It was hugely disappointing to learn this week that £3m provided by central Government to Cheltenham Borough Council to provide affordable homes in North Place is being handed back without a brick being laid.
This funding was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to regenerate this town centre brownfield site, a long-running eyesore, and breathe life back into the heart of Cheltenham. This failure now increases pressure to concrete over precious green spaces on the town’s edge with new housing.
That’s means destroying habitats. It also risks what planners sometimes call the ‘doughnut effect’ where the centre of a town is hollowed out. It is more important than ever post-pandemic that we restore footfall back to the High Street, Prom and Brewery Quarter. This is a missed opportunity to do so.
Attempts to redevelop this site read like a Nordic saga. Ever since the last coaches left what was formally known as Cheltenham’s St Margaret’s Coach Station in 2012, attempts to find a new use have foundered. The Council sold off the North Place and Portland Street site, describing it as “a unique opportunity to create a striking contemporary northern extension… through the development of a mixed-use scheme.”
Planning consent for flats and houses was granted back in 2013. But after years of nothing happening, the scheme was quietly shelved. Then, in 2018, the Government stepped in directly with £3m to kickstart a new housing scheme and make it deliverable.
Yet again, three years later, and despite this huge sum of taxpayer support we discover that those plans too are going nowhere. How has it come to this? Why is it that retirement home schemes have popped up regularly across Cheltenham over the last five years, but this opportunity to deliver homes for young people has sunk without trace?
Retirement communities are hugely welcome in our town, but we need a mixed community.
If the mistakes of the past are not going to be repeated, there needs to be an independent inquiry into what has gone wrong.