Plans are being drawn up to reinvigorate Sleaford’s Market Place as an enhanced public space where people can spend longer enjoying the town centre and all it offers.
Owned and operated by North Kesteven District Council, the Market Place’s primary function is currently as a car park, with a market run by Sleaford Town Council three days a week.
Under the plans – which have just been submitted for formal consideration – parking would cease in the square, the market would remain and the entire area be upgraded into an improved public space for residents and visitors to enjoy and better support public events, as demonstrated by the 2022 RiverLight Festival.
The scheme which, if successful would be funded by more than £1m of a government grant for economic renewal, has been worked up as a priority action in direct response to a long-held aspiration for improved public space at the heart of the town.
North Kesteven District Council Leader Councillor Richard Wright said: “As the main town square for Sleaford, the Market Place cannot currently fulfil its potential due to its daily use as a car park and the limitations that places on it.
“The vision to refresh and repurpose it into a predominantly pedestrian-space would provide a comfortable, car-free area in the town centre for people to linger and spend longer whilst going about their business in Sleaford.
“Such a welcoming central space to relax in and enjoy will be of great benefit to the town, socially, culturally and economically. As a new facility for residents and visitors, our hope is that it will also help increase overall footfall, dwell-time and trade in the town centre, for the benefit of all,” said Cllr Wright.
Under the proposal, the entire Market Place and surrounding footpaths would be refreshed with new paving in keeping with the area’s heritage, highlighting the key features of St Denys’ Church and the war memorial, which would be lit to showcase its importance.
With two raised planting beds and seating, the restored Market Place would be a more welcoming space to meet and provide conditions to hopefully facilitate a renewed vibrancy of the market itself. It would also accommodate the potential for additional café seating/spill out space along its northern edge, whilst complementing that recently installed outside the Sessions House.
Along the Market Place frontage, additional bench seating and planters, the up-lighting of the feature trees and new lighting will to create ambience in the evenings, and removal of the market place hut will open up views and create better access on foot.
The scheme is designed in such a way as to ensure that the market can still operate from the square, however in a much safer and pedestrian-friendly environment with no conflict with vehicles. Limited vehicle access will remain in place for weddings and funerals, at the discretion of the church.
There is nearby parking at Church Lane and Eastgate and service delivery vehicles can use the loading bays adjacent to Market Place or Market Street when visiting businesses. Market traders will be able to unload before moving their vehicles to a nearby car park.
A full planning application will be open for public comment and responses shortly, with residents, traders and those with a wider interest invited to have their say as part of the planning process.
If granted planning permission, the project would receive in excess of £1million from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The Market Place would close to vehicles in late spring 2024 as contractors arrive onsite and it would potentially be ready to reopen as a refreshed space in early 2025.
“Knowing what a major change this represents, we have given deep consideration to the likely impacts of the work as well as the benefits the finished space would bring to Sleaford,” said Cllr Wright.
“We have been gifted this UK Shared Prosperity Fund allocation and it is important that we don’t miss the opportunity to make use of it to reinvigorate a key location at the heart of Sleaford, to bring about lasting and positive change for Sleaford town centre and our wider local economy in North Kesteven.”
“In seeking to fulfil a long-held aspiration expressed for the town, we have brought forward a proposal which we feel will give renewed purpose to this historic space, restore it as a significant asset and reimagine it with fresh potential for community use in such a beautiful setting,” he said.
Talks are ongoing with stakeholders to assess the implications of the intended works on the regular market, businesses and other activities; and similarly, the Council will liaise over other anticipated events in the Market Place during the proposed construction period.
This would include a plan to provide market traders with a temporary new location in the town centre to operate from while the works take place. Also the need for schools to make alternative pick-up locations for buses.
The potential of the Market Place to become an enhanced public space which benefits the town centre has long been an ambition for the town and has been outlined as a positive intervention in previous feasibility studies, including the Sleaford Masterplan Refresh last year and the original Sleaford Masterplan.