Princesshay | Exeter

Princesshay, Exeter
Category: The Great Place Award 2011
Date of Visit: 2010

The Princesshay development is primarily an open street scheme and seamlessly integrates with Exeter’s historic town centre. The management suite is based on site and provides an active presence looking after commercial and residential tenants. There is a high degree of public access around the clock through the privately owned elements of the scheme and the high quality materials used in finishes to buildings and public realm are well maintained and regularly cleansed. The management team appear to be proactively engaged in helping the commercial tenants maximise footfall and create a well-run, safe, clean and cared for environment.

First hand experience of the site in the 70’s together with the visual records of the site before development, are testaments to the successful creation of this sensitive insertion of a contemporary scheme into this historic city. This historic context was obviously the most important factor in the design of the scheme. The proximity of Exeter cathedral and Cathedral Close presented quite a challenge which has dealt with sensitively and seamlessly, with specialist advice from English Heritage and CABE during the design process. The scheme has removed traffic from the area and allowed the city walls to become accessible and visible, again reinforcing Exeter’s history as a walled city. Existing pedestrian movement patterns and permeability have been protected and improved and the use of the very practical but ubiquitous Silver Grey granite has been, in places, relieved by more locally distinctive materials.

The scheme has successfully created a safe and attractive place to visit, live, work, and play and adjoining employment areas such as Southernhay have also benefited. Princesshay has provided a mix of dwellings in a variety of locations and together with the retail, food and drink establishments, has created employment and extended normal activity in the city centre out of hours. It is no longer the haven for undesirable activities braved only by the late night drinker and is now an attractive city centre evening destination for all age groups. The preservation and presentation of the heritage assets, provision of restaurants, comfortable public spaces, and programme of events all contribute to making the city centre as a whole a more attractive place to visit.

The scheme would appear to be an exemplar of town centre regeneration through good design and commercial acumen. It opened with very few vacancies and has maintained a low void rate in difficult economic times. Rather than draining the city centre it has complimented the offer, adding 37 new retailers. Princesshay businesses are able to recruit locally through a website, and Land Securities have worked with small and start up businesses and have successfully attracted national and regional businesses into Exeter.

The public realm in Princesshay has been delivered to a high specification by the partnership and Land Securities continue to maintain the public realm associated with Princesshay whilst Exeter City Council and Devon County Council have worked at improving public realm in the wider city centre alongside the development.

Princesshay has made a step change in the city’s retail offer and has helped Exeter stop leakage to other retail centres, thus reducing travel from Exeter to other retail destinations. The scheme itself compliments the city centre rather than competing with it and its high degree of permeability creates safe routes for walking and cycling.

A BREEAM ‘very good’ rating was achieved for the development. The car parks are ventilated passively, and lighting is controlled automatically to reduce energy usage and light pollution. A waste management strategy is in place and 95-97% of waste is now recycled. The scheme has the potential to generate its own identity as a cultural quarter with a programme of events throughout the year in Bedford Street and Princesshay Square.

The layout of Princesshay delivers a coherent, highly permeable network of routes linking development with the city centre and providing legible movement network within and through the site. A full range of services are therefore available through a choice of travel modes. The development and its historic surroundings interconnect seamlessly with the surroundings and navigation is assisted by views of townscape features, landmarks and direction signage. Princesshay is located close to the bus and coach station and incorporates a new shopmobility centre at the closest point to the bus station and linked to the car park.

As an exemplar historic town centre development, the scheme provides a valuable opportunity for place-based learning. Co-operation with a number of bodies including Historic Towns Forum, RTPI, RICS, Planning Summer School and numerous other parties has been made in disseminating the good practice and lessons learnt from Princesshay.

Interest from local schools has grown, drawn to the archaeology both during construction and ongoing. The alms houses and City Walls are particularly interesting and an interactive teaching resource was made available before and during development.