Radical plans were yesterday revealed for the Greater Blackfriars site.
For years vast swathes of city centre land has stood dormant. The closure of the HMP Gloucester prison site last year was the final nail in the coffin.
But now attentions are turning to redeveloping the whole area.
Gloucester MP Richard Graham used a speech in Parliament on Thursday to reveal a vision for a five-star hotel, 2,000 new homes, office space, a civic centre incorporating the city council and county council, and a justice centre combing the crown and magistrate courts.
Mr Graham said: “This is a unique opportunity for a masterplan of regeneration. It would radically transform the impression of what Gloucester is all about.”
But how might the project work? And what do people think about the idea?
Public affairs reporter Mike Wilkinson explores the site.
With the 2015 Rugby World Cup heading to Gloucester and neighbouring cities such as Cardiff, the city is being marketed as a destination for thousands of tourists. But where will they all stay?
It will be impossible to build a five-star hotel before the World Cup in September next year but it does pose the question – do we have enough accommodation in the city?
Gloucester Prison has been touted as the place for a five-star hotel, perhaps similar to the exquisite boutique Malmaison hotel housed in the old Oxford gaol.
The site is on the market for between £1.5million and £3million and it is thought that a sale might be close. Property agents Jones Lang LaSalle’s Bristol office is handing the sale
Paul Baker, director at JLL's Bristol office, refused to be drawn on a possible buyer but did say he had been “encouraged by the interest”.
“We have extended the deadline for offers to April 30 to allow further information to be made available from the relevant local authorities that will provide more guidance to potential buyers on the future regeneration of the site,” said Mr Baker.
The prison site is steeped in history – King Henry III, together with Queen Eleanor and Prince Edward, lived there during his reign in the 13th Century.
From 1792 to 1939, a total of 123 prisoners were executed at Gloucester Prison, but not all are buried there it is believed.
However, some inmates who died within the prison but were not executed may also have been buried there.
Local authorities have shrunk dramatically in recent years as public money evaporates and Gloucester City Council has been no different.
After a shrinking of the workforce, city council offices at North Warehouse have been turned into a business hub run by Regus.
But council leader Paul James admits there is scope to join forces with Gloucestershire County Council in a shared building.
He said: “I would like to see the 1970s Shire Hall extension removed from the skyline but it has to be done in a way that is cost neutral. The idea certainly presents challenges in that sense.
“Having said that we are happy to look at the idea of a shared building.”
Welcoming 2,000 new families to live in the city centre will be one of the biggest economic drivers for the city.
That’s the view of Barry Leach, chairman of the Gloucester City Centre Community Partnership. He said: “Getting people living in the city centre has always been a priority for us. That would drive the economy as much as anything else.
“At the moment Richard Graham’s vision is aspirational but it could all be possible and the housing could be a driver for developing the prison.
“The city centre would be the corner shop for these 2,000 extra families. They would spend their money there.”
Any housing development would follow in the footsteps of Linden Homes who are in the middle of creating the Greyfriars Quarter, which is a mixture of townhouses and apartments set around new community facilities such as a cafe-bar and a medical facility. That project will be completed in 18 months.
NEW OFFICE SPACE
The city centre is ‘desperate’ for new office space, Adrian Rowley, a partner at Alder King, commercial property experts has said.
Mr Rowley said: “The city centre is in desperate need of new Grade A office space and whilst there are a number of buildings that can offer this standard of space, supply of available stock is at a very low level.
“Generally demand for office space is improving. The total take up of office space in Gloucester increased to approximately 120,000 sq ft in 2013 up from 95,000 sq ft the previous year. The majority of the take up in recent years however has been in out of centre locations.
“Typical office occupier’s requirements have changed significantly over the last 10 years. In many instances these changes often make older or converted space unsuitable, irrespective of how competitive the occupational terms are. In these situations conversion from office to alternative use is a possible solution.
“Ensuring a supply of good quality office space is vital not only to attract new business to the city centre but also to retain its existing occupiers.”
With Gloucestershire Police pushing ahead with plans to develop a new station in Eastern Avenue, on the site of the former fire station, a huge 1970s building at the heart of the Blackfriars site will become vacant.
It presents a unique opportunity to remove an eyesore building from the Gloucester skyline – and replace it with a state-of-the-art justice centre, taking with it the adjacent magistrates court, which is equally oppressive.
The courts have long been said to be lacking the facilities that modern day versions enjoy.
A new justice centre could combine both the magistrate and crown courts.
Martin Surl, police and crime commissioner, said: “I am meeting Richard Graham on Monday to discuss a range of issues and no doubt this will be one of them.”