LHC’s landscape and urban design teams were commissioned in early 2019 to produce a public realm and shop frontage Design Guide for Yeovil in South Somerset.
The resulting document was developed to guide the design and character of street and public space schemes. Concept schemes were created for six key areas within the core of the town’s central spine. The proposals included high-quality shared space and public realm comprising enhanced town squares and numerous streetscape enhancements, which aim to improve the pedestrian environment to make the town more attractive for residents, businesses and tourists.
South Somerset District Council
Landscape, Urban Design & Masterplanning
They build upon the principles set out in the ‘Yeovil Refresh’ which was adopted by South Somerset District Council in 2018.
The proposals were developed further with feedback from public consultation events in summer 2019, and the first projects will be delivered from summer 2020, and will be phased over a period of years, linked to funding availability.
Proposals have been developed in close collaboration with the Highways Authority, South Somerset District Council and local businesses. Capital budget costings were also developed to enable the council to develop a case for procurement and funding.
Yeovil is located within South Somerset, with a population of 45,000. The town centre provides the core of retail, leisure and civic activities and as like many other town centres faces a number of challenges due to the changing trends in retail behavior.
The town centre itself has many historic features and St. John’s Church sits at the heart of the historic core of the town centre and part of the Conservation Area.
As part of a major renewal process, South Somerset District Council undertook a Town Centre Development Strategy in 2018, which identified a series of potential development opportunities, transport improvements and public realm enhancement projects.
To take the recommendations of the Town Centre Development Strategy forward LHC Design were appointed by South Somerset District Council (SSDC) in 2019 as part of a consortia team with Hydrock Engineers and Coreus cost consultants to develop a Public Realm Design Guide, Shop Front Enhancement Guide and fully costed detailed public realm enhancement proposals for six key project areas.
The first stage of the scheme was to develop a Public Realm Design Guide and Shop Front Enhancement Guide. This suite of documents sets out key design parameters and specifications, and provides a flexible framework to inform decision makers and practitioners responsible for delivering future enhancements within the town centre.
The second stage of the project required the design development of public realm enhancements for six key areas within the town centre from outline proposals through to costed detailed designs. The proposals amount to an estimated £7 million construction value.
The proposals have been submitted as part of a Future High Street Fund bid, coordinated by Stantec. South Somerset District Council plan to commence phased works starting in late 2020 through a new development framework, once funding is in place.
The public realm proposals are underpinned by a number of key themes;
Collaboration and stakeholder Engagement
The proposals have been informed by an inclusive and collaborative design process. This enabled the identification of clear opportunities and constraints and has also allowed for community buy in as part of a democratic process.
The public were consulted upon the emerging public realm design guide through a month-long consultation running from the 20th July to 17th August 2019.
Key stakeholders have also been consulted through a series of workshops and individual discussions to ensure that the various interests and opinions have been taken into consideration.
The key findings, summarized below, were used to inform the designs.
There is strong support for the creation of an improved pedestrian environment within the town centre;
A consensus that current levels of vehicle access detract from the quality of the public realm;
There are numerous elements of the town centre environment which detract from the current experience with anti-social behavior, condition of the paving and street furniture, and lack of trees and planting being the most reported issues;
There is strong support for additional street tree and ornamental planting within the town centre.
As part of the consultation process, LHC also developed and used new virtual reality (VR) software to offer councilors’ an immersive consultation experience. This workshop was well received and enabled a clear and decisive selection of a preferred layout for the Bandstand – the principal civic square as proposed within the scheme.
Focus on Sustainability
A reduction of traffic movements within the town centre is proposed as part of the scheme and coordinates with a wider traffic assessment undertaken by WSP. The reduction of through traffic will both reduce air pollution and enable the creation of people focused spaces.
A number of street trees and urban planting features have been located within the streets and spaces. These contribute towards urban greening, contribute towards the SUDs strategy and also work towards a reduction in air pollution.
The use of rain gardens within the public realm designs has been developed in order to minimize the risk of flooding and also offer a Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDs) solution to surface water drainage, whilst supporting urban planting. To establish a suitable design solution, it was required to undertake a series of research topics including appropriate specialist soil types, suitable ornamental planting types which would tolerate wet soils and drainage engineering solutions to ensure the raingarden designs were effective.
Early consideration of paving specification was carried out to explore the potential for the domestic supply of natural stone, instead of imported stone, to reduce embodied carbon footprint.
The inclusion of drinking fountains within key locations is also proposed to reduce the need of single use plastic drink bottles.
Inclusive and Accessible people focused Street Designs
An important component of the proposals was the reconciliation of existing transport circulation and on-street parking within the town centre in a way that offered safe and accessible people focused spaces, whilst maintaining adequate access to serve local businesses.
The relocation of existing on-street parking and pedestrianization of additional streets has offered both additional space for people to circulate and socialize and has allowed the introduction of additional planting.
The reduction of traffic movements and potential re-routing of bus routes has also been considered and will contribute towards a reduction in air pollution.
The provision of a new Wayfinding features and Public Art as part of separate strategies the LHC have also been coordinating, will improve town centre legibility and experience.
The changing nature of town centre use and Economic Regeneration
In designing the public realm proposals, consideration of the changing nature of town centre trends has been considered. With future town centre development opportunities likely to have a greater focus upon residential and leisure offers, the public realm designs are seen as an important component of the wider town centre regeneration and will be required to both support both the existing retail offer and changes in the projected future trends and behaviour.
The economic benefits of the public realm enhancements have been included as part of the Future High Street Fund bid and the return on spend is a significant determining factor in achieving funding. It is anticipated that the public realm enhancements will have a positive effect upon the town centre economy.
The creation of a new events space – The Bandstand – at the heart of the scheme, focusses on providing a flexible space for leisure and social events intended to draw people in to the town centre. This space features new amphitheater seating, water feature, LED screen and stage area.
The provision of new external lighting aims to achieve Purple Flag status and is considered as an important component in supporting a safe and vibrant night-time economy.
Longevity and Maintenance
The public realm designs have been designed in collaboration with Somerset District Council’s Street maintenance and Parks team to ensure that the proposals can be adequately maintained once installed.
The use of high quality and robust materials and detailing will provide longevity.
The public realm proposals are illustrated within the fly-through video below.