Northampton Central Area Action Plan 2013

Chapter 2: Northampton Central Area - Spatial Portrait

2.1 Northampton is the County Town of Northamptonshire and is the area’s main employment, retail and cultural centre. Historically recognised for its shoe and leather industry, its population has grown substantially since it became a New Town in 1968, from 133,673 in 1971, to 212,500 people in 2011. It is anticipated that the population of the town will continue to grow to approximately 240,000 by 2026.

2.2 Northampton developed as a market town on the valley slopes to the north of the River Nene. As the town grew, the Market Square became the focus of trade and commerce. Much of the historic centre remains within the ring road, which roughly follows the old town walls.

2.3 The Central Area retains a considerable amount of its historical character, including much of its medieval
street pattern and important listed buildings. The six designated Conservation Areas (St Giles, Holy Sepulchre, All Saints, Derngate, Billing Road and Boot & Shoe Quarter) enable the Council to protect and enhance the architectural heritage and character of the area. There are 210 Grade I, II* and II listed buildings and 3 Scheduled Monuments.
Some other buildings have been identified as providing historic value and are classified as Locally Listed Buildings. In addition, there is a consecrated burial ground of the Sisters of Notre Dame off Abington Street.

2.4 Some of the rich historic features were damaged in the 1960s and 1970s through redevelopment and highway widening schemes. In some areas, this has resulted in the creation of a disjointed environment in which the car dominates to the detriment of pedestrians and cyclists. A prominent example of this is the area occupied by the Grosvenor Centre, Greyfriars Bus Station and adjacent land.

2.5 Some areas, particularly along Black Lion Hill and Gold Street and around the Market Square, have recently benefited from substantial investment in the public realm (surfacing materials, lighting, street furniture, trees, planting, signage, public art and water features). However, the Town Centre Health Check[1] identifi ed that the appearance of much of the public realm is tired and has not had sustained investment over a substantial period. The opportunity exists to address some of these poorer areas, particularly the main shopping street - Abington Street - through redevelopment, together with related
improvements and investments in transport and general improvements, through the policies and regeneration sites identified within the Plan.

1. Roger Tym & Partners, Northampton Town Centre Healthcheck (2009) [back]

2.6 The Central Area is served by two key public transport facilities in the form of bus and rail. Greyfriars Bus Station, owned and managed by Northampton Borough Council (NBC), is situated between Greyfriars (street)
and Lady’s Lane. It is served by a number of commercial operators, including Stagecoach, First Bus and National Express. Although its functionality as a facility is valued by its users, the bus station has significant maintenance problems that do not make it a viable proposition in the long term. Bus services within the Borough are centred on
Northampton town itself. Within the compact urban area there is a good network of bus services especially in the peak period, however, services outside of this are limited, particularly at off-peak times.

2.7 Northampton’s Castle Station is located on the periphery of the Central Area to the west. It is on a loop from the West Coast Main Line and provides direct and relatively fast links to London and Birmingham. The station lacks platform capacity. As a gateway it offers a poor initial impression of the town by people travelling by rail.

2.8 Much of the historic centre is enclosed within an inner ring road of varying lane size. Whilst providing access to the town centre, this also acts as a route for through traffic, which, together with its design, is a significant barrier to movement across it, particularly by cyclists and pedestrians. There are a number of one-way systems in operation around the Central Area which help to reduce through traffic within the historic core; this creates a relatively good pedestrian environment. Congestion occurs at peak times for short periods on the highway network. However, in comparison with other settlements, it can be regarded as a minor inconvenience rather than a substantial problem. As with many places, there is a challenge in balancing the need to cater for increasing and competing movement within the context of an historic setting, which was not originally designed around modern day transport requirements.

2.9 In terms of retail offer (size of centre and mix of outlets), Northampton town centre is ranked 43 of all town centres in the United Kingdom. However, over the last 25 years it has not seen the level of retail investment that would be expected for a centre of this size. Although there has been some small-scale retail investment, this has
not addressed the needs of modern town centre retailers. The primary retail centre, the Grosvenor Centre, is dated both in terms of floor plates and external appearance. Whilst Northampton’s catchment population has a high level of spending per person, the Central Area is currently regarded by retail operators as catering for lower income groups.

2.10 Over the last 20 years, there has been signifi cant investment in ‘out-of-centre’ retail and leisure development
within the Northampton. Available evidence suggests that about 23% of comparison goods (non-food) retail  spending by West Northamptonshire residents takes place in the town centre. The Town Centre Health Check identified that this is a lower level than would be anticipated in similar sized settlements. Competition from neighbouring towns such as Milton Keynes attracts 12% of comparison goods retail expenditure. Elsewhere in the Borough, the biggest attractors of comparison goods expenditure are Riverside Retail Park (9%) and St James
Retail Park (8%)[2] .

