “Shrewsbury Test” should be developed as soon as detailed planning is being prepared for any of the Master-planning Areas. There are many issues that would apply to all or any of these Areas, which may include:

  • the engagement of highly qualified and experienced designers/architects only
  • the provision of a built environment that helps the viewer to be aware of its history
  • the quality of design of places and buildings in terms of proportion, fenestration and shape
  • the nature of public spaces and their human scale
  • restrictions on Conservation Area building frontages e.g. Shop fronts
  • the significance of roofs that contribute to skylines of inviting elevation
  • the articulation of walls that reduce massing
  • the variation of uses of buildings providing human scale, interest and variety
  • the use of locally appropriate materials 
  • retaining Shrewsbury’s famous Shuts (even creating more!)
  • exclusive use of high quality designed signage and way finding
  • reducing street ‘clutter’
  • the provision of increased living greenery, trees and green spaces amongst buildings
  • increased provision for pedestrians and cyclists 
  • significantly improving public transport with ecosystems 
  • reduced provision for polluting traffic and increased opportunities for public transport
  • reducing carbon emissions by building design and appropriate retro-fitting
  • free high-speed electronic communication wherever possible

Although not exhaustive, the above points may support the development of a “Shrewsbury Test” and certainly reflect most of the “10 Goals for Shrewsbury”, as identified by LDA. We would be happy to flesh these out with sufficient detail to use in practice. 

The Civic Society is pleased to have been invited to several Master-planning Area Events and to offer suggestions because most of the “Areas” have significant issues in common. Additionally, all the areas are wholly (or partly) subject to Conservation Legislation as implemented by the Local Planning Authority’s team.

We agree that the early stages of the Big Town Plan’s formation was very well supported by considerable public engagement. We hope that this may continue in the later stages of development. 

The Society will consider any resultant planning applications as they arise.

Often assumed, yet unstated, is the fact that Shrewsbury is an unusual and rare town of genuine, architectural and heritage significance. These features are the most durable ones in maintaining the quality of life and a stream of visitors, or in other words, its sustainable economic future. Consequently, any alterations to the Town Centre need skilled evaluation to ascertain that they will enhance, and not erode, these qualities. 

The Civic Society has such issues as its substantive objective.  We welcomed the Big Town Plan in a statement in October 2018. Then, as now, we were keen to see that any new development or altered streets or buildings would be carefully assessed for their impact on the existing built environment, both neighbouring and wider. We welcomed the idea of a “Design Charter” although this may now have been subsumed into Shropshire’s emerging Local Plan Update. Perhaps more specific to the town was a “Shrewsbury Test”, as this could have the potential to execute the rigorous evaluation similar to that which ‘design reviews’ might provide. 

We think that the “Shrewsbury Test” should be developed as soon as detailed planning is being prepared for any of the Master-planning Areas. There are many issues that would apply to all or any of these Areas, which may include:

  • the engagement of highly qualified and experienced designers/architects only
  • the provision of a built environment that helps the viewer to be aware of its history
  • the quality of design of places and buildings in terms of proportion, fenestration and shape
  • the nature of public spaces and their human scale
  • restrictions on Conservation Area building frontages e.g. Shop fronts
  • the significance of roofs that contribute to skylines of inviting elevation
  • the articulation of walls that reduce massing
  • the variation of uses of buildings providing human scale, interest and variety
  • the use of locally appropriate materials 
  • retaining Shrewsbury’s famous Shuts (even creating more!)
  • exclusive use of high quality designed signage and way finding
  • reducing street ‘clutter’
  • the provision of increased living greenery, trees and green spaces amongst buildings
  • increased provision for pedestrians and cyclists 
  • significantly improving public transport with ecosystems 
  • reduced provision for polluting traffic and increased opportunities for public transport
  • reducing carbon emissions by building design and appropriate retro-fitting
  • free high-speed electronic communication wherever possible

Although not exhaustive, the above points may support the development of a “Shrewsbury Test” and certainly reflect most of the “10 Goals for Shrewsbury”, as identified by LDA. We would be happy to flesh these out with sufficient detail to use in practice. 

