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Joint Core Strategy Issues and Key Questions

3. Spatial Portrait and Issues

What is a Spatial Portrait?

3.1. The Joint Core Strategy will need to set a Vision for the future of the Joint Core Strategy area as it moves towards 2026. However, in order to produce a vision for the future, it is necessary to understand the past and present and the strengths and weaknesses of the area today. The Spatial Portrait should paint a picture of what it is like to live in the Joint Core Strategy area now and, in doing so, help identify the Key Issues facing the area and understand what is necessary to address them.

3.2. It is important that the Spatial Portrait provides an accurate snapshot of the Joint Core Strategy area. To help with this, a significant evidence base has been collated. This evidence base includes specialist studies into the economy of the area, its housing market, the leisure and retail industry, as well as technical studies on flood risk and the availability of land for housing and other uses. Added to these studies, the evidence base includes comprehensive statistics on social, economic and environmental issues.

3.3. By analysing these studies and statistics, an initial set of Key Issues have been identified. Your views are required on the Portrait. Do you recognise the issues it raises? Do you think it captures the character of the whole area and the differences between places within it?

3.4. Comments will be used to revise the Spatial Portrait and give a more detailed picture of what it is like to live in the area.

The Spatial Portrait

3.5. Gloucester City and Cheltenham Town together account for approximately 75% of the area's population and provide a focus for economic activity across the whole county. Individually, their similarity in terms of size and population means that they are equally important to the functioning of the area. However, due to their proximity to one another, in combination they are significant on a regional and national scale.

3.6. At a local level, the two settlements are considered to be very different in character. Gloucester dates back to Roman times and has a much longer history of habitation than Cheltenham. Its position on the River Severn at the point where the river becomes an estuary meant it was a strategically important place. Gloucester was a natural port and retains an important maritime heritage. Its docks and quay remain a focus for the City, with ship building and repairs taking place alongside dockside flats and an exciting new retail destination.

3.7. Away from the docks, Gloucester is dominated by its 11th Century Cathedral and there is further evidence of its early occupants in its Roman "gate" streets, historic central cross and medieval lanes. Although some of this heritage has been concealed by modern developments, Gloucester's history is now emerging as having an important influence on its redevelopment.

3.8. Cheltenham, has a much shorter history. The town has a strong Regency heritage, attracting residents and visitors to its wide streets and Georgian architecture. Cheltenham's central conservation area is the largest such designation in Europe, reflecting the importance of what is considered to be the most complete Regency town in Britain. Cheltenham is also a garden town with a series of formal and semi-formal parks, gardens and green spaces, which gives its centre an open feel and plays host to numerous festivals and events.

3.9. Away from the city and town centres, both settlements have expanded greatly in the 19th and 20th centuries and both have become major urban areas and centres for employment, services, shops and education. Both settlements have a very high rate of self-sufficiency for employment, with almost 70% of their workforces living and working within the same local authority area. This is important as it results in fewer and shorter commutes and makes them both relatively sustainable in respect of journey times. Both have access to the M5 motorway which passes directly between them along with mainline railway with stations in both centres. Gloucestershire Airport also provides a hub for business travellers and some limited public services.

3.10. The differences between the two settlements are most apparent in their economies. Although both are important to the economy of Gloucestershire, their individual economies are very different and there remains a large gap in terms of earnings and general affluence. On average, earnings in Gloucester are 18% lower than those in Cheltenham, although this disparity is somewhat offset by the difference in house prices, with prices in Gloucester on average 27% lower than those in Cheltenham. 

3.11. In terms of skills and qualifications there is a gap. In Cheltenham, almost 40% of the workforce is qualified to degree level or higher and only 8% have no qualifications. In Gloucester, however, only 23% of the workforce has a degree, although the percentage with no qualifications is similar.

3.12. While the two settlements of Gloucester and Cheltenham are relatively prosperous, there are still large disparities between different areas within them. Gloucester has five areas that are amongst the 10% most deprived in the country, while Cheltenham has two such areas. The city and town each have a further 17 and 10 areas amongst the 25% most deprived respectively. These pockets of deprivation demonstrate the inequalities that exist in both the city and the town.

3.13. In both Gloucester and Cheltenham the majority of jobs are in the public sector (including education and health), which accounts for over 30% of employment in both areas. Beyond this dominant sector, however, the two economies are distinctively different. Cheltenham's economy is concentrated within finance and in services such as hotels, retail and restaurants, with relatively low levels of manufacturing, construction, communications and distribution. Gloucester, by contrast, has a more balanced economy, with more employment in the manufacturing, construction and communications sectors and significantly less in the service industries and finance. The rural area which surrounds Cheltenham and Gloucester City also contains a significant number of influential industries important to the economies of the two centres.

