Dacorum Borough Council recognises its crucial role in supporting the town centre and adapting to changing conditions. Hemel Hempstead New Town is over 75 years old, and some areas need renewing. The Council started this renewal process with the Hemel Evolution Programme from 2010 onwards, investing £30 million into the town centre. The project delivered The Forum, a new community hub opened in January 2017 to accommodate the Council offices, voluntary sector and library.
The programme delivered high-quality public realm improvements at Bank Court and along the Old Town High Street with a new bus interchange and play on the way facilities in The Marlowes pedestrianised shopping area. This investment helped to reduce vacancy levels and secure an investment by Capital and Regional plc to acquire The Marlowes Shopping Centre.
The Water Gardens, a Grade II registered landscape, was restored in 2017 to its former glory, winning national awards. The renovation was funded by a £2.5 million Heritage Lottery Grant, match-funded by £1 million from the Council. OurTown Centre Vision looks to build on the previous interventions, which are a great foundation and continue to look forward, attracting investment where necessary to transform the town centre, once again, in the heart of the town and our communities.
There is a marked difference between the Old Town in the north and the New Town centre to the south. The Old Town contains a concentration of listed buildings and is protected as a key part of the Old Town Conservation Area. The area is popular for filming, being featured in TV and Cinema productions, Afterlife, Masters of the Air, Granchester, Endeavour and This is Christmas. It is a two minute walk from Gadebridge Park, although the connection is not clearly visible.
In contrast, the fabric of the New Town centre needs to adapt to more recent trends, and is failing to reach its economic potential. There is a notable lack of community pride in the area, with a low evening economy and leisure offer, which fails to highlight and make the most of its natural and cultural assets. The rivers and parks in our Town Centre, although beautifully restored, are not celebrated or connected. They need to be curated so people can sit, meet and enjoy the views, relaxing and be close to nature. Regeneration and upgrading of key sites, together with restoration of heritage assets, is required to help secure the town centre’s long-term prosperity, and to create an appealing, attractive and sustainable location with an outstanding environment.
Currently, people visiting the Marlowes shopping area do not always know that the Water Gardens are there, the views are limited and connecting routes are not attractive. Looking forward, Hemel Hempstead has a unique opportunity to capitalise on the River Gade and curate the space surrounding the pond to be a leisure attraction, providing access to green spaces and nature in the heart of the town centre.
The Riverside Shopping Centre acts as a ‘book end’ in the south area of the town centre sitting approximately 1 mile to the other end of the Old Town High Street. There is an opportunity to activate and curate the walking routes next to the River Gade, and along the Marlowes and Queensway with art and heritage trails, encouraging more people to visit both ends of the town centre, increasing footfall, dwell time and improving health and wellbeing.