Excellent news on Friday that Steep Hill Lincoln won the AoU Great Street Award and congratulations to the Lincoln team who presented Steep Hill to the Assessors.
If you picked up my post about being part of the European City Award assessment panel you may be aware that I was also part of the assessment panel for Steep Hill – although because our offices are so close to Steep Hill and because Lynette Swinburne (Globe Associate) and I were previously responsible for the co-ordination and management of The Historic Lincoln Partnership I chose not to submit my scores but provided my assessment comments for consideration by the other panel members.
Unfortunately, the usual complex combination of work and money meant that I didn’t get to attend the AoU seminar and Award Ceremony this year – AoU Academicians are volunteers who pay their own way so having taken part in the Lincoln assessment, along with Oslo and Gothenburg another block of time and expenditure so soon was difficult to justify. However, I did go back to my notes over the weekend and thought that some of the points I recorded against the assessment criteria might be of interest.
For those who don’t know Steep Hill, it runs directly from Castle Hill (which, confusingly, is a square not a hill), which sits between Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral, and makes a steep almost straight line descent to join the northern end of Lincoln High Street. It is quite literally the connection between up-hill Lincoln, the traditional seat of power since Roman times, and the lower city with its original water borne transport infrastructure focused on the Roman basin, Brayford Pool. The buildings which maintain a strong retail and leisure offer, demonstrate a mixture of Roman, Norman, Medieval, and later developments and conversions. They are mainly double fronted and of two to three storeys creating a space on a very human scale where it’s easy to read the history of the Street and the buildings that enclose you.
If you are visiting Lincoln Cathedral you may well want to follow Pevsner’s advice “The street by which one should approach it (on foot) is justly called Steep Hill”.
The following are my notes from the assessment visit:-
AoU Assessment Criteria in italics
Is the nomination well managed, inclusive, fair and well-run?
- There was evidence of proactive management of the area, involving both public and private sector interests. We also saw evidence of engagement with local businesses and heard of business to business activity being supported.
- The Street is part of a Business Improvement Group and we heard evidence to suggest that the BIG takes a considered approach to its interventions and events programme to ensure that advantage / disadvantage is balanced across the area.
- The Business Improvement Group (BIG) manager and City Council officers showed a good understanding of the issues relating to the street.
Is there evidence of a collective vision, supported by partnership working in planning, design, implementation and maintenance?
- We saw good evidence of partnership approaches including the involvement of statutory undertakers in relation to protecting the historic fabric of the street.
- The Enquiry by Design work in Lincoln and the City Centre Masterplan has provided a common framework – however this is not adopted policy.
- Maintenance of the public realm has been prioritised and a regular deep cleaning programme in place.
- High quality traditional materials in use (Bailgate).
- Complementary works being undertaken by City, County and BIG to a common theme.
- Some private dwellings and first floors in need of decoration (although use of public funds in this way is difficult )
Is the public realm of the nomination supported by sound and inclusive processes that respond to the local community and changing economic and social conditions?
- BIG appeared to have strong local support (we can confirm this as a local business) from the evidence on the day and there are established forum for the exchange of ideas.
- There were very few voids, but these are mostly clustered at the beginning of the Strait which creates a weak approach to the ‘Steep Hill area’.
- Street wardens add to the general sense of confidence and security – as does CCTV.
- Business and retail movement on and around Steep Hill is infrequent but when it does take place it is often within the local area as buildings become available.
- City Council own the most significant historic buildings and proactively select suitable tenants to maintain a mixed offer i.e. Tea Shop.
Does decision-making in the development and management of the nomination engage local stakeholders and the community throughout?
- Retailers associations are evident eg Bailgate Guild and along with BIG, Historic Lincoln Parnership, CofE, and the local authorities, appear to be fully engaged in the decision making process.
- There was also evidence that BIG is aware of the circumstances of some local residents ( Steep Hill has a residential as well as a retail community).
- Community consultation was significant in the resurfacing of the Bailgate.
LOCAL CHARACTER & DISTINCTIVENESS
To what extent does the nomination provide a unique and distinctive sense of place, identity and cultural resonance?
- Very strong sense of identity both locally and for visitors (day and staying).
- Sense of place reinforced by sensitive management of signage, traffic management etc.
- The Street is the spinal connection between the two main character areas of the city (CoLC have identified a lot more)
- It is also a key element of the City’s visitor offer,
Is the culture of the local people expressed through physical and social structures, including through design, events, public art etc?
- Strong programme of events and festivals.
- Linkage to the University and Cathedral is significant (graduations are held in the Cathedral not on campus).
- Design and use of materials influenced by public consultation.
- Some elements of public art emerging but still very limited – Addressing this was a stated aspiration on the day.
- There was evidence of using local artists and local references e.g. The new Mayor’s chair
Is there a strong sense of place and belonging, expressed at a human scale with physical and visual distinctiveness and demonstrating care, civic pride and respect for people and ecology?
- Highly walkable neighbourhood (but obviously steep).
- Mainly double fronted small plate buildings of two / three storeys.
- Significant presence of stone and timber frame with strong historic references.
- Stepped roof lines with visible gables add interest to long views.
- Conservation is a key element but this is a live area with 21C retailers and businesses.
Are any new spaces and buildings influenced by their context and do they enhance local character and heritage whilst simultaneously responding to changing conditions, technologies and lifestyles?
- Limited new build but significant refurbishment. ‘Widow Cullen Well’ is a mixture of refurbishment and contemporary new build using traditional stone.
- Design quality of 60s replacement buildings in the Bailgate is much weaker but still well maintained and in active use.
- City Centre wireless broadband covers the Steep Hill. New QR barcode technologies displayed in shop windows.