The Civic Society is pleased to have been invited to several Master-planning Area Events and to offer suggestions because most of the “Areas” have significant issues in common. Additionally, all the areas are wholly (or partly) subject to Conservation Legislation as implemented by the Local Planning Authority’s team.

We agree that the early stages of the Big Town Plan’s formation was very well supported by considerable public engagement. We hope that this may continue in the later stages of development. 

The Society will consider any resultant planning applications as they arise.

STATEMENT CONCERNING THE BIG TOWN PLAN (October 2018)

Shrewsbury Civic Society’s active members reflect a broad range of views about development and the town’s future. The Society’s comments on such important matters as the Big Town Plan therefore represent corporate, overall agreed positions.

 

  1. Shrewsbury Civic Society welcomes the Big Town Plan initiative to care for and improve the town. It is particularly helpful in providing some guiding principles, such as the objective to ‘Nurture Natural Shrewsbury’.

 

  1. The Society is aware that, currently, there is much work to be done before alighting on particular projects and these we await with interest hoping plans will eventually be supported by adopted policy. We commend the continuing openness and wide consultation and recognise that particular projects may attract very varied opinions.

 

  1. Running throughout the Big Town Plan booklet, is the assumption that Shrewsbury is “special”, where many have an “abiding love for the town”. We thoroughly agree. We feel therefore that a further objective to “Cherish Shrewsbury’s Heritage” would be both appropriate and popular.

 

  1. Nevertheless, the Society is pleased to offer further help. We have already made specific suggestions about the “Shrewsbury Test” and may have detailed comments on other proposals. In due course we will respond to any resultant planning applications.

The Civic Society has such issues as its substantive objective.  We welcomed the Big Town Plan in a statement in October 2018. Then, as now, we were keen to see that any new development or altered streets or buildings would be carefully assessed for their impact on the existing built environment, both neighbouring and wider. We welcomed the idea of a “Design Charter” although this may now have been subsumed into Shropshire’s emerging Local Plan Update. Perhaps more specific to the town was a “Shrewsbury Test”, as this could have the potential to execute the rigorous evaluation similar to that which ‘design reviews’ might provide. 

We think that the “Shrewsbury Test” should be developed as soon as detailed planning is being prepared for any of the Master-planning Areas. There are many issues that would apply to all or any of these Areas, which may include:

  • the engagement of highly qualified and experienced designers/architects only
  • the provision of a built environment that helps the viewer to be aware of its history
  • the quality of design of places and buildings in terms of proportion, fenestration and shape
  • the nature of public spaces and their human scale
  • restrictions on Conservation Area building frontages e.g. Shop fronts
  • the significance of roofs that contribute to skylines of inviting elevation
  • the articulation of walls that reduce massing
  • the variation of uses of buildings providing human scale, interest and variety
  • the use of locally appropriate materials 
  • retaining Shrewsbury’s famous Shuts (even creating more!)
  • exclusive use of high quality designed signage and way finding
  • reducing street ‘clutter’
  • the provision of increased living greenery, trees and green spaces amongst buildings
  • increased provision for pedestrians and cyclists 
  • significantly improving public transport with ecosystems 
  • reduced provision for polluting traffic and increased opportunities for public transport
  • reducing carbon emissions by building design and appropriate retro-fitting
  • free high-speed electronic communication wherever possible

Although not exhaustive, the above points may support the development of a “Shrewsbury Test” and certainly reflect most of the “10 Goals for Shrewsbury”, as identified by LDA. We would be happy to flesh these out with sufficient detail to use in practice. 

The Civic Society is pleased to have been invited to several Master-planning Area Events and to offer suggestions because most of the “Areas” have significant issues in common. Additionally, all the areas are wholly (or partly) subject to Conservation Legislation as implemented by the Local Planning Authority’s team.

We agree that the early stages of the Big Town Plan’s formation was very well supported by considerable public engagement. We hope that this may continue in the later stages of development. 

The Society will consider any resultant planning applications as they arise.

