HUNTINGDON could become a significant retail, arts and tourist magnet in the east of England in the next 10-15 years through a new vision for the town. The Huntingdon Town Centre Vision has been put forward by leading urban design charity The Civic Trust,

Old River Bridge

HUNTINGDON could become a significant retail, arts and tourist magnet in the east of England in the next 10-15 years through a new vision for the town.

The Huntingdon Town Centre Vision has been put forward by leading urban design charity The Civic Trust, and is expected to be adopted as planning policy by the district council tomorrow (Thursday).

It would see the town centre enlarged even further than was predicted by the recent A14 viaduct study. It would include not just the area between George Street and Ermine Street but further extension southwards and westwards to include the railway station and Hinchingbrooke.

It envisages more than 700 additional town houses, a huge expansion of office space, new quality high street shops and restaurants, a doubling of car parking provision and exploitation of the town's heritage to attract tourists.

The Railway Station

In addition, there would be "activity hubs", such as squares and piazzas, at the railway station, bus station, Hinchingbrooke, Chequers Court and the old bridge, where access to the river would be opened up.

Part of the vision is already in building, such as the re-development of George Street and Princes Street, where the new courts complex is due to open next year, and Chequers Walk. Others are planned, including redevelopment of the Pathfinder House site and Chequers Court.

A new west-of-town-centre road linking Brampton Road and Ermine Street is high on the council's wish list, bringing a huge tract of land between the ring road and the railway into the town centre as an "urban village".

But the real transformation, including major redevelopment and opening up of the railway station and Hinchingbrooke, must almost certainly wait until the A14 viaduct is demolished after the new Huntingdon southern bypass.

The report identifies 16 sites for re-development, including the telephone exchange, BT depot, fire station and Anglian Water sites, that are expected to become available for a mixture of homes, shops and small offices.

The Civic Trust points to the proposed new library, the new regional college campus at Hinchingbrooke, a new arts centre, exhibition hall and music venue at the Town Hall and an improved Commemoration Hall, in the High Street as hugely expanding arts and leisure facilities.

That would raise the status and profile of the town for residents, tourists and investors, the trust predicts.

The vision includes eight main public spaces in the town centre, including turning Market Hill outside the Town Hall into a "heritage square", building a "garden court" at a redesigned bus station and a "water square" running between St Benedict's Court and Chequers Court, where a "French square" would be featured at the north side.

The waterfront, on which Huntingdon has "turned its back", the report says, would be revitalised. HDC already has plans for this, including additional moorings to attract more visitors.

The public is expected to be consulted extensively between July and September at a series of exhibitions.

Councillor Peter Bucknell, executive councillor for strategic planning, said: "It is important that everyone who works in, lives in or uses Huntingdon town centre has an opportunity to comment on the vision for the future of their town as outlined in this document, to make their views known and hopefully support its overall aims.

"It is inevitable that some changes brought about by development will impact upon some existing areas.

"The vision promotes a balanced strategy that will enhance the environment, particularly around the riverside, preserve the historic fabric of the town and provide opportunities to regenerate areas to the west of the town centre resulting in a more vibrant and viable town centre for the future benefit of Huntingdon and the whole of Huntingdonshire.