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Canterbury shoppers react to Nasons redevelopment plans

KentOnline yesterday exclusively revealed pictures of a glass-fronted transformation of the old department store Nasons which has stood derelict for more than a year.

We headed in to Canterbury city centre to see what shoppers thought about plans for the redevelopment.

We spoke to shoppers in Canterbury about the plans

Re-named Biggleston Yard in a nod to its history, the scheme drawn up by architects includes a pedestrian retail arcade and market hall with a focus on food and drink, a new public open space as well as 38 flats and 28 "serviced" apartments.

The site has been acquired by London-based property investor and development company Setha Group, which is working closely with award-winning firms Child Graddon Lewis and Clague Architects to bring forward the proposals.

The scheme is the latest to provide a new vision for the retail and residential transformation of the city centre and follows on from the plans already revealed for the Debenhams site when the store closes in January.

Some shoppers were happy with the transformation but others were less impressed with the modern design.

Teri Steadman, 65, from Whitstable
Teri Steadman, 65, from Whitstable

Teri Steadman, 65, from Whitstable, backed the major revamp.

"I do think it would be really nice if they did have some more housing - nice housing and affordable - then it was small independent shops and a little restaurant would be very nice," she said.

"It would be nice for Canterbury, rather than all these big stores - which seem to be closing all the time.

"I think a new design is quite nice because I think going back to an old design, you are never going to get the original, are you?

"If it's modern, I think that is quite nice."

Beverley Glendining, 59, from Ramsgate
Beverley Glendining, 59, from Ramsgate

Beverley Glendining, 59, from Ramsgate, said: "I think it looks too big, there is a lot of empty space already. Maybe they could fill the empty spaces and not build more.

"It's an historical town, you should make use of that.

"It looks very nice and I'm sure it will be something nice to look around but it looks too big. I wonder what is going to happen to the other end of the town - like Fenwick and that area."

William Jones, 35, from Canterbury
William Jones, 35, from Canterbury

William Jones, 35, from Canterbury, does not think the plans fit in with the city surroundings.

"My first impressions are it could be anywhere," he said.

"It could be in the middle of Reading or developed in Ashford; not right in the centre of Canterbury which prides itself on some beautiful architecture - like next door at the Lloyds building and you have got some of these 15th and 16th century timber, Tudor-like structures.

"Then you have got this land, a simple kind of Monopoly house shape of a building that doesn’t really reflect any of the materials that are the characteristics of Canterbury - [there is ] no beauty in the design.

"They haven’t grasped the historic context of Canterbury which makes it different to any other town."

Nora Ryan, 70, from Birmingham
Nora Ryan, 70, from Birmingham

Nora Ryan, 70, from Birmingham, also agreed. "It's a no go," she said.

"This type of thing, there is nothing visionary about it.

"You see these sorts of buildings absolutely everywhere - it's the new concept. Lets shove some shops in, some coffee shops, fast food outlets, apartments.

"What happens is after two to three years the rents go up, the little shops move out and you are left with a lovely derelict shopping zone.

"This city is tourist and student inclined - this does not fit the image of this street. I think it would be a pity because Canterbury has got a soul; this is soulless."

The radical new frontage to the former Nasons site
The radical new frontage to the former Nasons site

COMMENT: From KentOnline's sister paper, the Kentish Gazette

So the long-awaited plans for the transformation of the Nasons site have finally been revealed and they look pretty radical.

But challenge facing architects must have quite a daunting one given the complexities, not least the need to preserve the integrity of the East Kent Yeomanry memorial.

Without that, I think we would be looking at quite a different High Street scene

But quite rightly, the city demands a high quality redevelopment which respects its history and, on the face of it, that's what the designers have strived to achieve.

The former Nasons store, pictured this summer, has been targeted by graffiti taggers since closing last year
The former Nasons store, pictured this summer, has been targeted by graffiti taggers since closing last year

Of course, any scheme like this has to come with a heavy dose of commercial reality, otherwise it just won't happen.

So we are not surprised to see some flats incorporated into it and frankly encouraging more people to live in the city centre is a good thing.

But what will observers make of the scheme's most visible feature - the huge glass-fronted structure facing onto the war memorial.

Glass seems to be the go-to material for modern buildings but we think it works in this context.

Now doubt the scheme will have its critics and it's only right that it is that it is scrutinised.

But there's no denying the current Nason site is something of a dog's dinner and desperately needs a major revamp.

We especially like the way the scheme includes green space and open public areas

And together with the Debenhams scheme, what an exciting prospect it is for Canterbury going forward.

What do you think? Comment below or email kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk.

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