Ambitious Plans for New Broad Marsh Site Unveiled

Words: Adam Pickering
Tuesday 07 December 2021
reading time: min, words

Heatherwick Studio and the Greater Broad Marsh Advisory Group have revealed the new vision for the area...


In an undoubted milestone of arguably the biggest local story of the last two years, the new vision for the former Broadmarsh shopping centre and surrounding area’s future was unveiled today. 

The new proposals have been developed by Thomas Heatherwick, the famed British designer and architect behind Heatherwick Studio. Heatherwick’s previous work includes the bold new Google “landscraper” at King’s Cross, and the plant-covered 1000 Trees - a green, mixed used development in Shanghai, China. 

Originally set for unveiling in the summer, the plans have been the subject of hope, speculation, and often consternation from a large range of local groups - with Nottingham Green Quarter, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, and the Liberal Democrats and Green Party all offering up their own visions, and tens of thousands of locals signing petitions or responding to Nottingham City Council’s record-breaking Big Conversation consultation.

One of the key themes that emerged in the City Council’s engagement exercise into the possible future use of the site is green, natural and open spaces. There was also strong support for a reflection of Nottingham’s history and heritage, and for a mixed development including retail, hospitality, leisure and offices. It’s widely hoped for the area to be safe and family friendly, whilst creating an attractive gateway to the city from the south, with independent shops championed over large chains. 

So do the new plans live up to these high expectations? See for yourself:

Plans have been steered by the Greater Broadmarsh Advisory Group; chaired by Greg Nugent of The Nottingham Project, the panel features national experts including Sir Tim Smit of Eden Project, Jerome Frost of ARUP UK and urban designer Kathryn Frith.

Introducing the presentation, Nugent said: “This is a very important day for the city. We’ve gotten to take part in something which I think is truly remarkable. I personally don’t feel I’ve worked on anything as important as this. I think we have something very rare, a harmony of logical and magical thinking. Logic is important. Nottingham needs new jobs, it needs apprenticeships, it needs increased productivity, it needs extra income, it needs the retention of its graduates. It needs the hard benefits of transformation.”

Thomas Heatherwick continued by saying, “Me and my team were absolutely thrilled to be asked by Greg and the advisory group to have the chance to think about the heart of Nottingham. This was in the context of a time where the digital revolution has happened, and the world has changed... We've got our cities, which were the place where we all saw each other and came together, and then there was this strange social experiment of shopping, but it wasn't actually the social thing that we thought it was. We feel that we're more connected than ever before to each other, but actually, that connection is so thin. And it's led by an algorithm... So the big question is, what are towns and cities for anymore? So few places have the chance that exists here.” 

Lisa Finlay, project lead for the Broad Marsh project at Heatherwick Studio, talked guests through the plans. Several historic streets will be reinstated including Greyfriar Gate, Carrington Street and Stanford street, and Drury Hill will be brought back in some form. Homes and residential zones will be to the west, work to the south, culture to the north east, and a ‘green heart’ will sit in the centre of the site - 430,000 square feet of residential and commercial space will be installed in total. The cave network, which Lisa called “one of the city’s greatest assets”, will be opened up for a wide range of proposed uses including clubs, with a new art hotel, Severns House, sitting above them - allowing people to “sleep above the caves”. The area will also join up with new heritage and cultural trails leading outside of the area.


Heatherwick and Finlay both highlighted the way that the digital revolution has altered city life, and has seen the failure of “ground floor retail”, emphasising the need to create a “mutual space” that brings together a multiplicity of uses and purposes to suit a wide range of people. Although the expectation was that the Broadmarsh Centre would be completely demolished, the proposals will see the frame of the Broadmarsh mostly repurposed into a mixed used framework that brings people together and makes a place “that everyone can feel is theirs”. 

Central to the vision, Finlay explained, are the themes of “food, perform, play”, which are being used to address different needs within the existing Broadmarsh Centre frame and surrounds. The designs show a roughness around the edges that hopes to give the city a sense of history, truthfulness and openness, rather than shying away from it’s troubled past. This will have the appearance of open streets with a structure laden with greenery and artistic touches. Walkways will be added over the top of the frame, with different habitats and buildings inhabiting it.

