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Has Herefordshire's Regeneration Reignited Local Pride?

In July 2012, Herefordshire Council asked 4,125 households to complete the Herefordshire Quality of Life Survey to find out how residents felt about living in the county.

The questionnaire highlighted several key findings, including the fact that 91% of respondents were satisfied with their local area as a place to live - up from 87% in 2008.

However, one of the conclusions that particularly stood out was that citizens believe that the highest priority of Herefordshire Council should be the creation of a successful economy.

So, fast forward to 2014. Herefordshire has seen a plethora of regeneration efforts carried out over the past 12 months - but how will these changes impact the local economy, and have they contributed to greater levels of satisfaction felt by those who live in the county?

Old Market Shopping Centre

On May 1st 2014, the £90 million, 310,000 sq ft Old Market Shopping Centre opened on Newmarket Street in Hereford. The mall contains stores such as Debenhams, H&M, Next, TK Maxx, an Odeon cinema and restaurants such as Nando's, Zizzi and Frankie & Benny's.

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Independent research carried out before the centre opened suggested its presence would drive up Hereford’s shopper population by more than a quarter to over 155,000 consumers, while it could boost the city’s annual turnover by as much as £100 million.

At the time of its opening, councillor Tony Johnson, leader of Herefordshire Council, explained that the scheme, which created 1,100 jobs, was viewed as a positive addition to the city by local residents. In a poll carried out by Hereford Times in the week following the site's opening, 86% of respondents who had visited said they 'love' the new shopping centre. Commenting on a news article by Hereford Times, one local said: "Hereford has now changed completely and I really love it! People flock here from all surrounding areas - Worcester, Cheltenham, Cardiff and Gloucester, to visit Waitrose, Debenhams and Nando's. High town and the Buttermarket will flourish now more footfall is here - and we all lived happily ever after."

Speaking to us recently, Mr Johnson said: "Herefordshire has seen the largest investment in regeneration projects over the last year with £90m private investment in Old Market. The positive impact that this has had on the city has been significant since its opening earlier this year. We are delighted that the development has brought much needed new employment to the city. Early reports indicate that footfall in Hereford city has increased; not only on the Old Market site but also in High Town – a great indication that Old Market is benefitting traders old and new."

And it's not just the council that thinks the new shopping centre is good for Herefordshire. Ellie Teasdale, who lives in Hereford, says fellow locals on the whole feel positive about Old Market, despite initial negativity in the press.

"Weekend footfall in town has increased since the new development. The redevelopment has turned a disused inner city old cattle market into a vibrant shopping hub for Herefordshire.

"The development outlets stay open later and can cater for shoppers needs better, which can only be good for the local economy. Hundreds of new jobs have been created as a result. Shops in town, in particular on Widemarsh Street, have even seen better trade as a result. Unfortunately, High Town has suffered with a few empty shops, but plans to develop the Buttermarket look promising to keep footfall high in the centre. Before I moved to Hereford, I always thought the city lacked a food quarter, but now I feel the new development chain of restaurants has given the city more of a nightlife and greater variety of affordable places to eat out."

Melanie Denning, who lives in Dormington, adds: "Personally, I was always in favour of developing this site, which was an eyesore, and because I'm from Liverpool, where retail regeneration has been crucial to the city’s long-term recovery.

"I would have liked to have seen more of a leisure mix in there and better signage to rest of High Town’s facilities, but having a new retail/restaurant offering is definitely bringing a lot more people (and young people) back in. There is reasonable movement between High Town, the development and The Courtyard on the other side, but we still need to do a lot more to breathe new life into the centre of town and the great shops there, especially outer fringes such as St Owen Street - this should be the focus now. Why not think about converting some of the smaller empty shop units into residential and develop more permanent footfall?"

Schools

Back in April, Herefordshire Council announced it had been named as one of 60 local authorities across the country to receive more government funding for schools, with positive changes set to take effect from 2015.

As part of the plans, which were originally announced by the Department for Education, an additional £2.6 million per year is set to be allocated to schools through the national school funding formula and will be dished out in autumn this year after a series of consultations with learning institutes.

The changes come after Herefordshire Council raised the issue that children in schools across the county were not receiving enough financial support from the government, with each pupil receiving below the national average.

At the time of the announcement, children in England were given around £4,550 worth of support. However, in Herefordshire, this figure stood at just £4,306. Although the latest round of funding means youngsters are still failing to get the same financial backing, the changes are certainly a step in the right direction.