3.14. The recession has affected both settlements and unemployment has risen steadily from January 2008 and through 2009. The percentage of the population claiming Job Seekers Allowance reached 4.1% in Cheltenham and 4.6% in Gloucester in July 2009 from lows of 1.7% and 1.9%. In both settlements, there is a significantly higher percentage of male claimants. 

3.15. In both settlements the importance of the service sector is rising. Cheltenham has developed a reputation as a retail destination and is ranked as the 23rd most important retail centre in the country, far higher than its population would suggest. Gloucester, despite having the slightly larger population, is ranked 89th but this does not take account of the very recently opened Gloucester Quays, which has significantly increased the City's retail offer and is rapidly becoming a destination for shoppers from Gloucestershire and beyond.

3.16. Although tourism is not as important to the economy of Cheltenham and Gloucester as it is to other areas of the South West, like Devon and Cornwall, it still provides jobs for 7.6% of the Cheltenham workforce and 5.6% of Gloucester's and is a potential area for growth. Gloucester, at present, struggles to attract overnight visitors. Hotel provision in the city centre is limited, meaning many visitors spend only a day in the City or leave in the evening to stay elsewhere.

3.17. Visitors who come to the area are very well catered for in terms of attractions. Gloucester's visitors come for the historic docks and Cathedral throughout the year, the successful rugby club during the season and for annual events like the Gloucester Festival and Tall Ships. In Cheltenham, tourists and day visitors come to take in the Regency heritage and grand buildings such as the Pittville Pump Room, enjoy a day at the Cheltenham's world famous race course or experience the Jazz, Literature, Science, Music and Cricket Festivals.  Cheltenham has a good range of visitor accomodation including budget, boutique and luxury hotels and many popular B & Bs and guest houses. 

3.18. Outside the major urban areas of Gloucester and Cheltenham, the Joint Core Strategy area contains a number of important settlements across Tewkesbury Borough. Of these settlements, Tewkesbury and Northway which fall, on both sides of junction 9 of the M5, are the largest and provide a focus for economic activity in the Borough. Bishops Cleeve and Woodmancote (to the north of Cheltenham) and Winchcombe (in the Cotswolds) are also important centres providing services for their own populations and large rural areas. Elsewhere, the built up areas of Brockworth, Churchdown, Innsworth and Longford look to Gloucester for services, while villages like Shurdington, Badgeworth and Uckington look to Cheltenham. Smaller villages and hamlets like Twyning, Norton, Snowshill, Stanton and Boddington dotted throughout Tewkesbury Borough, contain valuable local services like village schools, shops, pubs and community halls.

3.19. Tewkesbury itself is an important historic market town with a wealth of medieval features and timber framed buildings. The town centre is dominated by its distinctive Abbey overlooking the point at which the Rivers Severn and Avon meet, a sight made famous by coverage of the 2007 flood. The town centre is vibrant and contains a good mix of shops and services, including many independent stores, and a popular market attracting locals and visitors alike.

3.20. Tewkesbury and neighbouring Northway, with its mainline railway station, are strategically positioned either side of Junction 9 of the M5 and are therefore attractive locations for business, especially storage and distribution. They, along with Bishop's Cleeve, provide a focus for a complex economy, which represents the Borough's unique position as a predominantly rural area wrapping around two large urban centres.

3.21. As in Cheltenham and Gloucester, the Public Sector is the largest employer but its dominance is lessened by a strong concentration of financial services jobs, primarily around Bishop's Cleeve.

3.22. Tourism also plays a role in the Tewkesbury Borough economy, with many visitors attracted to the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty part of which is within the Borough. Tewkesbury with its impressive Abbey, the pretty town of Winchcombe and picturesque villages like Snowshill and Stanton are major tourist draws; so it is surprising that only 7.6% of the workforce is employed in tourism related work, well below the average of 9.2% for the South West.

3.23. Tewkesbury Borough does not have the same high rate of self-containment as its urban neighbours. Only 40% of the workforce lives and works within the Borough boundary, with many commuting in to Gloucester and Cheltenham, or outside the Joint Core Strategy Area to Worcester or Evesham.

3.24. The importance of Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury/Northway to the Joint Core Strategy area should not obscure the fact that it is predominantly rural. Indeed, this is one of the most attractive features of the area and one of the reasons why its urban areas are attractive places to live and work.

3.25. The landscape of the Joint Core Strategy area is dominated by two major features. The River Severn and its tributaries have eroded soft Lias Clay to form the Severn and Avon Vales, while the harder limestone has remained forming the steep escarpment and uplands of the Cotswolds in the east of the area. Dotted around the Vale are the outliers of the escarpment such as Robinswood Hill and Chosen Hill and the smaller river terrace hillocks such as Hempsted and Lassington Hill.

