Regenerating Bridge Street – Warrington’s New Market Hall?

I recently came across a news item on the Warrington Guardian website, dated 3 October 2013, which claimed to show the design for the new Market Hall. This was a large glass shed fronting directly onto Bridge Street, between Dolman’s Lane and Hall’s Yard, engulfing the Grade II listed Howard Building and replacing four other shops. The building over the archway to Hall’s Yard had been removed and replaced by an open access route.

I found other items in local newspaper websites across the region, dated the same day, so there must have been a general press release. There was also a similarly dated bulletin on the council’s website.

According to this, only four weeks had been set aside for the public consultation and, as we stopped taking the local paper when the advertising space started to exceed the news items, I had missed it all at the time.

It was not really what I had been hoping for: the over dominant frontage, the strange embedding of a listed building in a glass structure, the replacement of five individual shops with a single huge block, the destruction of the distinctive character of Hall’s Yard, and the further breaking up of Bridge Street’s historical character – a continuous line punctuated with archways. And why was it suddenly going to be on Bridge Street, when all the plans in the documentation on the council’s website showed it as behind the Conservation Area?

I rang up the planning department to find out if this really was going to be the new Market Hall but the man there said it was only an indicator of what the Market Hall might look like and that nothing was finalised. I rang up English Heritage to find out what was going on with this sort of treatment of a listed building, but the man there said that the developers had merely had initial discussions with them in January this year and that it would require another public consultation before any design could be approved.

So, despite the media extolling this as definitely the new Market Hall, nothing is actually fixed.

I am very glad to hear it. Bridge Street has some extremely attractive buildings, many of them listed as of national importance, and quite a few more listed as of local importance, and any new addition is going to have to live up to that very high standard. It needs to be something that not only complements the buildings already there, but enhances them as a group, rather than standing out, shouting ‘look at me!’

Buildings based on boxes with flat roofs, made from glass, concrete and steel have been used by town centre developers since the Second World War now, and it really is about time designers came up with something new. After more than 70 years this sort of thing is looking unimaginative and stale, apart from the fact that it pays no respect to its individual locality. It is a one size fits all style that could be slotted in to any street in the world and Warrington, especially, with its wealth of glorious historical buildings, deserves much better.

I also found a ‘fly through‘ on which more another time, though the same points will serve.