Town’s blend of historical areas and modern shops is a ‘success’

Views of Charter Square in the Arc, Bury.
Views of Charter Square in the Arc, Bury.

Bury St Edmunds has been named a success story for the way it has integrated modern shopping facilities within its historic core.

In research published on Monday, the £100 million arc development was highlighted as a success for transforming Bury into a ‘destination’ town by extending its shopping experience ‘without compromising the offer or vitality of the existing units on St John’s Street’.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage, which commissioned the research on historic town centres and high streets in partnership with the Historic Towns Forum, said: “The arc scheme, with its mix of housing, shops, large department store and underground parking has successfully tied into the existing network of medieval passages and openings, whilst creating new streets and a public square.

“The modern shopping complex works well with independent retailers on nearby streets and the Apex theatre offers a flexible space for a wide range of different uses which contributes to the overall character and vibrancy of the town centre.”

Its chairman, Baroness Andrews, said investment in historic buildings and imaginative use of street patterns in historic towns created ‘destinations’ – places which attracted people because they made shopping a more pleasant, enjoyable experience.

Colin Roberts, arc centre manager, said he was ‘really pleased’ that English Heritage had recognised the arc and Bury as a model of how historic areas and modern centres can work together successfully.

He said: “Since opening, arc has delivered a whole new retail and leisure experience to the town without damaging the existing core, and has actually strengthened the independent offer in the town centre in units which were vacated by some of the multiple retailers who moved to arc.”

He added: “Arc has certainly enhanced the town’s reputation as a place to come to, with visitor numbers out-performing the national average year on year, and of course it’s not just the retail perspective which has improved, the apartments are now very sought after places to live, the restaurant scene in the evening goes from strength to strength and of course the wonderful Apex has enlivened both music and arts in the town.

“Arc was a brave move back in the day, one which took a lot of courage by St Edmundsbury and the developers to see through, so this report by English Heritage is testimony to them and their foresight.”

Cllr John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, also welcomed the findings.

He said: “The report rightly identifies the importance of Bury St Edmunds’ fantastic heritage in attracting visitors, and I am delighted that it also recognises the meticulous care taken to ensure that new developments in the town fully complement the existing and unique, ancient core.

“Attention to detail and delivering the best possible quality environment is an investment in all our futures and will of course help shape tomorrow’s heritage, wherever the town.”

He added: “I am pleased that the role local councils can play in helping high streets and town centres retain footfall and vitality is highlighted. St Edmundsbury took, and takes, the long view to make the investment work for the whole town.”

To read the report, go to www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/changing-face-high-street-decline-revival/

More about the arc development:

Built in 2009, the £100 million arc shopping centre scheme consists of: 62 retail units, 62 residential units, Debenhams - an 80,000 sq ft department store,a £3 million underground car park with 212 spaces, and the Apex - a £20 million theatre.

It was designed by Hopkins Architects and developed by Centros Miller.