THE SHREWSBURY BID / BIG TOWN PLAN

“A plan for the town should be developed around people rather than vehicles. It should be about quality of place and quality of life. Not about maximising efficiency and economic growth. A good place will attract investment.”

Below is a report from members of the Committee of Management and the Planning Committee of the Shrewsbury Civic Society, responding to the presentation of the               BID /BIG TOWN PLAN held at 80  Wyle  Cop on September 26th   2017. I would like to thank the following members for making available to me notes they had made and from which this report has been compiled:

               Byron Grainger Jones                 John Brown

               Mike Carter                                      Martina Chamberlain

               Simon Beedles                                 Robin Mager

               Mary de Saulles                              Bibbs Cameron

               Andrew Howe                                 Mike Dinneen

               Jordanis Petridis                             Oscar Baldry

               Clare Williamson                            Jeremy Cragg

TOURISM AND HERITAGE ASSETS

The enormous wealth of historic buildings and other heritage assets within the town should be the key to its regeneration, improving facilities for tourists that will simultaneously enhance the quality of life for local residents and encourage enterprise.

One suggestion which has found favour is the idea of a small number of secondary centres or hubs around the edge of the loop. Each having its own distinct character based on the existing stock of historic buildings. BID has already suggested an innovation hub centred  on the railway station. To the rear of the station is the former Dana Prison, whose development, within a walled garden, is soon to take shape. Nearby is the Butter Market, a distinguished building and a well developed centre for the town’s night life. To its rear is the site of the Shrewsbury Canal Basin which, via the tow path, leads to the Flax Mill and beyond is cycle route 81 and a circular walk back by the  river. The potential of this area for  workplace / leisure /housing and tourism  is obvious .

Other possible character hubs could include Frankwell Quay which has great potential as a cultural centre with the existing Theatres, the University Centre, the restored Stew and Maltings. This is just outside the loop and adjacent to the largest car park in the town. Another hub could be centred on Rowley’s House between Barker Street and Hills Lane where there is already a burgeoning night time economy and what could be a centre for student life. Already there are plans for further student accommodation . Instead of a lifeless car park, a new, high density ‘urban village’ could be created. The Abbey Foregate area, again just outside the loop  and with good parking  also offers potential to be developed specifically for tourism. Most of the character hubs  suggested would utilise areas of the town, which are presently run down, as magnets to rebalance the pressure from Pride Hill and the town centre mega stores. This would avoid the Chester scenario where a huge number of visitors are contained within half a dozen streets.

If our historic buildings are to be the engine of regeneration for our town, it is essential that pressure is brought on owners of the increasing number of dilapidated structures, particularly  those listed and within the conservation areas, to carry out remedial work. BID is in a unique position to work with the Planning Department and the Civic Society to address this problem.

We look forward to the opening of the Flax Mill which will act as a tourist magnet to the north west of the town and would also help to regenerate the northern gateway to the town. The canal and tow path need to be restored from the Butter Market to the Flax Mill providing a traffic free walk from the Station hub to the Mill and beyond

Emphasis needs to be placed on Shrewsbury as the birthplace of Charles Darwin – a figure renowned  the world over. It is ridiculous that there is no visitor access to the Mount – at the very least the exterior should be freely available to the public and the outbuildings of the house (currently unused) open as a small exhibition on Darwin’s childhood and the origins of his ideas as proposed by Mary de Saulles. One room within the house could (with support from University Centre ) become a changing display on the environment / climate change etc. The Shropshire Wildlife Trust would be keen to work with the University on this scheme. There have been over ambitious attempts in the past to open a Darwin Museum but something small scale could work well as a new visitor destination  a short walk from Frankwell Quay.

Old St. Chads should also be open on a regular basis, perhaps with an exhibition on the religious life of the town which would encourage visitors to visit the other churches.

If the built heritage is to be the engine of regeneration for Shrewsbury, it should be given due prominence in all publicity and promotional material emanating from the Tourist Information Centre and from BID.

GETTING TO  AND AROUND THE TOWN

If Shrewsbury is serious about getting more tourists to visit the town – a daily direct train service to and from London throughout the day is essential.

