Opportunity to change the face of the town centre

THE plans to change the face of Huntingdon could begin in two or three years time. And the new arrangements for the town centre could be in place in six years time. If the proposals get approval from the Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexand

THE plans to change the face of Huntingdon could begin in two or three years' time.

And the new arrangements for the town centre could be in place in six years' time.

If the proposals get approval from the Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander, as part of the A14 Ellington-Fen Ditton improvement scheme, work could start as soon as the southern bypass between Brampton and Fen Drayton is completed.

The scheme is a collaboration between Cambridgeshire County Council, Huntingdonshire District Council, the Highways Agency, Cambridgeshire Horizons, the East of England Development Agency and the Government Office for the East of England.

The plans were drawn up after extensive journey data surveys by engineers last December.

HDC's director of operational services Malcolm Sharp said the proposals represented a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to change the town centre radically for the better.

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A recent retail survey indicated demand for 10,000 square feet of additional retail space in the town. Redeveloping Chequers Court would supply half of that while these plans "offer the chance to find the other half."

Reducing ring road traffic makes expanding the town centre towards the railway line and the new west-of centre road achievable, with more shops possible on the former Silent Channel site and elsewhere to the south-west of St John's Street.

The area could also open up the chance for more town centre homes in mixed use developments.

The north of the ring road is also expected to play host to new housing on the Brookside School site and the Anglian Water site across the road in Ambury Road.

Another big change will be in Godmanchester. With traffic through Post Street halved, the mediaeval bridge link with Huntingdon could be closed to vehicles or made one-way.

There could also be potential brownfield development opportunities on the site of HDC's depot at Godmanchester, will be vacated when the council moves the depot to north-west Huntingdon.

The choice facing the Highways Agency is between a new six-lane bypass on the one hand and building a four-lane bypass and retaining the existing sub-standard road.

"This report appears to build up the option we have been promoting (for severing the existing road)," said Mr Sharp. "For Huntingdon it provides a once-in-50-years opportunity, with huge benefits for the town centre and the people of Huntingdon and surrounding areas.

"We have already had a significant increase in housing. Now retail needs to catch up. Huntingdon will never be a Cambridge, Peterborough or Bedford - because of the geography - but it will be able to smarten up its act."

The plans are almost certain to be endorsed by the county council's cabinet on May 23 and the district's on June 8.

HDC's cabinet member for strategic planning, Councillor Nick Guyatt, said the plans would offer "some really important choices for Huntingdon in terms of economic development".

They would also trigger a new public consultation on what residents want to see for the future of the town. Expanding the town centre could attract major retailers to set up in Huntingdon, he believed.

There would also be detailed consultations with residents of Godmanchester and Hinchingbrooke, if the proposals were given the green light.

The county council's deputy leader, Councillor John Reynolds, said the study had been "a very successful review of the issues for the centre of Huntingdon and the surrounding area, and the proposals are widely supported.

"We recognise that there's some work still to be done, and we hope the Government will support and fund it."

Stephen Catchpole, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Horizons - the company set up to deliver thousands of new homes and supporting infrastructure to the area - also welcomed the move.

"Anything that brings improvements to the A14 forward - and this certainly does - must be a good thing We are delighted that this level of agreement has been achieved," he said.

The proposals would not involve a net loss of car parking at Huntingdon station, the county council believes. And, by the time it was in place, public transport would have been improved by the introduction of the £90million Huntingdon-Cambridge guided bus scheme.

* The background to the scheme is on Ian MacKellar's blog on www.huntspost.co.uk as well as www.cambs24.co.uk

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