Earlier this year, Herefordshire councillor Jeremy Millar, cabinet minister for children's services, met with MPs and other officials to discuss the negative impact that inequalities in funding could have on local children.

After the funding was announced, he said: "We have fought long and hard to get the county’s school funding situation looked at and redress the existing imbalance."

Transport

In a further boost for Herefordshire regeneration efforts, £3.5 million in government funding has been invested in infrastructure projects across the county.

Damage caused by recent floods will be fixed after the local authority successfully applied for a share of the £183 million made available by MPs in Westminster following the severe weather that swept the nation over the festive period.

The financial support comes in addition to the £20 million announced by Herefordshire Council earlier this year, which will be used to address deterioration to the county's roads in order to make life easier for the county's motorists.

Work started on the most severely damaged roads earlier this year in order to reverse the effects of recent adverse weather. 

What's more, councillor Johnson told us that the council has now secured funding for the development of the city link road and a southern link road on the outskirts of Hereford City, creating easier access to Skylon Park, the city’s enterprise zone.

Homes

The regeneration taking place across Herefordshire is helping to make the county a more attractive place to live for homeowners - and this is something that has been reflected in recently announced construction plans in a number of residential areas.

In March 2014, the local authority announced the launch of a £1.6 million scheme to build ten one-bedroom apartments in Coningsby Street, Hereford, to address the growing need for supported living accommodation in the city centre.

The project, which is set to be completed early next year, was rolled out as a result of investment from the Homes and Communities Agency alongside support from construction specialist and contractor Seddon.

Announcing the scheme, councillors noted that the construction process would create a number of job and training opportunities, providing a further boost for the local economy.

Peter Martin, Sanctuary Group director of property, said: "Our development in Coningsby Street symbolises the start of an ambitious scheme which will ultimately provide hundreds of new homes for Hereford."

In addition, councillor Johnson explained that future years will see the development of 800 new homes on the Merton Meadow car park site.

Further improvements for Herefordshire residents have come in the form of faster internet access. How Caple, Gorsley, Llangarron, Symonds Yat and Much Marcle were announced as the latest communities to become a part of 'Fastershire', which aims to make fibre broadband available for homes and business in the area.

Leisure

In April, Herefordshire Council teamed up with Halo Leisure to announce plans that would see the Halo leisure centre, Ross-on-Wye, updated in a bid to encourage members of the local community to make healthy changes to their lives.

Set to begin in September this year, the £2.3 million project follows on from the rejuvenation of Hereford Leisure Pool, which proved that investment in new facilities can drive up participation in physical activity.

At the updated Halo centre, residents can expect to see a new fitness suite and studio featuring double the current number of pieces of gym equipment and an enhanced exercise class timetable. In addition, visitors can take advantage of a sauna, steam room and feature shower, as well as new changing facilities and a refurbished swimming pool hall.

Positive outlook

Rejuvenation efforts across Herefordshire are expected to continue to have a significant impact on the region, and no one is more optimistic about their impact than councillor Johnson.

He said: "I believe there is lots of positivity and excitement in the county; with the economy on the up, further housing, improvements in infrastructure and a new shopping centre means Herefordshire has never been a more desirable destination for new businesses, visitors and its residents."

Ellie adds: "I think Hereford as a city is definitely improving. With plans for the Left Bank to be redeveloped and a University for Herefordshire, there appears to be big money being spent on redeveloping certain areas and into making Hereford a destination of choice. People no longer have to travel to Worcester or Gloucester for a good shopping experience and now we have a multiplex cinema I think the city is retaining a younger demographic. It’s hard to measure community spirit, but people I’ve spoken to have been mainly positive, despite an initial resistance to change."

Melanie agrees, but says there is still room for improvement. "Like an old school report... Herefordshire is getting better but there’s always room for improvement. The county has always felt like one of Britain’s ‘best kept secrets’ and has great community spirit and well supported local charities/causes. We’re so lucky to live in stunningly beautiful countryside, with amazing food & drink producers, buildings and outdoor space. And for a smaller county (population wise), our arts and cultural provision, via organisations like The Courtyard, is really strong.

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How do you feel the recent developments in Herefordshire has improved the county? Do you think it has had an impact on community spirit? Let us know in the comments section below.