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Canterbury city centre in line for £630,000 'avenue' upgrade

The city's busiest but ugliest shopping street will be transformed into a welcoming, leafy boulevard if a £630,000 facelift gets the go-ahead.

A scheme due to be put to councillors in Canterbury tonight reveals a major upgrade with a new 'avenue of trees'.

How St George's Street would look
How St George's Street would look

It is being planned for St George's Street which the council says urgently needs upgrading because of its tired appearance and the trip hazard of deteriorating paving.

Officials also fear the area is currently giving a poor impression of the city and believe new trees will 'soften' the appearance of the street's "unattractive post-war shop frontages".

What they propose is a far more attractive, 'de-cluttered' re-paved street scene with an avenue of 14 semi-mature trees, new seating, space for public art and performance, a statue, new lighting, cycle racks and even a fountain.

But a casualty of the revamp will be the market - where up to 40 stallholders will permanently lose their pitches.

In a report to the council's policy and resources committee, officers say potential new tenants of the Whitefriars shopping centre - now owned by the authority - are being put off taking up units because of the street market.

How St George's Street would look
How St George's Street would look

The centre's operator New River highlights the stalls as a "primary risk to the operation of the shopping centre as it is seen as detrimental to the area."

It is the second time the council has put forward proposals to revamp St George's Street.

In 2016, it presented plans involving removing many of the trees, which met with opposition and led to the scheme being shelved.

But the urgency of implementing a new revamp is flagged up by officers in the report who say: "The need for improvements in St George's Street is now even more acute to prevent the on-going deterioration of this part of the city centre and the impact it has on surrounding areas, residents, businesses and visitors.

"There is also the desire to ensure a vibrant trading environment around Whitefriars, which is now a council asset, against a background of changes to the national and local retail picture which is resulting in reduced footfall."

How St George's Street would look (29447643)
How St George's Street would look (29447643)

They add: "Creative thinking is needed to provide a high street 'experience' that can be enjoyed by visitors and the local community so spaces become the focal point for social interaction, encouraging visitors to dwell for longer."

The re-paving will certainly be welcomed by shoppers, especially pedestrians with mobility difficulties.

Frank Dicks, 78, out shopping in St George's Street on Monday, told KentOnline: “I’ve just had a double hip operation and my wife has had a knee replacement, so it's a trip hazard for us and urgently needs doing."

The funding for the work, which is expected to take six months, is already set aside in the councils' capital programme budget.

If the proposals are approved by the committee tonight, they will be put out to public consultation before coming back to the council for the responses to be considered.

But fighting them will be market traders who accuse the council of simply dumping them.

Their stalls have been a fixture in the city centre for more than 20 years and traders say it they are much valued by customers and bring more people into the city on Wednesdays and Fridays

Now they face being booted out without any alternative location. The traders say it is a devastating blow and their livelihoods will be ruined.

The poor surface in St George's Street urgently needs re-paving
The poor surface in St George's Street urgently needs re-paving

Chairman of the Canterbury Market Traders Association Steve Bamber, who has been in the market business for 28 years, is planning to speak at tonight's (Thursday) meeting of the council, appealing for a change of heart.

"When I read the proposals, I couldn't believe we were simply being dumped without any care about our businesses and livelihoods," he said.

"We fully accept that St George's Street needs resurfacing but had hoped to work with the council to get our pitches back and improve the look if needed.

"The market is an integral part of the city centre and we would argue brings in more people.

"We certainly have many loyal customers, particularly older people who enjoy visiting us and are appalled we could be turfed out.

"Our message to the council is 'don't remove but improve' and let us be part of the new street scene."

"And we offer a real eclectic mix of goods, including a fabulous fruit and veg stall.

"Many of the stalls are family run businesses and have been in Canterbury for decades."

Mr Bamber said the group was now taking legal advice through the National Market Traders Association.

"Our message to the council is 'don't remove but improve' and let us be part of the new street scene.

"We shall be launching a campaign and fighting hard to keep the market in some form."

Canterbury Market Traders Assocation chairman Steve Bamber
Canterbury Market Traders Assocation chairman Steve Bamber

But the scheme for St George's Street has been welcomed by Canterbury Society chairman Jan Pahl who says they are a "huge improvement" on what had previously been proposed.

She believes it is vital that such a historic and visited city as Canterbury offers the best quality environment.

"At the moment it's a complete mess and the market does look a bit grotty so it has to be welcomed," she said.

"But it must include an experience rather than just shopping so it's good to see these improvements not only include more trees but space for public art and performance."

Canterbury Society chairman Jan Pahl
Canterbury Society chairman Jan Pahl

One piece of public art being earmarked for St George's Street is a statue of Christopher Marlowe, which is being planned by The Marlowe Society in Canterbury.

It is working with sculptor Steven Portchmouth to work up concept drawings which, if approved and the funds raised, would be installed near the St George's clock tower.The structure is all that remains of the medieval church of St George the Martyr where Marlowe was baptised.

The statue will be a lifesize figure of Marlowe formed in metal which will stand on a York stone plinth.

The council has also been approached by Canterbury Rotary Club which is planning to commemorate its centenary by funding a sculptural drinking water fountain.

A potential area has been identified near the Longmarket end of St George's Street, although it too would require planning permission.

If approved as expected, the measures to upgrade St George's Street will be further welcome investment in the city centre which has already seen improvements in Palace Street and Orange Street.

Two major re-developments are also on the drawing board with the £25 million scheme to turn the defunct Debenhams site into 12 new shop units at ground level with 74 flats above, which was given planning permission in January.

Plans are also due to be submitted next month for the redevelopment of the redundant Nasons store site in the High Street.

It is being re-branded Biggleston Yard in a nod to its heritage and will include a retail arcade and market hall with public open space and 56 flats and serviced apartments.

The proposals have already been broadly welcomed when they were put out to public consultation last November and now a planning application is due to be submitted which includes some minor tweaks.

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