2.11 The current under provision of convenience shopping within the town centre is partly responsible for the unsustainable level of leaked expenditure. At present the convenience retail offer within the Central Area is limited. The only stores that have large-scale, dedicated convenience floor space are Sainsbury’s supermarket within the Grosvenor Centre and Morrison’s south of Victoria Promenade.

2.12 Similar to all successful town and city centres, retail is one of the primary functions of the Central Area and is a cornerstone of the local economy by providing employment opportunities and attracting inward investment into the town. Therefore in the future, it is vital that Northampton’s Central Area is strengthened to turn around the comparative imbalance of investment and in particular retail spend that exists in favour of other centres and  out-of-centre competition whilst meeting the requirements of a growing population.

2. CACI, Retail Strategy for Northampton Town Centre (2008) [back]

2.13 The decline of the boot and shoe trade meant that Northampton went through a difficult period of industrial restructuring before and after the second world war. However, its central location within England, accessibility to major road networks and good supply of employment land meant that the town as a whole was able to develop a
diverse economy. However, more recently the creation of large, out-of-town employment areas has left the town centre with fewer employment opportunities, especially offices.

2.14 Whilst Northampton is attracting significant employment generating activities and is considered to be a top rated office location nationally, the Central Area has very limited modern office stock. Although office vacancy level remains at about 11% in Northampton, there is a shortage of high quality office accommodation in the Central
Area. The majority of existing stock tends to be older buildings in poor condition. There has been substantial investment in new employment / office development since the 1990s with comparatively low rents in locations outside the Central Area such as Swan Valley, Pineham and Bedford Road. This level of investment has not been
replicated within the Central Area, although a recent notable exception in 2009 was Avon, which has located its European headquarters within the Central Area adjacent to the River Nene.

2.15 A significant proportion of the available Central Area office stock is unsuitable for the requirements of modern
day occupants. There remains a shortage of good quality floorspace of all sizes, and in particular that of between 500 -1,000 square metres to cater for small to medium sized businesses. The lack of new office development has been compounded by the systematic loss of older stocks of offices through conversion to residential use. This has had a significant adverse impact on the town centre in terms of its vitality and its vibrancy; there is a noticeable absence of office workers within the town centre during the day and in particular at lunchtimes and in the mornings and evenings. With the lack of office workers comes a lack of spending which would otherwise support a wider
complementary range of town centre uses.

2.16 The Central Area has large sites that have the potential to be used for a substantial amount of office space. There are some extensive areas adjacent to the town centre, either used for major employment, uses not considered appropriate within the Central Area or gas utilities that have or will become redundant soon. These will need regeneration and offer the opportunity for a variety of uses to complement and enhance the offer of the
Central Area. These sites also offer the opportunity to maximise the use of existing infrastructure including public transport and increase the accessibility to other main town centre uses such as retail and leisure. Bringing offices back into the Central Area will maximise its potential for economic growth.

2.17 In addition, Northampton was granted an Enterprise Zone status in August 2011. Much of the Northampton
Waterside Enterprise Zone is included within the boundary of the CAAP. The Waterside Enterprise Zone designation commenced on the 1st April 2012. The Zone is a significant national designation that should assist in the delivery of the vision, strategic objectives and site-specific policies within the CAAP. The Enterprise Zone status will strengthen the relevant policies in this plan, as the bid was made fundamentally on the basis of the amount and type of development within its site-specific policies.

2.18 The River Nene, its Brampton Arm and the Grand Union Canal run through the south and west of the Central Area. The town has not capitalised fully on this resource, and at numerous points, the waterside is not accessible to the public. Historically the town has turned its back on the river locating heavy industrial uses there with backs of buildings facing the river. However in recent times this has started to change with residential development fronting the riverside, and the river is now perceived to be one of Northampton’s strongest and most distinctive assets. There are two key projects, which will maximise the opportunities offered by the river and canal. The fi rst is the development of an 80-berth marina at Becket’s Park, which was completed in spring 2011. This will be followed by other leisure and recreation development capitalising on the river and its immediate environment.

2.19 The Central Area also encompasses a signifi cant area of green space primarily based along or adjacent to the river. This includes Becket’s Park, Midsummer Meadow, the Barnes Meadow Local Nature Reserve and sites within the Nene Valley Nature Improvement Area. This, together with other open spaces in the Central Area, offers an opportunity to create an effective green infrastructure network to benefi t residents and visitors to the centre.

