By Stephen Marston
Vice Chancellor, University of Gloucestershire
The Big Conversation about the long term future of Gloucestershire to 2050 is in full swing. Lots of people are having their say, and we hope many more will do so by the deadline of 31 July. One of the most controversial issues is the suggested “Super City” connecting Cheltenham and Gloucester.
It is not for the University to say whether the Super City is a good idea or not. Our role is to facilitate the Big Conversation and encourage everyone to have their say. But from the reactions so far, it is clear that the label Super City is being taken to mean different things by different people. So it is worth standing back a moment to ask where the Super City idea came from and to be clear about what is, and what is not, in the proposal.
As with so much of the Glos2050 agenda, standing still and keeping things exactly as they are is not an option. Things are going to change, demographically, economically, socially, environmentally. We have a choice to either let it all happen and see where we end up. Or to look ahead and plan for these changes, to decide what we want, and agree how we want to manage those changes that are going to happen.
One of those changes that is going to happen is a lot more housing. We know there is a shortage of housing in the county, and particularly suitable, affordable housing. So plans have already been approved for a big increase in housing. The Joint Core Strategy, recently endorsed by Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury provides for 36,000 additional homes by 2031.
Map highlighting agreed new housing sites for Gloucestershire
Another of those changes that is going to happen is land for jobs. At present, there is a shortage of good quality office space in parts of the county and the right accommodation for businesses to set up and grow. If we want to reverse the current trend where more young people choose to leave the county than choose to come here, we are going to have to offer more good, rewarding jobs with career prospects. Those jobs will have to be located somewhere.
Over the past 30 years both Gloucester and Cheltenham have grown. The trends noted above mean we should expect that growth to continue. The key question then becomes what is the best way of managing that growth. Shall we do it incrementally, one housing estate at a time, and one business park at a time? Or shall we do it in a planned way that manages the growth to give us better communities in which to live our lives – at work, at home and in our leisure time?
Over the past century, new communities have been established in many parts of the country. So there is now experience to draw on in trying to get long term development planning right. Generally it starts with an overall vision or masterplan for the type of community you want to create in order to give a good quality of life for those who live there. It integrates housing, employment land, and community facilities so that they are not each decided piecemeal. It creates the necessary infrastructure such as roads, transport systems and digital connectivity first. It looks ahead to the type of social, cultural, educational, health and sporting facilities that will be needed to serve the whole population, and where they should go. It designs in parks, open spaces and access to the natural environment.
So the proposed Super City is not about a particular set of buildings lining the A40 from Gloucester to Cheltenham. It is not about reducing the separate identities of Cheltenham and Gloucester. It is not about their merger or amalgamation. It is not just about new housing. Rather, Super City is an invitation to think about how we plan for greater co-operation between these two unique places. It is about thinking through how we use the space between both centres to create and develop shared amenities and facilities that benefit both places, building the co-ordinated transport infrastructure that would better connect Cheltenham and Gloucester, as well as connecting both places with the rest of the county. It is an opportunity to try to control, plan and shape developments that are going to happen anyway in this part of Gloucestershire. And to do so in a way that meets more of our goals for Gloucestershire in 2050.