Midlands & East Anglia

Civic pride shines through following dramatic city centre transformation

Dramatically transforming the public realm in Peterborough city centre is a recently completed project centered round Cathedral Square and St John’s Church.

The scheme included the upgrading of Cathedral Square, including the demolition of the old Corn Exchange building, the creation of a new public space and works along several streets in the heart of Peterborough’s conservation area.

Despite having a magnificent cathedral, Peterborough is for many people a new town, a creation of the 1960s. In fact its city-centre conservation area contains many fine historic buildings but, owing to insensitive new build and a lack of clarity in the public realm, it lacked focus. Cathedral Square, with its historic market place and buildings of many eras in the shadow of the cathedral, was selected as the focus of the scheme which has provided a city centre of which Peterborough’s residents can be proud.

The project was carried out for Peterborough City Council by Main Contractor Geoffrey Osborne, to designs by local landscape architects, LDA and engineers Pell Frischmann.

The first stage of construction works involved the installation of fountains into Cathedral Square, which has also benefited from the laying of extensive areas of granite paving and the installation of new street furniture.

Other works, carried out by EDF Energy, included the installation of two four tonne electrical transformers in a specially constructed underground substation alongside the Guildhall in Cathedral Square. The two new subterranean transformers replaced a single above-ground transformer, providing more power capacity to the city centre and allowing a temporary generator to be removed. This allowed paving to be completed in the area behind the Guildhall.

The scheme has also included the creation of a new square to be known as St John’s Square on the former site of the 1960s Corn Exchange building, which was demolished to make way for the new development. The technically challenging demolition work marked a significant step in the scheme and was carried out by Connell Brothers, an award-winning Salford-based specialist demolition company. The demolition of the Corn Exchange opened up the previously obstructed view of the western façade and tower of nearby St John’s church.

The area between the new square and Cathedral Square was paved to make it more pedestrian-friendly and St John’s Church has been opened up with the removal of the surrounding railings and introduction of dramatic lighting at night.

Works to the area surrounding St John’s Church have integrated the church into the cityscape. These works encountered unrecorded burial sites within the church grounds and construction depths had to be altered so that these sites could be left undisturbed.  The findings, along with other archaeological discoveries made elsewhere during the project, have added to the knowledge of the city’s past.

The creation of the new St John’s Square  included work requiring highly-skilled pavers to create ramps, steps and grassed terraces so that the square complements the west front of St John’s Church.

In close liaison with the local authority, Sutton Vane Associates developed the lighting aspects of the public realm scheme. The street lighting and exterior lighting of particular buildings is designed to guide people into the area. This element of the scheme includes the new fountains, the four facades of the Guild Hall and the exterior of the church tower.

Archaeological test digs, funded by this project, provided a unique glimpse into Peterborough’s past. Medieval street surfaces, foundations of historic buildings, smashed medieval pottery, wooden artefacts, and even leather cut-offs, leaves, twigs, grass and hay from medieval times, were among the finds. These findings were recorded, preserved, and protected before works could commence.

The public realm project is just one part of Peterborough’s massive investment programme to create a Peterborough with a city centre in which residents will enjoy and others will want to visit, work and relax.

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Roma Publications

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