3.26. The area is rich in biodiversity and supports a number of important habitats, such as lowland wet grassland, reedbeds, standing water, canals and rivers, traditional orchards, woodlands, wood pastures, limestone grasslands and beech woodlands. These habitats and important landscape features have resulted in the Joint Core Strategy area being heavily protected by a number of statutory designations. These include:

  • 2 Special Areas of Conservation: Cotswolds Beechwood and Dixton Wood;
  • Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty;
  • 21 Sites of Special Scientific Interest;
  • 9 Local Nature Reserves.

3.27. The areas location alongside the River Severn and beneath the Cotswolds escarpment makes it susceptible to flood risk. The flooding events of July 2007 brought Tewkesbury, in particular, and the wider Joint Core Strategy area to national attention. The flooding events highlighted the vulnerability of the area and the importance of maintaining means of access during flooding events, with areas of Tewkesbury town centre and other settlements becoming cut off by flood waters for several days. The upside of the presence of the Severn, Avon and the numerous related tributaries and other water courses that characterise the Joint Core Strategy area is the habitats that are associated with them, natural phenomena such as the Severn Bore and the opportunity for river related leisure activities.

3.28. Tewkesbury lies at the confluence of the Severn and Avon rivers. In combination, they and their tributaries drain a huge catchment area, including upland areas of Mid and North Wales, the Peak District and the Cotswolds. As a result Tewkesbury and Gloucester often experience peak flows some days after peak rainfall. By contrast, the eastern fringe of the Joint Core Strategy area is characterised by short and steep sided river valleys draining the Cotswolds escarpment. This landscape and the proximity of the escarpment, leads to rapid water run-off rates and can cause flash flooding. This was particularly evident in July 2007, when the River Chelt overtopped a 1 in 100 year flood alleviation scheme at Sandford Park and caused widespread flooding in Cheltenham town centre. Winchcombe and Tewkesbury town centres also suffer from flooding caused by rapid surface water run off.

3.29. Gloucester City is protected from the River Severn by extensive flood defences. However, smaller rivers and brooks draining into the main river can be subject to flooding and this is often made worse by high flows in the main river restricting the ability of smaller stream to discharge. The Sud and Whaddon Brooks were both identified as being at risk from this type of flooding.

Do you recognise the Portrait of the area? Is it representative of the place you live?

Please provide your comments; outlining any areas where you feel it should be amended or improved. Please also provide any further information or evidence on how you believe the Portrait could be amended to talk more specifically about where you live.

Key Issues

3.30. Using the Spatial Portrait and the evidence base, the following Key Issues have been identified for the Joint Core Strategy, which are not in order of importance.

  1. There are significant areas of high environmental value throughout the Joint Core Strategy area. At present, restricted access to some of these areas and lack of funding for their management prevents them from being used by the general public, as well as limiting habitat creation and landscape enhancement.
  2. The Joint Core Strategy area's population is predicted to expand. It is essential that self-sufficiency is maintained to avoid an increase in commuting.  This will be particularly important in the creation of new communities.
  3. The future development of the Joint Core Strategy area should seek to reduce carbon emissions and secure viable initiatives for the generation of renewable energy.
  4. New homes will need to satisfy the demands of the current and future population to support greater economic prosperity and address housing affordability.
  5. There is a high degree of inequality across the Joint Core Strategy area. Some locations currently experience significant economic deprivation and there is a high degree of inequality in wages and skills both between and within settlements.  
  6. There is a limited supply of employment land within the urban areas to meet the needs of the Joint Core Strategy area for continued economic growth.
  7. The area must capitalise upon its unique range of tourism features in order to increase the visitor numbers to the area and generate more income from tourism.
  8. There is a need for more visitor accommodation across the area to encourage visitors to the area to stay for longer.
  9. The individual settlements that make up the Joint Core Strategy area need to work together to compete more effectively at a regional and national level.
  10. The Joint Core Strategy area contains a wealth of built and natural heritage that is in need of protection and enhancement. This is an asset that should be developed to help regenerate the area and attract visitors. 
  11. The area suffers from significant flood risk. In particular, a number of communities and key pieces of infrastructure within the Joint Core Strategy area can become inaccessible and isolated during flood events.
  12. It is important that the urban regeneration initiatives of both Gloucester and Cheltenham are realised to make sure that the city and town centres remain attractive places to live and work. Tewkesbury town centre is also in need of enhancement that reflects its unique character.
  13. The success of sustainable communities within the Joint Core Strategy area is dependent upon the provision of appropriate health and community infrastructure.
  14. There is a need to improve important transport links to other regions, such as the A417/419 (missing link) and the redualling of the railway link between Swindon and Kemble along with improving transport links between Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury.

3.31. It is essential that the Joint Core Strategy process refines these issues and relates them to specific places within the Joint Core Strategy area before it seeks to address them as part of a development strategy.

Are the above issues the right ones for the Joint Core Strategy to tackle? How do they relate to the place where you live?

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