- Buildings are in active use with many businesses also trading on the Web (hence the small post office has survived as it deals with a lot of parcel post)
To what extent is the nomination an attractive, safe and enticing place for people to live, work, visit and enjoy?
- Very safe, street wardens, CCTV, little of no traffic. Clear pedestrian priority but shared use in most areas.
- BIG took over the TIC to prevent closure and this continues to offer an important visitor service..
- Good visitor offer, with a signage and interpretation policy.
- Interesting events calendar.
Does the nomination attract and retain people of all ages – young people, families and the elderly – to live, work and play?
- Mixed use area,
- Strong attraction for families as visitors.
- Strong evening economy with a mix of restaurants and bars (independents).- good demographic mix
- Retail and commercial businesses tend to stay and move locally as they grow or shrink.
- Electric bus assists elderly or limited mobility visitors and residents.
Are there vibrant streets and spaces with active frontages, forming part of a coherent pedestrian network and providing an appropriate intensity of use at all times?
- Yes – narrow street with two active frontages in all areas with the exception of the very steep section which has frontages to the west only.
- Activity programme adds to vibrancy throughout the year.
Does the urban environment support self-surveillance and promote civilised and responsible behaviour?
- Yes – this is assisted by the high number of locally owned and managed businesses.
Is there adequate provision of parks and open spaces providing opportunities for recreation, wildlife and nature, supporting a balanced environment?
- Although not apparent on the walking tour there are recently refurbished open spaces, parks and natural spaces at the key visitor gateways leading into/from Steep Hill/Strait/Bailgate i.e. Roman Well picnic area, Water Tower gardens (used particularly by schools trips) The Lawns (park and playground), Usher gallery gardens and the Arboretum
COMMERCIAL SUCCESS & VIABILITY
To what extent is the nomination a conducive environment for the creation and distribution of wealth and is it able to support the maintenance and improvement of its urban environment?
- High number of independent businesses, very few voids.
- Demand exists for historic buildings.
- High levels of civic pride and seen as a prestige location.
- Good visitor and tourism foot fall.
Is commercial activity and the promotion of prosperity successfully encouraged and are new businesses thriving?
- BIG area.
- New starts are in evidence and sustaining trade.
- Several current or recent refurbishments in evidence.
Is there a pro-active programme to generate employment and economic opportunity for all?
- BIG partnership and an established traders guild.
Is private sector investment stimulated through creative urban policies, including the design, servicing and maintenance of the public realm?
The investment in streetscape and management is a significant factor in maintaining a thriving secondary shopping area in the historic city core.
Emphasis is on conservation not preservation.
ENVIRONMENTAL & SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY
To what extent does the nomination exhibit and promote environmentally sustainable behaviour and community cohesion?
- Provision of electric bus to bring people to the top of Steep Hill. Design route (not yet implemented) for a ‘travelator’ route.
- Mix of trade associations, historic partnerships, business groups and conservation groups in evidence.
Are the social, cultural and economic needs of all being met without detriment to others?
- Generally inclusive. The nature of retailing and leisure offer is quite specific and focuses on higher value retail items.
- Food offer is varied and includes some value options.
- High numbers of schools visits from across the East Midlands.
Does the urban environment respect, enhance and respond to local topography and geology?
- Local topography and geology define the character of Steep Hill
Has the nomination adapted to meet changing needs, whilst simultaneously promoting the continued use of existing resources, buildings and spaces?
- Yes C21 uses in C11 buildings.
- Fully WiFi enabled area and although not seen in the visit many of the offices are fully Cat5 cabled.
- QR codes enabled throughout the area.
Does the nomination minimise the use of carbon-based products, energy and non-renewable resources?
- Some provision – linking the railway station with an electric bus.
- Well signposted walking routes.
- Very limited parking in the historic core.
To what extent does the nomination provide transport and access options to an appropriate range of urban services?
- Access within the city is generally good
- Access from outside the city is more difficult due to location and infrastructure, although this is improving.
Is there a coherent, permeable and interconnected street network that supports social interaction and a hierarchy of functions?
- Small scale, walk able areas.
- Social interaction was evident on the visit (even in the rain).
- Functional hierarchy is easily read and there is a degree of clustering within the street.
- Steep Hill also acts as a visitor ‘honey pot’ focused on the proximity of Cathedral, Castle, Prison, Magna Carta, Steep Hill and Castle Square.
Is there a choice of different modes of transport that go to the ‘right places’ and can these places be accessed on foot?
- This is an area with a very strong pedestrian emphasis for both shoppers and visitors.
Are the right uses (civic, cultural, commercial, retail, leisure and residential) in the right places and is there a legible urban transect?
- Very legible from the top of the hill going down. Far less legible at the bottom, heading up. The arrival point from the south (High Street) is the weakest aspect of the street.
To what extent does the nomination provide opportunities for place-based learning?
- Good example of historic partnership working.
- Strong Business Improvement Group.
- Private , Public and Third Sector co-operation and shared agendas.
Is there a variety of shared thematic interests currently under investigation in the place?
- BIG have a range of thematic approaches to animation.
- The Historic Partnership, local authorities and BIG are working to strengthen the visitor offer related to Magna Carta and the Prison. These are key parts of the future visitor economy offer and will help sustain Steep Hill’s commercial viability.
Are there learning providers based locally who would be willing to participate in a wider project to engender learning from place?
- University, Globe Consultants and others
What kinds of learner spectrum can be supported to participate in learning activities in the place, e.g. primary school through to executive education?
- Good range of existing activity.
- University presence.
- Area used extensively by schools.
- Roman walking tours for children.
- Schools music festival held annually in Castle Square
- Local Schools within walking distance.
- Potential for tools such as Place Check to used for learning in the area.