Development: creating place on a visionary scale
With the highest number of high profile large scale regeneration and infrastructure projects currently in progress across the UK for over a generation, we spoke to some of the key protagonists across the private and public sectors, to understand the challenges, opportunities and drivers to realising these ambitious developments to create entirely new places.
These schemes demand commitment, flexibility and a long term view and are not just about delivering housing but genuinely creating places people want to work and live.
"Large scale projects demand strong leadership and vision, close collaboration between the public and private sector, and strategic alignment of infrastructure developments to enhance viability and to facilitate housing delivery with housing and planning zones," says Sara Bailey, Head of Real Estate, Trowers & Hamlins. "But the most significant challenges linking all of these projects are around achieving the societal goals of an economically vibrant and integrated community whilst undertaking large and complex physical regeneration or development of an area. It’s not just about building place, it’s about creating places which will define the future of our towns and cities. It takes decades of work and commitment to build up the physical and social layers for these schemes to succeed," she adds.
According to Elliot Lipton, Managing Director at First Base, the importance of a clear and bold vision cannot be underestimated. "At Silvertown we are fortunate to have a strong heritage which dates back to the 17th century. Grounding the vision in the heritage allows us to credibly re-energise this innovative environment." Elliot added that the vision must be supported by the correct infrastructure to enable success.
"The Elizabeth Line is within five minutes of Silvertown – crucially putting the area on the map for thousands of Londoners to live, work and socialise." Elliot was clear that any regeneration needs to benefit the local community "providing jobs and homes for local people, and lifting the aspiration and life chances." Supporting local businesses and creating local employment growth is also an important factor for Peabody says John Lewis, Executive Director in charge of Thamesmead. "We have an economics team putting a plan together to look at employment; for example we held a skills expo at the end of June which gave young people opportunities to connect with employers. We brought the London School of Fashion along to carry out a week of introductory workshops. It was a two-way street for employers and aspiring young people, giving them an opportunity to break into careers that wouldn’t have been easily accessible."
Peter George, Assistant Director of Regeneration & Planning at Enfield Council, leading Meridian Water, a major London regeneration programme next to the Lee Valley Regional Park agrees a focus should be as much about employment as it is about homes and other facilities. He described the project as "a response to the serious level of deprivation in that part of the borough."
"We wanted to understand the best way that we, as the local authority, could intervene to bring about prosperity."
This vision is embodied in the Meridian Works project; a cluster of buildings for small businesses, start-ups and freelancers that will activate the site from early on, creating footfall and jobs.
John Lewis agrees that 'looking after local' should be a priority on the path to regeneration too. "You can get incredibly excited about regeneration and talk about the future but that doesn’t always mean the best thing for people who have been there for a long time and want improvement now. Our Lived Experience programme is about improving lives for current residents, bringing together a cultural programme of events for the local community and also helping with job creation."
Victoria Hills, CEO at the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), a Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC) established in April 2015 to oversee London’s largest Opportunity Area and the UK’s largest regeneration project, also agrees. Consultation with the local community and businesses has been critical to steering the project, with Hills making a decision to put a resident on the OPDC board. There were sceptics," she explains, "But my answer was that I would rather have the community engaged in conversation at board level than looking in from the outside. It’s much better for them to be a part of the conversation from the outset."
With a similar approach, for Meridian Water the council issues a quarterly newsletter to the local community and has consulted regularly with people and businesses over the last two years. Peter George attends local community group meetings to ensure views are heard and understood. "The main challenge with consultation is resolving the immediate needs of the community with the long term nature of a development of this size."
"Activating a large site from its early stages is a challenge", shares Victoria Hills. With a target to deliver 25,500 homes and 65,000 jobs over the next 30 to 40 years, there are complex phasing issues but the first construction started in September 2017 with OPDC Chairman, Liz Peace CBE and Deputy Mayor, James Murray, conducting a ground-breaking launch at Oaklands, north of the Old Oak and Park Royal site – a strategic move aimed at minimising the impact of future building work on those homes.
It is no surprise that these large scale projects start with a significant period of planning and preparation but one of the greatest challenges is how to deliver the ground work and infrastructure which underpin the scheme long before the buildings are built. For the first two years of work on Meridian Water, Enfield Council focused purely on masterplanning and getting the right infrastructure in place. This included flood alleviation and land remediation issues as well as the new rail connection fundamental for the viability of the site. The next three years involved a programme of land assembly, whereby the council purchased land from multiple private owners. The council’s intention was always to negotiate deals and not resort to compulsory purchase orders – demonstrating its ability to be flexible and desire to move swiftly on land deals.
The issue of transport and connectivity is critical and new connections become powerful drivers of change. In Solihull, the development known as the UK Central Hub sets a new agenda for the area surrounding the planned HS2 Interchange Station. Solihull Council established its economic proposition 'UK Central' two years ago creating the Urban Growth Company (UGC), a delivery vehicle specifically responsible for The Hub area, with Solihull Council as the main shareholder and supported by the West Midlands Combined Authority.
The other stakeholders at The Hub are the NEC, Birmingham Airport, Birmingham Business Park, Jaguar Land Rover and Arden Cross – a consortium of landowners at the triangle site where the HS2 Interchange Station will be located – each with its own ambitious growth agendas. Huw Rhys Lewis, Managing Director at UGC describes how "These agendas have been aligned through close consultation to establish a bold vision to create a whole new place in the Midlands with up to 77,500 jobs, 775,000 sq m of floor space for businesses, 4,000 homes and £4.1 billion GVA per year." While HS2 is obviously an important driver for The Hub along with other new regional transport infrastructure improvements, the development plans stand on their own merit and delivery will start prior to the completion of Phase One of HS2 in 2026.
At the southern end of HS2, Old Oak and Park Royal brings an added dimension by being the only place in the country where the new high speed line meets with London’s newest and largest transport project in a generation: Crossrail. The scheme was highlighted in the London plan back in 2012 and established as London’s largest Opportunity Area in 2015 as a site of national significance due to the transport connections creating the largest sub-surface station ever built in the UK at the heart of a new commercial centre and mixed development creating 25,500 jobs and 65,000 homes. The OPDC has the ambition to set standards for being a smart city, integrating technology into the physical environment with catalyst projects such as cultural buildings to attract people and business.
"It’s not something which people might expect a lawyer to say, but I am genuinely excited for us to be playing a part in the delivery of some of these large schemes. Our industry peers have highlighted that these schemes are not easy to deliver requiring long term commitment and vision, but the passion driving those involved is tangible and compelling. We have an opportunity to achieve great things and it’s incredibly rewarding." Sara Bailey concludes.