The regeneration game

English Partnerships’ Urban Regeneration Companies around the country have plans to revitalise our neglected inner cities. John Ryan discovers design is playing an important part.

Urban regeneration has been an important political football for almost as long as anyone can remember. But as we head towards the General Election, what are the issues involved and what progress is being made in the quest to rejuvenate our neglected inner cities?

The bulk of the shots in the regeneration game are called by English Partnerships, formed in 1999 from the merger of the Urban Regeneration Agency and the Commission for New Towns. EP acts as an umbrella group offering advice, planning and strategy for a range of different organistaions.

One of its most significant tasks was the creation of the Urban Design Compendium, launched last year at Tate Modern, providing a manual of best practice for urban planners and architects. The compendium starts with an observation, “Quality of design is becoming one of the most important criteria in determining whether a project should be eligible for public funding.”

Directly answerable to EP are the Urban Regeneration Companies, not-for-profit bodies charged with attracting private and public investment and defining the shape of many regeneration projects currently under way. They were created following the efforts of Lord Rogers’ Urban Regeneration taskforce, which produced the White Paper “Our Towns and Cities: the future”, published in 2000.

Liverpool Vision, the first URC, was established in 1998 with an ambitious remit to regenerate the city centre. This URC oversees many projects including a proposal to expand the existing retail provision by 9ha, a plan to redevelop the 13ha Kingswater front, adjacent to Albert Dock and a scheme to improve the M62, aiding access to the city centre.

Liverpool Vision deputy chairman, Dave Shelton, says that the Kingswater component alone will need private funding of around £250m.”We want Liverpool to operate as a normal place, somewhere investors will be keen to participate in the market. “We believe one of the ways you create value and sustainable development is good design,” he says.

As with the other URCs, the timeline is a ten-year one and Shelton thinks that within this framework Liverpool Vision will become reality.

In nearby Manchester, the New East Manchester URC, established in 1999, oversees an 1100ha regeneration site. £90m of public money is being brought to the table with the centrepiece a 160ha business park with scope for a further 200ha expansion if required. The 48 000-seat City of Manchester Stadium is also under construction and will host the 2002 Commonwealth Games with £77m of funding from Sport England and £13m from Manchester City Council.

Alongside this, 12 500 new homes are being built, with 7000 due for improvement. Sustainability is at the heart of the project. The stadium, designed by Arup and featuring the world’s largest cable-stayed cantilever roof, will have an additional 10 000 seats added when the Commonwealth Games finish, becoming a new home for football club Manchester City. Manchester City’s old home at Maine Road becomes the residence of local Rugby League team, Sale Sharks. A Manchester City Council spokesman refers to the stadium as “the primer for the regeneration pump”.

London’s Borough Market is one of a large number of regeneration ventures under way in the capital. Ken Greig, director at architect Greig & Stephenson, refers to regeneration on a “human scale” and says that what is being created is “a scheme that will offer a viable alternative to going to the supermarket”, where “artisan” traders and wholesalers can find an outlet for their merchandise.

He comments that the route to funding the scheme has been circuitous, coming variously from the trustees for Borough Market, the Government Office for London (effectively a London offshoot of EP) and the Single Regeneration Budget. “We started work on this in 1995. We’ve actually been working for a multi-headed client,” says Greig.

One of the common features of UK regeneration projects is that money rarely emanates from one source, owing to the complex mix of stakeholders.

In its final form, Borough Market will be a retail and wholesale market capable of serving the needs of the local community and providing a London-wide food retail destination. This should also help realise the ambition of maintaining local employment; there has been a market on the site since 1756.

But no whistlestop tour of the UK regeneration panorama would be complete without considering what is happening on the Greenwich peninsula, part of the Millennium Communities Programme – EP’s brownfield site regeneration initiative. If all goes to plan, the 121ha site will benefit from £1bn of private investment over the next ten years.

Again, the emphasis is upon a holistic approach, minimising the impact on the environment, rather than merely seeking investment by offering advantageous conditions for commerce. Liverpool Vision’s Shelton notes that conditions for companies moving into an area must be sustainable from the outset, or they move on when another scheme offers something better.

The ill-starred Millennium Dome forms a relatively small part of the Greenwich whole. The first of 7500 anticipated residents moved into new housing at the end of 2000, a riverside walk has been created and there is a new school and health centre as well as a UCI Cinema multiplex. Other features include two parks, a hotel and the Greenwich Yacht Club. This is a world away from the high-price, high-density developments further up the Thames.

The “low-energy” branch of Sainsbury’s, the first of its kind in the UK, illustrates Greenwich Peninsula landowner EP’s stricture that partners will need to prove that they can bring something more to the party than just another retail shed.

There are of course many other urban regeneration projects under way, but in spite of the different problems in each location, the buzzwords seem to be humanity, sustainability and delivery. Today’s planners, designers and architects will not repeat the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s. The urban vision confronting the new incumbent of 10 Downing Street is one in which the requirements of commerce and community will have to command equal attention.

<b>Urban regeneration companies (URCs) </b>
Name Date established website
Liverpool Visions 1998 www.liverpoolvision.co.uk
New East Manchester 1999 www.neweastmanchester.com
Sheffield 1 1999 www.sheffield1.com
Corby URC 2001 n/a
Sunderland URC 2001 n/a
Leicester UR 2001 n/a

Urban regeneration companies (URCs)

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