Urban modernisation of Balkerne Hill
Town’s evolve and develop over time. Populations increase creating the need for more housing, commercial premises, roads and amenities resulting in urban development and town expansions. In recent years, these redeveloped areas are mostly former industrial areas where an industry had relocated or declined leaving a concrete eyesore in the community. Colchester is another town which has responded to the need for change, but at what cost?
In the early 1970’s, Balkerne Hill was an ordinary residential street located within the Parish of St. Mary’s at the Walls, which ran by the side of the church. The local residents worshipped at the church and were involved socially within their community. There was an infant school, pub, local corner shops and a real community spirit where everybody knew each other. All this was about to change as Colchester set about creating new roads to divert traffic away from the town centre, in favour of wider urban thoroughfares to keep traffic moving. The new roads created were the Southway and a wider Balkerne Hill. These roads were constructed on land previously used for residential houses and now separated the town with remaining houses, splitting communities, displacing residents whose houses were affected, and destroyed the sense of community spirit which once existed.
The redevelopment of this area and the creation of these new roads also set about isolating St. Mary’s with the majority of the parish residents who regularly worshipped on Sundays. The church is located at the far north east of the parish, with regular worshipers living to the west and south, many of whom walked to church for services. The loss of so many houses, meant a reduction in those attending church, and this had a direct impact on church life. St. Mary’s was forced to close, with her last service held on 26th February 1978.
The creation of the Balkerne Hill duel carriageway brought further changes to the area, in the form of a new multi-storey car park. An area of land had already been cleared and a temporary carpark created on the waste land, but the need arose for a more permanent, long term solution, enabling people to park close to the town centre. This new car park has six hundred and seventeen spaces, and was opened in November 1981 by Colchester’s mayor, Roger Browning. The further development of Balkerne Hill occurred in the 1990’s with the building of new residential properties, creating a road called St. Mary’s Fields. This residential estate, became known as the Balkerne Heights Development, and was built on the land formerly occupied by the Colchester Union workhouse and St. Mary’s Hospital.
Further developments to Balkerne Hill occurred on 14th January 2017, with the planned removal of the foot bridge which spans the duel carriageway connecting St. Mary’s Car Park on one side with the Hole in the Wall Public House on the other. This bridge replacement was in order to install a wider bridge to help pedestrians and cyclists to better use the crossing together. This project has caused divided opinions within the town as to whether the work was actually necessary, as there is already an established cycle route along Crouch Street, a short distance from the bridge. Colchester now has a superb new bridge which opened to the public on 25th March. This crossing is wide enough for pedestrians to pass each other, with enough space for cyclists, mobility scooters and parents with prams.