Park & Ride is successful and should be extended to later in the evening as well as on Sundays. This also applies to other bus services within the town in order to encourage more use of the town centre. The replacement of the present buses by cleaner electric vehicles, which  is said to be imminent, is a very welcome move.

Car parks should be located outside the loop to discourage cars from coming into the town and encourage walking. If, as many townspeople believe, much of the through traffic can be removed from the town centre; the opportunity arises to encourage cycling with dedicated cycle lanes extended further into the town centre. Improved cycle parking is also essential.

Pedestrianisation of the town centre within the loop is the  project which has, by far, the most support from members of the working group. It should be started in a small way with perhaps ‘shared use of the roads’ and then extended over a number of years with trial closures. One idea which might be considered as a long-term objective is the creation of a trans-shipment depot  outside the loop  which could service retail businesses whilst keeping large delivery vehicles out of the town centre.

It was pointed out that pedestrianisation will always include winners and losers. An example is the suggestion from BID that a number of roads in the centre should be closed and traffic diverted along Town Walls. The latter road as far as St Chad’s is  among the most attractive streets in the town with many listed buildings. Its use for traffic diversion should not even be contemplated.

A start could be made in two areas: Fish Street / Butcher Row / St. Alkmond’s and Market Square / Princess Street. The flouting of the instruction ‘Access Only’ by taxis simply in order to provide short cuts should be brought to a halt. The introduction of well placed, movable bollards (to allow for deliveries) could be a long term solution. This would provide pleasant and safe havens around both St. Alkmond’s Churchyard and the Market Square for pedestrians.

A  practical suggestion for improving the town centre for pedestrians  would be a 12 mph speed limit  for vehicles within the loop – it would be relatively  inexpensive  to implement and drivers would no longer see the trip around the inner ring road as such a bad alternative to driving through town. A further band comprising a 20mph limit  within the inner ring road (old A5) might also work.

The North West Relief Road still remains the subject of debate. Most of the evidence points to a considerable amount of traffic in the town being through traffic and it is hoped that this might be alleviated by the relief road but the main beneficiaries could well be the villages to the north of Shrewsbury and any relief for the town may be temporary. The new road would cause irreversible damage to the countryside and wildlife and it would inevitably mean that large tracts of land in between the town and the new road would be developed for housing, though,  constraints such as topography and flooding might limit this to some extent.

We recognise the need for new housing developments within the town. But the town’s structure is being significantly distorted by “peripheral infill” which is likely to  accentuate traffic and parking problems in the town centre and thus reduce the quality of life of both old and new inhabitants. We do have concerns regarding the size of many of these developments and the lack of infrastructure  such as schools, medical centres, retail and commercial developments as well as green spaces and easy access to the centre, all of which are needed to relieve unnecessary pressure on existing infrastructure as well as promoting an essential sense of community amongst residents. These are currently not being provided.

SPORTS FACILITIES  AND GREENSPACES

Sports facilities within the town appear to be adequate for the present-day population, with a lot of amateur walking, running ,canoeing and cycling groups. However with a greatly increased population further facilities will be required. One area of concern regarding sports provision is the skateboarding  area for young people at Sundorne. The facility requires some degree of refurbishment  and younger children need supervised sessions.

The future of the Swimming Bath remaining in the town centre is the subject of continuing debate. At some time in the future , the possibility of providing a swimming-pool at Sundorne, as a complement to the dry-sports there might be considered but this should not be at the cost of a pool at the Quarry, which has ease of access from all around the town. The Civic Society, which has supported the retention of the Baths in the town centre, has maintained that should the decision be made that the Baths should leave the town centre, the existing site in the Quarry must be retained for public enjoyment . The site would have  great potential to be developed as a destination of public leisure facilities, pools and rooftop cafe. The possibility has also been mooted that with Shrewsbury’s link to Darwin, this might be the site for a new Botanic Garden. With careful planning so much more could be made of  the Quarry attracting tourists and locals alike.

It is important that greenspaces, whilst providing the venue for many sporting activities, should be valued for their contribution to the quality of life and wellbeing.

