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"Successful regeneration must be about people, placemaking, promotion”

Mariners Church, Gloucester
Mariners Church, Gloucester

An inside perspective on one city's far

Paul James MIPM, Former Leader of Gloucester City Council (2007-2019)


3rd May 2024

I was Leader of Gloucester the City Council from 2007-19 and held the regeneration portfolio from 2004-20 – and I’m Gloucester born and bred – so this is quite personal for me.

I’ve spent some of my time since standing down from the Council writing up the story of the city’s regeneration efforts.  It’s taken four years and has felt like a marathon, but I’m glad I’ve done it – both so it’s there for the record and so we can learn lessons for the future, from what has gone well and from what we’d now do differently.  I also think that, with many twists and turns and some colourful characters involved, it makes an interesting story!

A case study for regeneration

Gloucester is a good case study for regeneration – both for the things that have gone well and for those that haven’t been so successful.

Gloucester is a cathedral city, although some would say it doesn’t always feel like it.  It went through a splurge of development in the 1960s and 70s, some of which we now look back on and perhaps wish hadn’t happened.  After that, there was a period until the early 2000s when very little happened in the central area of the city.  The last 25 years have seen a determined effort to regenerate the city, with the City Council and an Urban Regeneration Company, at different times, leading the charge.

The starting point for that regeneration charge was pretty much zero investor confidence and challenges of low property values and high costs – from archaeology, contamination and lots of listed buildings – meaning that public sector support was often needed to make developments stack up commercially.  Over the last quarter of a century, more than £1 billion of investment, both private and public, has been brought into the city to deliver regeneration.  That sounds like a lot for a fairly small city, but there’s plenty still to be done.

Urban Regeneration Company - making progress

Only when an Urban Regeneration Company (URC) was set up in 2004 did things really start to happen, with the honourable exception of a retail park being built on the site of the city’s former livestock market, the plans for which pre-dated the URC.  The URC brought the key players, including the City and County Councils, the South West Regional Development Agency and English Partnerships (remember them?) around the table.  It brought their collective resources to bear and enabled the formation of a dedicated team to progress projects. The URC adopted a regeneration framework, which gave the city a plan to work to.

The biggest development in recent times has been Gloucester Quays – a canalside regeneration scheme anchored by an outlet centre, but also including a hotel, cinema, restaurants, offices and homes, delivered by the Peel Group (and in the early days British Waterways).  Even Gloucester Quays has taken over a decade to deliver and has had its ups and downs along the way.  The URC was intended to run for a decade, but was cut short by a couple of years when funding was withdrawn at the start of the austerity years.  URC Chief Executive Chris Oldershaw describes the key lessons from its time as being the importance of:

  • Broadly-based public/private partnerships
  • Strong and visible leadership
  • Coherent yet flexible regeneration strategies
  • A dedicated and multi-skilled team
  • Maintaining momentum, even during times of recession.

Moving targets

I would add that, in regeneration as in life, not everything you try will succeed and that what you start with in a major development is unlikely to be exactly the same as what you end up with.  I’d also say that regeneration is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge – when you think you’ve finished, it’s time to start at the beginning again – and it can be a moving target.  The need for town and city centres to evolve to the extent to which they must do in the 2020s is something most of us didn’t foresee a generation ago.

I take a broad view of regeneration. It’s not enough to focus on buildings and physical change.  Successful regeneration must be about people, placemaking, promotion and the wider economy.  During my time in charge, we did make huge efforts to ensure that local people were able to benefit from the jobs created by the city’s regeneration – but it requires an ongoing and targeted effort.  We also endeavoured to improve the marketing of the city and create a brand for the place, as well as using events to drive footfall.  With hindsight, the regeneration effort can become so all-consuming that perhaps we didn’t do enough to create high quality jobs in the wider economy – but there are only so many battles you can fight at one time.


My book is available online and I hope provides some valuable insights for placemakers and regeneration professionals – and inspires my successors to complete the job.


Paul James MIPM

About the author

Paul James MIPM

Paul James is a Member of the Institute of Place Management and former Leader of Gloucester City Council from 2007-2019. He has written on his experience in a book called 'Believing in Gloucester - the Inside Story of a City's Regeneration'.

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