Chelmsford city centre development involves “demolition of most of the existing buildings”

A large section of Chelmsford will be demolished if plans to bring new homes and shops to the riverside area go ahead.

It is anticipated that the majority of buildings within a 3.5-hectare area between the southern end of Chelmsford High Street and the river will be demolished, with the exception of Cater House, the Odeon Cinema and Meadows Parking Lot.

Developers Dominus, which is preparing plans for the major five-year programme of works hopes to start work at the end of 2025.

The development is being planned over three broad phases. Buildings north of the High Bridge Road are anticipated to be demolished first.

Once complete, works on the southern phase, including the construction of buildings south of High Bridge Road are anticipated to commence. The plots south of the River Can – where the Zinnia restaurant is currently located – are anticipated to be demolished last.

Dominus says the plans “present an opportunity to revitalise the city centre and create a new riverside destination through rich and varied experiences, welcoming public spaces and new hubs of activity”.

Leader of Chelmsford City Council, Stephen Robinson said: “The council welcomes the fact there is a developer who is keen to redevelop the southern end of the high street which has become a bit less active – the focus of the high street has shifted to the north since Bond Street opened and the southern end of the high street does need some investment. ”

Early indicative drawings envisage around seven blocks developed from the surface Meadows car park between the Rivers Can and Chelmer to the high street area encompassing the Meadows front entrance.

A statement as part of a pre-application submission – to determine whether an environmental impact assessment is required, said: “The design of the proposed development is ongoing at the time of preparing this EIA Scoping Report and is subject to further design development.

“However, the proposed development is anticipated to comprise of the demolition of most of the existing buildings and structures on-site and the construction of a number of buildings ranging in height, up to a maximum height of approximately 48.5m above ground level.”

It adds the development will consist of approximately 800 residential units, up to 15,000 square metres of non-residential uses in addition to public realm improvements, and landscaping -0 including improvements along the Rivers Can and Chelmer.

Cllr Robinson said: “I have said to Dominus that we feel we haven’t made enough of the river location of the central Chelmsford area.

“The Meadows opened in 1990 and I have always felt those big blank walls of the Odeon cinema and the side of the Meadows shopping centre are rather intimidating – they are not very pleasant to walk by when it’s dark.

“So it seems like they almost turned their backs on the river and we want to change that.”

The plans dovetail into the plans for the adjacent gasworks site – earmarked for 450 homes. Altogether Chelmer Waterside allocations total 1,100 new homes.

Cllr Robinson added: “The council’s ambition for the gas work site and the Dominus ambition for their site is to make much more of the river frontage. I have encouraged Dominus to refocus the vision for that area so we make as much as we can of the riverside location.”

He added that new development will add extra vibrancy to the city centre – including between 4pm and 8pm “when it can get a bit quiet”

He said: “It is inevitable the square footage of every high street in the country is going to reduce a bit due to the changing nature of shopping but what we need to –do – and I know Dominus are looking at it is creating a high street of opportunities and experiences that will attract people into the high street.

“So it’s not just about retail it’s about entertainment, community interest and community facilities we are creating a stronger community not just creating houses.”

Following an initial consultation event in February, Dominus is holding a further event on April 26 and 27.

A statement from Dominus said: “This will provide further details of our proposals, which present an opportunity to revitalise the City Centre and create a new riverside destination through rich and varied experiences, welcoming public spaces and new hubs of activity.

“We want to work together with the community to craft a placemaking vision that nurtures local initiatives, addresses local priorities and delivers long-term social impacts.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter