Candidate: Penzance Bank

Location: Cornwall, UK

Category: The Great Town Award

Year: 2020

Assessment Summary

Penzance is a town with a population of around 63,000 people. It is the most westerly major town in Cornwall, about 64 miles (103 km) south west of Plymouth. Historically a centre of commerce rather than a resort, its history as a mercantile and fishing port and mining town has left a legacy of good quality historic buildings and streets, great beaches and a good natural environment. However, it is one of the poorest towns in the County with poor quality rental housing, a history of poor community engagement, and a location remote from major population centres. Over the last six years Penzance has undertaken a remarkable journey. Today it is once again a renaissance town; turning around its fortunes through a community-led approach driven by a small number of committed individuals.

Penzance acts as a hub for West Penwith and gateway to “the Land’s End peninsular”. It is the main retail and commercial centre and an important regional transport hub. It links with the A30 trunk route, is the western railway terminus for GWR linking Penzance with the national rail network and services the ferry link to Scilly.

The Neighbourhood Plan is one of the key catalysts for change. It has been instrumental in improving a previously poor relationship between the town and Cornwall Council and creating an engaged community. The plan was first launched in 2015 with a wide-scale consultation on economic regeneration, followed in early 2016 by a mail drop to all households in the parish, including a Housing and Place survey and an EXPO in March 2017 outlining investment initiatives across the parish. In total, over 6,000 members of the community were consulted face to face. The Neighbourhood Plan – Reconnecting with the Sea – identifies a series of interlinked regeneration projects to reinvigorate the shoreline and town centre and sets out clear aspirations for housing, access to community infrastructure and leisure amenities.

The vision of the Plan is to create three physically connected economic zones:

  • “The Gateway” – the transport hub and arrival zone around the station
  • The Town Centre – The plans identify new uses for town centre buildings, public realm improvements and traffic calming
  • The Harbour and Headland – which includes projects to develop the Headland as a leisure destination, to create sea defences, to provide harbour improvements in Penzance and neighbouring Newlyn, and to create dedicated activity zones along the Promenade.

These three zones will work together to create a more functional, better used and attractive place to live, work, visit and shop.

The Jubilee Pool is an early win in the delivery of the vision. The pool is UK’s largest art deco sea water lido which has been restored to a very high-quality. It has three pools including a geothermal pool and is managed to a high environmental standard. It is run by the community for the community as a social enterprise in the form of a charitable Community Benefit Society with a Board to manage its affairs. There are over 1400 community shareholders and around 20 business community shareholders and donors.

Income is from ticket sales, the café and other products with all profits going back into the running of the pool.The high level of restoration, the commitment to wellbeing and the strength of the community involvement and support is a highly visible symbol of the town’s commitment to quality, integrity of place and local people.

The Penzance Regeneration Partnership was set up to control the Section 106 money given to the town by Sainsbury’s to offset the impact of the edge of town supermarket on the businesses in the town centre. This money is being wisely deployed and is instrumental in helping Penzance move forward in delivering the suite of plans to deliver joined up change and realise their vision.

The Board brings together representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, Penzance BID, Penzance Council, Cornwall Council, the Penzance and District Tourism Association, the Neighbourhood Plan and Truro & Penwith College.The Partnership members further reinforces a joined-up approach to delivery. The Partnership has embarked on ambitious plans for Penzance Town Centre and appointed consultants to carry out a Spatial Strategy to understand the economic health of the town centre and how to respond to the need for a more diversified retail offer that responds to changing consumer habits.

The Spatial Strategy is identifying sites within the town centre to help deliver potential employment opportunities such as creative digital studio space, work hubs, art space, incubator space to support the growing demand for small to medium-sized businesses in the area. The Spatial Strategy is also advising on the necessary delivery mechanisms required (financial, planning and legal) to implement the study recommendations. There is a strong connection across between the Local Plan, the Neighbourhood Plan and the Spatial Strategy.

Currently, the town centre has a good mix of chains and independents and boasts four independent bookshops. Part of the appeal of the shopping environment are the small historic units, which are well presented with colourful and creative window displays and are well maintained. The volume of relatively small historic units creates an attractive shopping environment but presents operational constraints. One of the challenges Penzance faces for delivering a sustainable retail offer is a diverse population with different shopping interests and needs. However, the town’s retail centre appears to be flourishing with few voids.

Other confirmed projects coming forward for the town are the promenade plan (part of the Neighbourhood Plan), a railway engineering centre and the return of the heliport for Scilly. These developments will create new job opportunities and it will be important to ensure close working with Truro & Penwith College and local schools to ensure these developments deliver quality jobs for local people. The Regeneration Partnership is chaired by the principal of the College which will help ensure those opportunities are harnessed. There is a need to tackle the big dip in the working age demographic of 24-45 year olds.

We saw some good examples of town centre housing but as the plans move forward, one of the biggest challenges for Penzance will be to deliver social and truly affordable housing to tackle the poor and outdated stock within the town. The greatest learning moment is that a small group of dedicated and imaginative individuals can make a difference and initiate a turnaround in a town’s view of itself and its future. The challenge will be how the tremendous momentum can be maintained. The omens appear to be good.

Lead Assessor: 

Michele Grant AoU

The Academy of Urbanism (Number 2) Limited is a not-for-profit organisation limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales 0595604, 11c Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 IXE, United Kingdom.
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