Raising Lincoln’s game

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
September 2011

Anyone returning ‘home’ to Lincoln after spending a few years away, or tourists who haven’t visited for a some time, have been known to gasp when they spot the countless changes to the city’s skyline. But even as they are taking stock of the changes their eyes are inevitably drawn further, to the multi-million pound investments which are still taking shape.
More importantly, many of Lincoln’s movers and shakers believe that this evolving scene, the birth of a new partnership, improved road links and the looming Olympics, make now the time to focus even harder on getting Lincoln better known.

Despite difficult economic times, there is plenty to inspire and motivate businesses, organisations and individuals with bright ideas for driving up tourism and conference trade, attracting more shoppers and creating more jobs.

Recent ‘happenings’ have included the high-flying launch of the Visit Lincoln Partnership, the introduction of Late Night Shopping and an enhanced programme of events.

New restaurant and hotel projects along the Brayford Waterfront and the ongoing expansion of the University of Lincoln, plus recent investment at Lincoln College and Bishop Grosseteste University College, are hot talking points.

The much-loved historic Bailgate area has benefited from the £11m Bailgate Restored Project, £18.9 million is being injected into Lincoln Castle Revealed and Lincoln Cathedral is becoming a bigger magnet than ever for visitors worldwide.

Excitingly, Steep Hill – an unforgettable cobbled challenge for any visitor – has thrust Lincoln into the media spotlight as the UK’s only finalist in The Academy of Urbanism’s 2012 Great Street Awards, where we are up against Scottish favourites, Byers Street in Glasgow and Cockburn Street, Edinburgh.

There also remains a real determination to make Lincolnshire Co-operative’s ambitious £100 million Lindongate project, which promises to breathe extra vitality into the area including Sincil Street and the bus and railway stations, a reality.

While these projects, and more, are creating a real buzz, it is the high-profile launch of the Visit Lincoln Partnership (VLP), at the Collection – attended by 100 businesses – which has highlighted the groundswell of enthusiasm to raise Lincoln’s game.

VLP chairman Mark Hollingworth is also delighted that Jason Freezer of Visit England attended the event and that the organisation sees Lincoln as an ‘Attract’ destination.

“In the past, people coming to the city have asked questions such as how many bed spaces we can provide and how many large hotels we have. We now have two Holiday Inns, the Charlotte House and the DoubleTree by Hilton (currently being built in Brayford Wharf North) all offering quality bed spaces, along with Lincoln’s rich mix of B&B accommodation.

“We have the redevelopment of Lincoln Castle, through Lincoln Castle Revealed, the city has a great mix of interesting heritage and great shopping and the expanding University of Lincoln has added 19,000 students to the mix,” said Mr Hollingworth.

The University of Lincoln has reportedly invested more than £200m since its establishment in 2001 and now contributes more than £200m a year to the economy.

For those in search of leisure and entertainment facilities, there is a diverse mix of cultural offerings from The Engine Shed, the LPAC (Lincoln Performing Arts Centre), Lincoln Theatre Royal and the Drill Hall.

“Lincoln has matured and developed, the Brayford area is gathering momentum, our direct Lincoln to London rail link is proving popular and producing good figures and the further dualling of the A46 is helping to put us on the map,” added Mr Hollingworth.

“In the last four months, the VLP has hit the ground running. This really is a ‘no brainer’. Everyone knows Lincoln is a great city but also that its visitor economy doesn’t perform as it should.”

By comparison, Bath’s visitor economy is worth £392 million and Lincoln’s more than £125m. Lincoln attracts more than three million visitors a year, while Bath pulls in four million.

In addition to boosting tourism, the VLP is also keen to play its part in encouraging more people to move to Lincoln and more businesses to invest in the city.

VLP colleague Emma Tatlow said: “To achieve our vision ‘to create and support a flourishing and sustainable visitor economy in Lincoln’, the Visit Lincoln Partnership will be embarking on high-profile marketing campaigns, working locally with businesses and establishing an action plan for destination management in the city.

“Marketing campaigns around the three key themes of Tourism, Trade and Talent, using digital, PR, events and advertising will raise the profile of Lincoln nationally.

In March 2012, Lincoln will also be at CONFEX – the largest exhibition for conference and event buyers.

“Local business support forms the foundation of our partnership and we will continue to build our membership base and engage with businesses. We will work with partners, including Lincoln BIG, Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, the City of Lincoln Council and Lincolnshire County Council on destination management within Lincoln, ensuring the city supports the visitor economy.”