2.20 Although the river is an attractive feature, it also brings with it a potential threat in the form of fl ooding to substantial areas. There is a challenge in taking forward the Central Area in seeking to address the need for development to enhance the environment and offer of the town centre, whilst not creating additional unacceptable risks of flooding.

2.21 The Central Area has experienced a rise in the number of pubs and restaurant operators, particularly along Bridge Street, in the last 20 years. Apart from the bars of Bridge Street, most of the eating places are concentrated along the Wellingborough Road to the north-east of the Central Area. There is a relatively limited choice for consumers within the town centre.

2.22 Northampton Central Area also has the following key attractions:
• Northampton Museum and Art Gallery
• Royal and Derngate Theatre
• Several health clubs and nightclubs
• 3 casinos
• Leisure centre and swimming pool
• Multi-screen cinema
• 78 Derngate
• Market Square events space

2.23 There has been substantial investment in the Derngate Theatre complex. The improvements to the leisure and cultural offer have been particularly successful at bringing people into the town in the evenings and at the weekends. However, there is the opportunity to add to this to draw a more diverse mixture of people into the centre and in particular make them remain for a longer period to consolidate the success of this area. There is the need to create one or more restaurant/ café/ bar clusters near the theatre complex and within the Market Square.

2.24 There are two large hotels in the town centre, Park Inn (fronting Horsemarket) and Ibis (fronting Marefair) - both are 3 star hotels. The Park Inn has 140 bedrooms with leisure and conference facilities. The Ibis Hotel has 150 bedrooms. There are two smaller hotels in the centre, the 60 room Grand Hotel Travelodge on Gold Street and
the 38 room Plough Hotel on Bridge Street. As part of regeneration proposals there is potential to accommodate additional demand for a variety of type and size of hotels within the Central Area.

2.25 The Central Area is home to around 9% of Northampton’s housing stock. The majority of homes are in the form of high-density apartments. Spring Boroughs is currently the largest single residential community in the Central Area. It has a very high proportion of socially rented properties and is an area which is in the top 5% of the
index of deprivation in England. Most of the housing stock within the Central Area is pre-war (1939). There has however been a substantial amount of housing development over the last decade within the Central Area with over 1000 homes being built. Although this has been very beneficial, particularly in terms of regenerating areas and notable buildings, it has been dominated by the provision of apartments, predominantly for private rent. This has brought its own issues associated with transient and unbalanced communities.

2.26 There is a need to work very closely with the existing community to address the long standing deprivation issues in Spring Boroughs and make more of its locational advantages. Residential development will be integral to the viable regeneration of substantial areas of the Central Area and in increasing its attractiveness. A range of housing types will be provided; apartments to attract smaller professional households and older people in the very centre, together with a greater emphasis on more mixed communities and larger family housing on the edge of the Central Area.

2.27 The Central Area accommodates Northampton College. With approximately 13,000 students, it is one of the larger Further Education establishments in the region. There are also two primary schools (Spring Lane and Castle). These schools are performing well but are at capacity and will suffer from further pressure for places due to a more recent influx of families into the area. One notable educational facility that does not have a town centre presence
is the University of Northampton. Its expansion plans include meeting the need for student accommodation and providing the opportunity to add another important civic function of a major educational facility within the Central Area.

2.28 There are a number of key issues to address within the Central Area Action Plan which have been identified within this portrait, as well as others identifi ed through discussion with stakeholders. These are included below.

• Consolidating the role of Northampton Central Area as the principal centre for Northamptonshire and in its wider regional role

• Improving the shopping experience for Northampton, including the retail offer for both comparison and convenience with a view to significantly increasing both their quantity and quality

• The strengthening and diversification of the economic base through the provision of high quality employment space to increase the quantity and quality of job opportunities

• Opportunities for development that enhances the diversity of cultural, leisure and recreation needs

• Increasing the presence of the University of Northampton and other improvements to increase educational provision within the Central Area

• Regenerating large parts of the Central Area including redundant former employment and deprived residential

• Reducing the severance effect of the ring road on pedestrian access to different parts of the Central Area

• Promoting sustainable modes of movement as an alternative to the private car, including cycle routes.  Encouraging the provision of improved transport facilities, in particular the railway and bus stations, whilst consolidating the parking provision within the town

• Managing existing and providing new infrastructure and strategic services to meet the needs of the future of

• The provision of high quality green infrastructure including parks, green spaces and connections between them

• The enhancement of existing, and delivery of new public realm, resulting in high quality street scenes and related public spaces

• The protection and enhancement of the natural and built environment, including existing historical, architectural and archaeological heritage

• Promotion of sustainable development that encourages prudent use of resources, energy efficiency, mitigating the effect of climate change and avoiding the risk of increasing flooding

• Maximise the opportunities of the Waterside