Wow! Unbelievable changes in store for Rugby town centre

The Benn Hall moving to Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, the borough council setting up in North Street car park as part of a public services hub, the roundabout at the top of Corporation Street being scrapped and replaced with traffic lights.

Rugby Town Hall. Photo: Google Street View.
Rugby Town Hall. Photo: Google Street View.

All this and more could be part of a big shake-up, backed up by a new marketing slogan, ‘Rugby town centre – The Game Changer’.

The wide-ranging Rugby Town Centre Regeneration Strategy 2022 document will be considered by the borough council’s cabinet next week and is packed with plans that outline ways to improve the town centre.

The town hall and Benn Hall are part of the discussions with various options on the table – including those mentioned above.

It’s no secret that the council staff have been rattling around in the town hall for a while and a new use for its site, plus potentially the old magistrates court and police station building, could be a major opportunity for the town.

The new report talks of the council being part of a hub with other public services dotted around the town – with several possible locations for it.

But while the report throws up such tantalising prospects as the Benn Hall staying or moving – it specifically says, ‘The Regeneration Strategy identifies RAGM as a potential relocation opportunity for Benn Hall if required’ – it also contains a huge range of detail looking to improve a number of key aspects, particularly suggesting ways to make it easier for people to get around and wanting to visit.

It identifies six key strategic areas: Rugby Hub; Rugby Market; Rounds Gardens; Rugby Central; Evreux Way and Corporation Street; Church Street and North Street.

On the market for example, the report identifies there is strong support for keeping it where it is but suggests relocation options, which for those with long memories, includes the possibility of bringing back an indoor market, as well as having the open-air stalls.

Rugby’s previous indoor market in Castle Street closed in 1999 – and was transformed into the Rupert Brooke pub.

Rounds Gardens makes the list because with demoltion and clearance of the site due by winter next year, the report recognises the chance to plan its replacement in a way that links into the town centre..

The other streets and shopping areas are considered in detail, looking at how the quality of the buildings can be retained while bringing in a different mix of uses – and making the whole experience pedestrian friendly.

It’s not the first time there have been attempts to transform the town centre – the last rebranding using, ‘The Rugby Town’ as a slogan failed to take off but with new challenges since that was adopted, the report has a clear vision for the town and this feeds through into the thinking behind the suggested branding.

In a stirring statement, the report says: “We believe Rugby has a fighting spirit. The people of Rugby are innovators, inventors and trailblazers. They are quite literally the game changers.”

Leader of the council, Cllr Seb Lowe, said in his introduction to the document: “A thriving 21st century town centre is one which blends a variety of uses to create a destination.

“We will still have retail, but there will be far more of the sort of independent retailers we currently have in Regent Quarter.

“We will look to significantly increase the range of restaurants, bars and other places of entertainment, along with enhanced areas of public spaces to ensure that our town centre becomes a place where people come to meet and enjoy themselves.

“We will also look to increase the number of homes in our town centre significantly - something which will not only help to address the need for affordable housing in the borough, but will also bring much needed additional footfall into the town centre to support businesses.”

And he also claimded this approach would be good for the environment and good for the green fields developers want to build on: “This strategy will also ensure that both our town centre and borough as a whole, adapts to meet our climate change aspirations.

"Building more homes on brownfield sites, in our town centre, will reduce the need to build on green fields in the future. Investing in alternative, more sustainable transport options, will also reduce reliance on the car.”

The document will be considered at a meeting of the borough council’s cabinet at 6pm next Monday, December 5. The recommendation is to approve this new approach to the full council. The agenda and the report on the regeneration strategy is available now on the council’s website.

Cllr Lowe added in his foreword: “The problems that we face in Rugby town centre are by no means unique. Towns of our size, up and down the country face exactly the same issues as changing shopping habits change what were once thriving retail hubs.

"But whilst our problems are not unusual, it has long been my belief that the strengths of this borough place us in a far, far stronger position than most to tackle those problems.

"We are one of the fastest growing towns in the entire United Kingdom, and with the scale of that growth comes huge economic opportunity.

"In addition to our growing population, we are also without any doubt one of the best located and best connected towns in the country.

"This strategy will enable us to maximise these considerable assets to drive the transformation of our town centre.”