Ms Tatlow said 2012 will be an important year, with the Olympic & Paralympic Games creating good opportunities, including international press coverage and the torch relay.

“Lincoln Cathedral will host a Flower Festival in August. It is Lincolnshire’s Year of Aviation and the dualling of the A46 will be complete – significantly improving access to Lincoln from the East Midlands,” she added.

It is against this backdrop that Lincolnshire Co-operative continues to forge ahead with its vision to make the Lindongate Scheme, which centres on the city’s markets, bus and railway stations, a reality.

Following the demise of Modus Ventures, which was originally joint developer with Lincolnshire Co-operative, the Society (Co-op) has taken control of the planning application, which has recently been amended to hopefully meet the requirements of planners, highways and heritage chiefs.

Lincoln BIG (Business Improvement Group) is always on the lookout for ways of getting the city, which includes the contemporary St Mark’s Shopping Centre, the central and upper High Streets, historic Steep Hill, Bailgate and the cultural quarter, including the Drill Hall, better noticed and increasing footfall.

Chief executive Matt Corrigan said: “It is a diverse and widespread area, but we organise and help to promote events which will tempt people to many different locations, from farmers’ markets in High Street, Castle Hill and St Mark’s to motoring events on the Brayford Waterfront, Lincoln by the Sea in City Square and the Fete on the Strait at the foot of Steep Hill.

“This Summer Lincoln has joined a select group of ‘Alive After 5’ cities, which all open after traditional shopping hours, in recognition of the fact that people’s lifestyles have changed with the disappearance of the typical nine-to-five day and the move to more flexible working patterns.

“Our move to offer Thursday Late Night Shopping year-round is backed by the support of more than 100 traders. We have had good reports of good business from many and we hope that it will only get busier in the run-up to Christmas.”

Mr Corrigan echoes the sentiments of many business leaders who think that Lincoln – which is also within easy reach of countryside and coast – has an enormous amount going for it and huge untapped potential.

“The dualling of the A46 and the early success of our direct Lincoln to London rail link are a great help, but what we also need are those other building blocks in our transport infrastructure, the East-West Link Road and the Eastern Bypass.

“The Eastern Bypass would be so much more than a road. Rarely could building a road do so much more than addressing traffic issues. The need to construct the Lincoln Eastern Bypass is about the future of this fine city, about its ethos as a historic city and about reconnecting communities with the city centre.”

Developments at the University of Lincoln are continuing to attract the attention of the outside world and helping to drive up Lincoln’s reputation.

The University is rising up the national university league tables, having jumped almost fifty places in The Times’ Good University Guide in the last three years. It now ranks fifty-five out of the 116 higher education institutions listed in the latest Times’ Guide.

A University spokesman said: “As the university’s reputation grows, so too does its popularity. Total undergraduate applications were up more than twenty per cent last year (for the 2011 start), compared to the previous year.

More overseas students are keen to get a place at Lincoln too.

Millions of pounds continue to be ploughed into the University’s Brayford campus.

“Our new School of Engineering, which is being created in collaboration with Siemens, is almost complete and will welcome a new cohort of students this month (September),” said the spokesman.

A new Faculty of Business and Law building has been developed through a £6m conversion of the old Lincolnshire Echo offices. This also incorporates the £1m Lincolnshire Leadership and Management Centre.

The University is also helping Lincoln to become a hub for start-up businesses in the creative industries, through its business incubation units at Sparkhouse Studios and Enterprise@Lincoln. Its National Centre for Food Manufacturing in Holbeach is also recognised as a real centre of excellence by the UK food Sector.

“We’re appointing exciting academic talent from across the UK, including several senior academic appointments in the Lincoln Business School over the past year, such as the new Head of the Lincoln Business School, Professor Tom Mordue,” said the spokesman. Graduate employment rates also rank above the national average. Ninety-three per cent of last summer’s graduates have found work or gone on to further study, six months after finishing their degrees.

Lincoln’s swishest new hotel is on course to welcome its first guests on November 9 – just weeks before the city hosts its world famous Christmas Market.

The four-star DoubleTree by Hilton, which overlooks Brayford Pool, aims to offer first-class facilities and service for the discerning visitor.

Its sales and marketing manger Nicola Shepheard said that people will be able to book rooms ahead of its opening, enquires have already been received from people looking for accommodation for the Christmas Market and the venue has also been deluged with applications from jobseekers wanting to work there.

“The hotel will be an upscale, contemporary hotel, chic yet welcoming, with a strong emphasis on customer service. Our aim is to make everyone who visits the hotel, be it on business or pleasure, to feel like they are experiencing a touch of glamour, as well as being well looked after.”

