As the Gade Zone stage of the Hemel evolution project gets underway, we take an in-depth look at the plans for the new town centre hub.
The eco-friendly Forum plans show a three-storey, 75,000 sq ft building which will welcome visitors into a light, bright atrium and foyer which will house a reception desk, cafe and waiting area leading through to the library and voluntary sector.
The lower ground floor will house the town’s Safer Neighbourhood Police team as well as parking spaces and Dacorum Borough Council’s IT and reprographics team.
The council chamber, registry services and council staff offices will be arranged over the second and third floors.
The structure will have energy-saving LED lighting and will rely on natural ventilation in the winter and air conditioning in the summer to save overall operating costs.
Mark Gaynor, corporate director for housing and regeneration, said: “The Forum is not just a building, but it is a catalyst and symbol in our town centre.”
Architect Peter Eaton, of Aukett Swanke, said of the plans: “We wanted to create a feeling of longevity, stature and quality but not something ostentatious or grand.”
The Forum is due to welcome its first visitors in early 2017, but until then the library is making a temporary home in the Civic Centre.
The move will save the authority £300,000 a year in running costs and inefficient existing Civic Centre would have needed an investment of £5 million to refurbish it, plus substantial on-going investment.
Flanking the Forum, three blocks of flats have been given planning permission on the site, which includes a £41million private investment in 207 one and two-bedroom apartments – a third of which will be classed as affordable housing.
They will have landscaped courtyard gardens and the majority of the units will have a balcony to make the most of the views towards the River Gade.
The site’s leisure plans – which will be situated on the old market square – include a new eight-screen cinema and several food retailers, which aim to both encourage town centre visitors to combine shopping and leisure trips as well as boost the night-time economy.
A planning application is due to be submitted in due course and work is hoped to begin late next year.
Tim Holmes, director of Endurance Estates – a private sector partner in the build – said: “It provides a choice of cinema operator (with the Empire in Jarman Park) and we’re currently in negotiation with several chains.
“It will generate 1,000 visitors a day into the town centre and the complex will mean 250 new jobs for the local people.”
Building contractor RG Carter has taken on the 71-week-long project and will be working alongside the Hemel Hempstead campus of West Herts College in giving college students experience in the industry by introducing 100 apprenticeships in mechanical, electrical, brickwork and carpentry areas.
Currently, eight out of 10 people working on the site are local to the area.
Robert Carter, director at RG Carter, said: “This project is a phenomenal vision for the Gade Zone and Hemel Hempstead.
“As builders we can disrupt you, but we don’t want to do that. We want to take you on a journey and leave you with something amazing.”
Mr Carter said the site’s ‘topping out’ ceremony – which means when the building is declared watertight – is expected to happen in March next year.