Isle of Wight Conservatives have today (Friday) unveiled a set of ambitious ideas for how Newport Town Centre could be transformed over the coming years, which could include demolishing almost all of County Hall, plus the local police and fire stations, to make way for more housing.
Recognising how the pandemic has significantly accelerated the pace of change in the High Street, it is proposed to seize the opportunity this presents to breathe new life into the Island’s County Town.
At the heart of this new vision – which would complement the Newport Harbour Masterplan and the town’s Heritage Action Zone designation – is a proposal to establish a vibrant ‘Newport Riverside Quarter’ in the eastern part of the town centre which sits alongside the River Medina. This will be a key pledge within the forthcoming Conservative manifesto.
With the Harbour Masterplan having been adopted at the end of last year and with the Seaclose housing element dropped, it is now proposed to provide new housing on brownfield land in the town centre, whilst Seaclose Park would see sports and recreation facilities enhanced for new and existing residents, as part of the wider regeneration of the harbour area.
Through a submission to the Council’s recent ‘call for brownfield sites’ consultation, leader of the Conservative party Dave Stewart outlined how the Council could work with public sector partners to bring forward a high-quality, sustainable mixed-use regeneration scheme on public sector land within a defined red line, ahead of inviting other landowners in a wider defined area to consider doing the same.
If these ideas are taken forward, the regeneration would include:
• Demolishing the majority of the County Hall building or repurposing it for housing to implement the first element of the Quarter’s regeneration, with a sustainable, residential-led scheme to create new homes for Islanders and high-quality public space, including the planting of new trees.
• Building more new homes on the land currently utilised as the Police station, fire station, CAHMS and the former Shoulder of Mutton pub site as the second element of the Quarter’s regeneration
• More homes east of Holyrood Street, St Thomas’ Square and Town Lane
• Retaining much of the cultural heritage of the area, with historic buildings being retained and enhanced – commercial, business and service uses remaining in place where existing businesses wish to continue
• Establishing a new civic centre in The Guildhall, including a new council chamber on the first floor for use by the Isle of Wight Council and other public uses
• Minimising the number of additional cars associated with the residential development, by introducing a car club initiative where vehicles could be shared between public sector staff during the day and made available to local residents in the evenings and at weekends
Whilst regeneration of Newport Town Centre would be not be limited to the proposed Newport Riverside Quarter area, it is proposed that a greater emphasis is placed on retaining retail/commercial uses in the areas outside of the Quarter boundary. This would mean that Newport has a smaller, but more vibrant retail core from the area to the west of St Thomas’ Square to the current boundary with Carisbrooke Road.
Speaking about the new vision – which is supported by all 7 Conservative candidates standing in Newport seats in the forthcoming elections – Conservative Group Leader Dave Stewart has said:
“The pandemic has had an irreversible impact on our town centres, including Newport. Rather than managing decline, we must now look at how we take a radically different approach to breathe new life into our County Town, which will also help us protect green spaces elsewhere on the Island.
“What we are unveiling today is a set of ideas to start a dialogue with fellow Islanders about how we revitalise Newport Town Centre. These are, at this stage, just proposals – but ones which we intend to take forward with vigour if re-elected in the forthcoming elections.
“I firmly believe that the Council must lead the way. The local authority has riverside landholdings at the heart of the town centre, including our principal offices which are now significantly under-occupied due to the rollout of home-working. Whilst staff will still need places to meet in person from time to time, it is evident that this can be provided on a much smaller scale in a series of locations around the Island. It is therefore right that we look to release the majority of the County Hall site (and adjoining car parks) to unlock the regeneration of Newport through this riverside development, making it an even more attractive place for people to live and visit.
“We would also look to establish a new combined headquarters and operation centre for public services, combining facilities for the police, the fire service, elements of health provision (separate to St Mary’s) and the local authority. A number of potential locations for such a hub are under consideration, but we must not compromise our commitment to securing value-for-money by talking about specific sites at this stage. Having a combined location also aligns with our approach to secure a more integrated approach to the delivery of public services, strengthening what was put in place during the pandemic. We are also determined to keep a staff presence in the town centre to support High Street footfall during the day.
“I am confident that we can work with our public sector partners to see a number of their sites added to the mix. There are also many privately-owned buildings within the proposed Quarter, and the owners of many of these properties will already be considering the possible use of new planning rules to enable a change to residential. Whilst this is understandable, there is also the potential for the Council to explore whether more substantial changes – in keeping with Newport’s historic character – could be granted planning permission to further improve the diversification of the town centre.
“We also recognise that there is widespread public concern about the potential for many more new homes being built on open green space in different parts of the Island. By bringing forward proposals such as our Newport Riverside Quarter vision, we can remove the need – for many years – to provide new residential properties in our green spaces (unless there are exceptional reasons to do so). Protecting the Island’s countryside is a key part of our forthcoming manifesto, and this Newport Riverside proposal will help us achieve that.”