The green heart will add an area for nature the same size as the Market Square, featuring “baby oak” at its centre - a young tree born of Sherwood Forest’s famous Major Oak. “Underlying all of this vision are sustainable principles that completely align with Nottingham’s carbon neutral goals for the city,” Finlay claimed.

Paul Wilkinson, Chief Executive of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, was excited about the plans which he said “should be thriving, pulsing, and humming with nature around the clock, and this should be secured early”, adding that it’s about “anchoring nature at the heart of this concept. It’s about starting with nature and building out from there.” He stated that “almost exactly a year ago, the Wildlife Trust put forward a bold idea of the Broadmarsh reimagined as wildlife-rich greenspace to support nature’s recovery and enable people living and working in the city centre to connect with nature on their doorstep. Given the public support for our ideas we’re pleased to have had the opportunity to feed into the creative process to illustrate how a nature first approach could underpin the City’s carbon neutral ambitions and address social inclusion."

Councillor David Mellen said ahead of the presentation that “for far too long the Broadmarsh site has been one of unfulfilled promises, but [what we’re presenting] is an exciting vision. The new plans have really listened to the feedback from the Big Conversation and captured the wide range of views and ideas put forward, and balanced them with experiences of cities elsewhere and drawn on their wide experience and knowledge. They have used the extensive footprint of Broad Marsh to ensure the vision provides something for everybody.”

Mellen and Nugent both emphasised that this isn’t an idea that will be paid for exclusively by the public purse, but will be dependent on the coming together of various sources of outside investment. Nugent says the Nottingham Project have recommended the formation of a ‘Broad Marsh Development Partnership’ to oversee the development and work out the finer details. Nugent believes that the economic opportunities are “incredible” and said it could be the “greatest return on investment of any project I’ve been a part of”. Nugent also added that there’ll be lots of “meanwhile use” involved as the project comes together, and believes that the new green spaces proposed could be brought to life quite quickly. 


Nugent sees the city’s job as creating an environment and vision that both the private and public sector will want to invest in, and suggested that it might be two to three years before the plans are completely ready for delivery to begin, believing that we “shouldn’t obsess over the gross figure” but that £5-6m was needed to turn the vision into much more detailed planning and projects that can be invested in. He explained that the project would “take time”, explaining that “we’re thinking about it as a jigsaw, and it will come together in phases”. 

Vicky McClure, Nottingham-based actor and founder of BYO Films, and a member of the Advisory Group, said: “This is a visionary and beautiful solution for our City. Nottingham leading the way once again and showing how cities can grow and adapt sustainably and creatively. I have been lucky to speak to Thomas Heatherwick and the teams involved through the design process and have been blown away by their ideas and depth of thinking. Huge credit to Heatherwick Studios, Stories, Greg Nugent and the rest of the Advisory Group for their dedication to our City.” 

Sir Tim Smit, Co-Founder of the Eden Project and member of the Advisory Group said: “I think this is some of the best work I have seen in many years from a designer who ranks among the very best in the world. His personal excitement in the possibilities for Nottingham shone through and, hand on heart, I am convinced that were we to be able to make real the magic expressed here, Nottingham would have a centre that will ground the lightning of the cultural, tech and scientific ferment that is waiting for a stage. This is that stage and I offer my utmost admiration to the team that have got us here and the spirit of the citizens of Nottingham for daring to dream while organising to deliver.”

Not everyone was happy with the new proposals, though, with the local Liberal Democrats and Green Party issuing a joint press release before the presentation had closed, countering the generally positive response to plans in the hall. Speaking on behalf of Nottingham Green Party, Cath Sutherland said it was a “business as usual” proposal which does not transform the Broadmarsh into a huge park in which nature can thrive”. Lloydie James Lloyd, Campaigns Co-ordinator for Nottingham Lib Dems added: “This proposal isn’t big, isn’t bold and lacks the ambition we need for our city.” There was a note of frustration, with Lloyd not holding back on their grievance at not having been involved in the planning process. “We are extremely annoyed that this was briefed to the press before those that put in proposals were spoken to,” he said. “The process of drawing up these plans has been cloaked in secrecy and there has been little transparency on how appointments have been made, such as how the architect was chosen.” 

Undoubtedly, the plans won’t please everyone, but its architects seem to have had a good go at trying to.

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