Opportunities and Constraints
Leicester Waterside is described in the SPD as a place of great assets and opportunities. The advantages of being close to the city centre and the waterfront create an opportunity to deliver a distinctive new urban quarter, which meets the identified need for high quality homes in an attractive and vibrant location. Residents will benefit from the setting of the
waterfront and proximity to major green spaces such as Rally Park and Abbey Park, while enjoying city centre amenities such as cinemas, markets, and shops and job opportunities on
LeicesterWaterside has an established urban identity with many characterful historic structures, ranging from simple but fine examples of industrial warehouses to important listed
buildings and new development will need to be fully embedded within this context, respecting key views, maintaining traditional development patterns and scale and creatively re-using existing high quality structures and buildings to create a cohesive townscape rather than standalone developments.
Existing commercial areas to the west of the A50 including Frog Island and Great Central Street have the capacity to mature into vibrant new mixed use urban quarters. These areas benefit from the attractive canal and river setting and historic commercial buildings which lend themselves to high quality conversions, infill development, live-work opportunities and flexible work spaces.
The Waterside is home to several important and historic approach routes to the city: Northgate Street, (A50), St Margaret’s Way (A6) and St Augustine’s Road (A47). Today these are busy arterial traffic routes which benefit from good vehicular accessibility but are poor quality pedestrian and cycling environments.
There is an opportunity to modify the A50 so that it becomes a more attractive street while still fulfilling its role as a strategic part of the highway network. In particular, this
brings the opportunity for the road to be transformed with on-street parking, wider pavements, cycle ways and street trees. The revitalised street will form an attractive setting for a
new local centre with retailers, community facilities and serving new and existing residential and business communities.
The redevelopment of the Waterside presents an opportunity to re-connect the street network and overcome existing barriers to movement by reconfiguring junctions to access developable land, upgrading the public realm, managing traffic in new ways and introducing new routes.
Opportunities identified in the Waterside SPD specific to the proposed development site are:
- Proximity and gateway to the city centre;
- Heritage assets and characterful townscape;
- Green space network and proximity to public parks and gardens;
- Access to local amenities including sports, education and community facilities;
- National cycle route network and bus corridor;
- Committed public realm and access improvements.
Constraints identified in the Waterside SPD specific to the proposed development site are:
- Poor quality townscape gateway to the city;
- Poor pedestrian access to the waterfront and city centre;
- Significant number of vacant sites and buildings in poor condition;
- Bad neighbour industrial uses;
- Traffic dominated highways, but poor local access;
- Remnant infrastructure;
- Complex Multiple ownerships.
The development proposal seeks to respond positively to the aims of the Waterside SPD and the All Saints’ Conservation Area SPG.
The building has been designed to enhance views identified in the SPG to and across the frontage of the church along Highcross Street and All Saints’Open and to respond to other proposed development in the area making up the new character of the area. The views that are most important to the proposal are those along Highcross Street from the south looking north across the front of the church, the view looking east along All Saints’ Open towards the church and the view from the north looking south to the junction of Highcross Street and Great central Street.
Height, Scale and Massing
Currently buildings are limited to two to four storeys in height; however this will change as the aims of the Waterside SPD start to be met. Proposals on other nearby sites range in height from 6 to 1 8 storeys high. The application is for an eight storey (ground floor + 7 storeys) building with the top floors strategically set back from the street.
At the southern end the building is at its widest in order to frame the view along All Saints’Open towards the church. The upper floors sit over the back of pavement line while the ground floor is set back to further frame this view. The building then steps down as it progresses north down Highcross Street and Great Central Street towards the junction, stepping in as the site narrows. The mass of the building at the southern end also frames the view from the southern end of Highcross Street looking north towards and beyond the church.
Where the building meets 1 78 Highcross Street, it is at its narrowest point and is four storeys plus a set back storey high respecting the height of the important existing building, which itself forms the turning point at the junction. This allows the view of the two elevations on both Highcross Street and Great Central Street to gradually reduce until the building marries up with 1 78 and 1 76 Highcross Street. In so doing, the proposed building respects the scale of the existing building and frames the views of the church.
The setback uppermost storey will be less visible from street level; it will contribute to the roofscape and streetscape when seen from other taller buildings in the area and will complement other historic buildings in reducing the impact of the roof. This impact is similarly reduced as the rest of the building steps down and inwards towards the north of the site. Without the setback top storey the building is in danger of appearing squat at the upper level and the top storey adds some dexterity to the overall mass when seen from other buildings
The views along the three neighbouring streets to other parts of the area and to the church have already been discussed in terms of massing and scale; however it is important to understand the relationship of the building with the immediate pedestrian environment.
At the southern end of the building the building has been conceived to step back from the pavement, creating more space at the junction with All Saints’Open. This will open up vies from Great Central Street, enhancing the visual and active environment for both road users and pedestrians and will allow the street to reconnect with the church.
The other two elevations then step down towards the northern end of the site and inwards as the site narrows. This creates a series of decreasing structures, breaking up what could otherwise be a monotonous elevation and provides opportunities for natural light and ventilation to enter the dwellings. The uppermost storeys are set back on three sides to create a more varied roofline and to further break up the elevational mass. The fenestration can then be used to further enhance the elevations and to add to the sense of excitement created by the proposed streetscape improvements.
Materials and Detailing
While the purpose of this pre application discussion is to agree principles of massing and scale, it is worth noting that it is the intention of the design team to respond to the aims of the Waterside SPD and the Conservation Area SPG in taking cues from the historic environment and using them in the choice of materials and the way they are detailed.
There are a number of useful references in both documents that will be explored at the next design stage and these will be presented and discussed in future conversations prior to submitting a planning application.
It is also important to note that the existing building at 176 and 178 Highcross Street is an important element of the current and future streetscape and that good material detailing will enhance and add to its presence.
Appropriate use and detailing of materials in the rest of the building, especially at the lower storeys and around the building entrances will enhance the building’s presence in a historic and developing area of the city.