Construction and Infrastructure
Could a flash mob dance relaunch Kings Square once the multi-million pound redevelopment is over?
When work completes on the £85 million transformation of King’s Square in the middle of Gloucester – in 55 weeks if all goes to plan - the woman who has been leading the project suggests a novel way to launch it.
Usually, completion of a development of the scale of 125,000 square feet of office space, 156 new homes, a 116-bedroomfour-star hotel, 9,000 sq ft gym, restaurants, shops, bars and cathedral view apartments would involve an official ceremony,dignitaries and ribbon cutting, but Esther Croft’s mind was elsewhere.
“I would love to launch it with a flash mob dance – if only so I could be part of it,” said the development director for project leaders Reef Group, laughing at the thought of a crowd spontaneously breaking into a dance routine to mark the moment.
We should state now that the interview had officially finished, and we were chatting about the excitement created by Reef managing to do what all before have failed to do - get the ball rolling on a project which has dogged Gloucester for years.
Although the nearest offices of the firm which Ms Croft represents are in Bristol, and it is headquartered in London, it is not overdoing it to say she knows well the issues the city intimately.
“I have a long association with Gloucester. It is a city close to my heart. My first involvement was with the South West Regional Development Agency.
“It must have been about 2008-10 when the GHURC was starting to create the public realms the city now has,” said Ms Croft, referring to the organisations which were eventually created to make things happen in a city which some might say had run aground.
While the Docks and the Quays remains the GHURC’s most visible legacy of successful transformation, King’s Square escaped and has languished, declined and crumbled ever since as scheme after scheme failed.
Until the city council made the bold move of buying the square and challenging a developer to deliver a vision to make it happen. That is Reef’s forte.
The now much-publicised plans for The Forum also involve a smart new open space, with art work and modern fountains to replace the tired concrete expanse. Ground work started this week.
It is a design covering 600,000 square feet in total and which stretches down to the bus and train stations and is a ‘gateway development’ – the first thing many will see as they arrive in Gloucester. So no pressure.
Before you go blowing a gasket that the local authority has gone out of county, it would say it went for the best scheme. And it cannot be accused of ignoring local talent.
Cllr Richard Cook, leader of Gloucester City Council, which is putting £5 million into the project, said: “It’s really exciting that things are now moving on the redevelopment of Kings Square and I’m pleased that local firm EG Carter are playing a leading part in bringing our vision for the square to life.
“As a local company they already have a stake in our community and I’m confident they will do a terrific job for Gloucester.”
EG Carter being the city-based family business - which predicts its appointment will create jobs for the county.
The council has also appointed a leading firm of Gloucester architects.
“We have actually been involved with Kings Square for the last 12 months. We were appointed post planning to take it through to delivery,” said Jonathan White, senior associate at city-based Quattro Design Architects, whose head office is at the aforementioned redeveloped Docks.
Between her days with the SWRDA helping lay those early foundations for the modern Gloucester, Ms Croft, a mother of two, has forged a career path with the HCA (Homes and Community Agency) in Portsmouth, architecture and planning experts the LDA, before being brought back into the fold for the Gloucestershire project in 2016 with Reef.
For her, it is not just about developing a physical space. Far from it.
“It is about the people and working inpartnerships to make things happen – that is the most exciting thing about this job,” said the former Cirencester Agricultural College graduate.
“Property surveying is a very commercial business, but you have to be able to work together to make the right decisions happen.
“This project is not unusual in being a public and private sector project, but that brings its own challenges.
“But there are some wonderful people working inthe public sector here working extremely hard with greatly reduced budgets. They are passionate about what they do.
“Ultimately we both want to see things coming out of the ground and to have a positive impact on Gloucester. The city has sometimes been seen as a poor relation to Cheltenham. I think there is a view it should turn that to its benefit.”
What she is referring to is the incredible value for money which will be there to be had for those seeking new, modern living and working space. It is a plan which unashamedly targets the ever-growing cyber and digital sector being drawn into Gloucestershire by GCHQ and the forthcoming Golden Valley Cyber Park development.
In that respect the Gloucester development sits nicely within the overall grand vision for the city and the county as part of the vision of a strategic partnership that is called the Western Gateway.
A near neighbour of the new Gloucester development will be the tenants of another exciting new scheme – The Music Works project, which encourages young people to pursue their musical ambitions - and it is this cultural ingredient that excites Ms Croftas much as the changes to the physical environment.
“It is really important. We have to get that mix right too for this to be a real success,” which is why, post interview, she was pondering out loudinvolving The Music Works in the launch event.
Which brings us back to the idea of a flash mob. But that may just have been post interview banter. Or was it?
Click here to read more about the Music Words story.