It seems fitting that the re-launch of the Street Design Awards takes Local Government News back to a previous winner, allowing us to see first-hand how a successful scheme has stood the test of time and has been used as a catalyst for further regeneration.
Back in 2011, North Somerset Council won the Pedestrian Environment category for its £3.9m improvement of Pier Square. Now, the latest development by North Somerset Council in Weston-super-Mare has also taken the crown.
The Italian Gardens was a previously closed, inaccessible and stagnant space. Its boundary walls also meant it was separate from the town square, resulting in two adjoining but physically unconnected spaces.
The council was determined to change this, finding a way to link the seafront to the High Street and main shopping centre. They also wanted to create an attractive events space for the public and support adjacent properties by increasing footfall.
With funding from the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, the redevelopment of the Italian Gardens has done exactly that, turning it into a usable, accessible, and attractive pedestrian environment and events space.
The space has already hosted a diverse range of events such as food festivals, exercise sessions, remembrance events, and outdoor film screenings. These types of events could not be held in the town centre previously as the Italian Gardens was too closed and cluttered.
A permanent stage has also been incorporated into the design to expand the type of event that can be held in the space.
The judges of the award were particularly impressed by how the scheme has improved outcomes for the surrounding areas such as supporting shops on South Parade, which were previously hidden by trees and a shoulder-high wall.
Footfall through the space has increased demonstrating that it is successfully connecting the area, providing a safe route to the Sovereign Centre, High Street, Weston College, and seafront.
The paving and stonework used on the project is granite, which is not only high quality and durable, but also matches the paving used throughout the award-winning seafront. It was chosen to provide a subtle, yet attractive surface.
Due to the seaside location, the Italian Gardens is planted with pines. The space also contains Italian Cypress, to reflect the name and the pre-existing Italianate stonework.
The existing Eastgate benches - a familiar and traditional sight in Weston-super-Mare - were refurbished and retained in the scheme. The refurbishment involved repainting the metal work, sanding down, and re-staining the wood. If any slats were replaced, they were recycled from benches removed from other locations in Weston-super-Mare.
However, North Somerset Council has not stopped there and is now working to improve the safety of pedestrians walking from South Parade and Weston College. Outside the college there is a harsh blind bend, which is being realigned for the safety of pedestrians and to provide a clear route through the Italian Gardens.
In January of this year it was announced that, within funding from the Coastal Revival Fund, a seven-metre-tall pinwheel – gifted by internationally renowned artist Banksy – would be given a permanent home in the Italian Gardens.
In 2015 the pinwheel featured in Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition at Weston-super-Mare’s Tropicana. This art installation will increase the vibrancy and profile of the Italian Gardens.
Cllr Mike Bell, deputy leader at North Somerset Council, said: ‘This award recognises the hard work put in by a dedicated team to transform the Italian Gardens. I’m delighted this accolade helps raise the profile of Weston town centre as a focal point for events and activities.
‘I look forward to the council completing further improvements to the area as part of our ambitious regeneration programme.’
Prof Steve West, chair of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, added: ‘It’s terrific to see the transformation of Weston-super-Mare’s Italian Gardens receiving national recognition and winning this award.
‘We’re proud to have supported this fantastic enhancement to the town centre; creating an attractive and vibrant open space which should encourage even more people to live, work or pay a visit to Weston-super-Mare and support the local economy.’
Submitted by: Edward Day, Programme Support Officer, North Somerset Council
Contractors: Skanska, EJ McGrath Construction, The Fountain Company, Select Electrics and BDP