Shropshire is renowned for its unspoilt landscape and that alone attracts many tourists to the county. Shrewsbury, the county town, not only has a large and well used historic park area close to the town centre but is also blessed with  fabulous riverside walks. The delineation of a specific ‘River Loop Walk would be a great addition. It is paramount that the riverside setting  is not only protected but enhanced. It is worrying that the BID/BIG TOWN PLAN appears to equate ‘Nurturing Natural Shrewsbury’ with replacing what should be natural riverside planting with large scale built structures,

Each of the ‘character hubs’, mentioned earlier, should contain green space within what are essentially urban zones. The BID / BIG TOWN PLAN showing such an area in front of the Station is to be welcomed.

Shrewsbury is a town that prides itself on its horticultural displays but it has been argued that the overwhelming use of annual plants is costly, of short duration and appears both garish and rather old fashioned. However, the introduction of longer lasting trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials would be far more cost effective, environmentally sustainable and modern in appearance. Some of the many new roundabouts that now surround Shrewsbury could be planted in this way, helping to counteract the excessive air pollution from which the town suffers.

Every opportunity should be taken to plant native, locally sourced trees throughout the town.

A special feature of Shrewsbury is the number of green corridors providing areas of countryside through the town, often following the tributaries of the Severn such as the Rea Valley. These are much appreciated by local people, are well used but yet are seen by developers as desirable sites for new housing schemes. Further encroachment  must be resisted. These spaces need to be protected and retained for public use and be extended and linked to form further linear parks.

 THE ARTS

If only as a means of attracting and keeping new businesses, the Arts should play a leading role. Professional theatre has three venues in the town and both the Quarry and the Show Ground are sites for live contemporary music, whilst St Chad’s regularly presents recitals of classical music. The multiplex, the Old Market Hall and the Hive provide a wide range of cinema and the introduction of streamed live performances of opera, West End plays and concerts add to the rich mix of the cultural life of the town.  Shrewsbury already has a lot to offer. It needs more and better promotion.

The contemporary art market in Shrewsbury is, however quite limited and very few artists sustain a living from their art. There are galleries such as The Bear Steps and the VAN Gallery which are suitable for mixed shows, mainly but not always by amateur groups .Participate Contemporary Artspace offers a more dynamic  and contemporary space for exhibitions and community activities, led by professional artists but it is not an ideal venue for tourism. There are however, no major sites in the town e.g. The Museum, the Theatre, the University Centre which show the work of individual professional artists. The short-lived gallery space opposite the Tourist Information Centre was a perfect venue. The problem of creating more, affordable public art space, presenting high quality contemporary visual art is something that needs to be grasped.

CREATING ENTERPRISE

The time for “flagship” retail led developments, such as the Riverside proposals, has probably gone but that dosn’t mean that there isn’t still a place for “high quality anchor retailers” in the town. There is little doubt, however, that most residents and certainly visitors consider that more human scale developments are more appropriate for Shrewsbury. Developments that encompass diverse uses of the building stock including small office space, commercial art, artist studios, project spaces, varied workshops and above all independent businesses should be encouraged.

However, recent changes in business rates seems to have favoured the large chain stores, leaving the independent businesses in a worse position. . Independent businesses have to be regarded as part of a higher quality , slower retail experience which needs to be supported by a town centre revitalised by public art, libraries, museums and other leisure attractions and flexible spaces to meet / rest /reflect.

Experience has shown in other towns and even in Shrewsbury’s Oxon and Emstrey Business Parks, that the suggested central business district would lead to the creation of yet another soulless area at night fall. Integration with other new innovative enterprises and start-ups in a mixed community is the way forward.

There is a need to diversify the types of economic activity of the town, in particular  those such as  High Tech. Industry,  R&D, manufacturing, environmental consultancy and the creative industries, all with good IT opportunities, free/secure WI-FI, super-fast Broadband  and greater fibre connectivity. One might hope that the coming of the new University to the town might eventually stimulate the emergence of new enterprises based on areas of study and research derived from this source.