Potential guests will be able to book rooms ahead of the opening, via the group’s website, which will be up and running by the autumn.

The DoubleTree by Hilton is also looking at offering special deals to tempt tourists.

“We are looking at possible packages with Lincoln Cathedral and, hopefully, the Castle. The team at Lincoln Cathedral, in particular, has been incredibly supportive of the project and we are looking forward to working with them in promoting this majestic building and, indeed, our beautiful city. So, there are lots of ideas in the pipeline at the moment,” said Nicola.

Hilton has the added advantage of a huge global marketing team, which it can utilise to promote Lincoln as a great destination.

Despite doing very little advertising, nearly 400 people have applied to work at the DoubleTree by Hilton, some from as far afield as America.

“We only actually advertised for four out of the seventy vacancies which we are looking to fill. We are bringing in talent from all over the UK, as well as creating jobs for local people and college leavers,” added Nicola.

The new Government Tourism Policy (published in March) aims to deliver a four-year £100 million campaign, co-funded by the Government and the private sector.

It is looking to attract four million extra visitors to Britain over the next four years – capable of triggering an economic spending boost of £2 billion and sparking the creation of 50,000 new jobs.

Lincoln currently attracts three million visitors each year. The sector is responsible for generating more than £125m for the local economy and it provides work for almost 2,000 people.

When compared with Bath – which pulls in 4.5m visitors, generating £369m for the local economy and supporting 8,491 jobs – and Salisbury (3.2m visitors, producing an economic boost of £188m and supporting 4,208 jobs), it is clear that Lincoln has plenty to play for.

Stalls for the world famous Lincoln Christmas Market are all taken. More than 160 coaches have already booked to come and the scene is being set for a sparkling 2011 celebration.

This year the market, which will have 278 stalls, is due to run from Thursday to Sunday, December 1st to 4th.

New features will include a larger Lincolnshire Larder and cookery demonstrations. Christmas Market merchandise will also be available from the Visitor Information Centre in Castle Hill, and there will be children’s Christmas craft activities and new stalls in the County Assembly Rooms.

Confidence in the market remains high, despite the unfortunate cancellation of the 2010 event, due to severe weather.

Around half of all stallholders booked to attend the 2010 market took up an offer by the City of Lincoln Council to take a stall at this year’s event, rather than getting a refund.

This year the Market’s opening hours will be: Thursday 4pm-9.30pm (with the traditional opening ceremony at the West Front of Lincoln Cathedral at 6.30pm); Friday and Saturday 10am-9.30pm; Sunday 10am-7pm.

Hopes of turning Lincoln’s £100 million Lindongate dream into a reality remain firmly on track.

Lincolnshire Co-operative, which originally put forward plans for the scheme with joint developer Modus Ventures, is forging ahead with its plans, following Modus going into liquidation in 2009.

Co-op agent Banks Long & Co said the original architect Lyons+Sleeman+Hoare, which has been retained for the project, has been busy working on revised plans to meet concerns raised by planners, highways chiefs, English Heritage and the Lincoln Civic Trust.

It was hoped the final planning application for Lindongate would be lodged with city planners, as we went to press. A further twenty-one-day consultation will follow – so it will be at least October before this project is discussed in committee.

The Lindongate scheme aims to revitalise the area around St Mary’s Street, Sincil Street, Waterside South and Melville Street – providing 300,000 sq ft of retail space, including a department store and other shop units, restaurant and apartments.

A modern transport interchange would see the current bus station replaced with a new facility next to the central railway station and there are plans for a new footbridge link, connecting Tentercroft Street and the Sincil Bank area with the City centre.

“The design for the layout of the bus station has been altered and enlarged to include a new public concourse and disabled facilities. We have also made improvements to signage and the pedestrian footbridge,” said Mr Banks.

“The anchor department store has been moved slightly northwards. People will be able to see this from the High Street and as they are coming out of the railway station.

“We have also reduced the height of the scheme, in line with a request from English Heritage and Lincoln Civic Trust,” added Mr Banks.

When people were consulted over the original Modus scheme, eighty per cent were in favour. The latest public consultation has shown that ninety-two per cent of people questioned like the overall design.

Mr Banks added that developer interest in Lindongate and its anchor department store remain strong, but small, independent shops remain a key part of the mix.

Lincolnshire Co-operative chief executive Ursula Lidbetter said: “We believe that Lindongate will bring many advantages, including breathing new life into an important part of the city centre, creating jobs and more retail and leisure facilities.”

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