Urban Update 23 October 2015

Download Urban Update 23 October 2015


National Urban Design Conference Reports   

Paul Osborne of LHC Architecture and Urbanism reports on the session  - Creating profit and value’. 

Yolande Barnes presentation provided detailed analysis regarding the benefits of ‘urban design’ over contemporary development, and the shortcomings of short-term market-led development in relation to longer term investment in a site (through landed estates, social landlords and local authorities), which can deliver long term income streams which support the added investment in good quality design.  This is interesting in relation to our work – client’s such as Clinton Devon Estates value the longer-term view and seek joint venture delivery mechanisms with housebuilders to control quality and secure legacy, traditional housebuilders seek to maximise value and dispose of sites as quickly as possible.  Chris Crook discussed the added value of good quality design and the potential return on sales values, whilst Mike Robert’s from HAB discussed the value of community over commodity. 

One of the issues raised during discussion was affordability – better quality design may drive up sale price and increase returns to the housebuilder/investor but it may increase the gap for first time buyers or lower income families – pricing them out of better quality developments.  It seems unlikely that the government’s starter homes plan will address this.  Noel Farrar highlighted in the morning session that over 75% of housing schemes in the north of England do not have an architect or landscape architect involved in the design process – and it seems we are in danger of 2-tier housing development with higher quality housing for those who can afford it, and poorer quality schemes for those on lower incomes.

View Yolande Barnes’ presentation on UrbanNous



Why partnership is the key to successful regeneration and urban design

Reflections on the National Urban Design Conference 2015

Andrew Dakin,

Conference Co-Convenor and discussion panel member

The location of the Conference at the SS Great Britain on Harbourside represented a particularly déjà vu experience for me. I started my formal career in property, planning, and regeneration in Bristol almost 40 years ago. And while I was still training to become RICS qualified, I found myself managing my then employer British Rail’s considerable property interests in Harbourside. This included the location of what is now the SS Great Britain’s new conference facility, which was the principal accommodation for the Conference.

All was dereliction at the time within the Bristol Docks, and with the land owners (and there were a lot of them, big and small eg British Rail, Bristol City Council, coal merchants etc) all wanting to maintain and exploit their real estate assets. Today, we know that one of three ‘foundation stones’ of successful regeneration is partnership, the other two being strategy and sustainability. However, it was early days in the then evolving and mercurial world of regeneration, and only just after the issue of the first ever Urban White Paper in 1977(..as I suggested at the Conference, there has only ever been two Government White Papers published on urban policy, and the second one was as long ago as 2000, so we certainly now need a fresh White Paper given the ever increasing emphasis on the ‘urban’), and working in partnership with other stakeholders was not, at the time, seen as a top priority’.

I just wasn’t a good ‘strategic partner’ at the time on behalf of my employers. But why should this be at all significant to the National Urban Design Conference?  At the very beginning of the discussions that Dan Black and I had with Robert Huxford regarding content, we talked about the importance and the need for joined -up working. Hence, our efforts to get lots of different institutions and organisations to work in partnership on the conference…which eventually culminated in achieving eight logos on the publicity material:


is that a ‘first’ within the built environment sector?

Anyway, my personal reluctance to work in partnership cumulated in British Rail attempting to go it alone, and we made a planning application to develop industrial units on what is now the location of the SS Great Britain conference facility. Bristol City Council didn’t like my proposals…I was horrified…how dare they…and what was the reason given?… the need for a comprehensive and strategic approach to regeneration and development in Harbourside....a new name on me…I thought it was the Bristol Docks.

So if we had built the industrial units….yes, they could subsequently have been demolished and the site redeveloped (but this wouldn’t have been in accordance with the aspiration of John Ruskin about making sure that when we build, we build for ever…).  However, the worst case scenario may have been that the units eventually became a food retail outlet, in which case in this particular location in Harbourside, their value may have meant that they would be there over the very long term, preventing a better and more imaginative development of the site  The SS Great Britain conference facility might never have been built in this particular location…or indeed maybe not at all.  Retail units rely on the local economy; the SS Great Britain Conference centre adds to the local economy, bringing in cash from outside Bristol.  This is what real regeneration is all about. 

The lessons of 40 year’s experience

What are the lessons?..... Certainly, something about the need to see the big… and potentially very long term future….and the need for real estate owners to engage in pro-active compromise. And for the statutory planning process and its representatives, to always have the courage of their convictions, even in the face of powerful land owners, and their sometimes arrogant and young representatives… that was me…way back then.

Of course the issue of the negative effect of personal and corporate self-interest looms large in this story, and maybe the only way to reduce and negate this and to facilitate the ‘greater good’, would require more state intervention via ‘regulation, persuasion, and conversion’.  However more state intervention is unlikely in the current political climate.

Notwithstanding the current difficulties of negating personal and corporate self-interest I believe that all practitioners have a moral and ethical dutyto do their best to act as true partners in the development of the built environment.  And if we all discharged this duty with honesty and effort, our towns and cities would be the better for it.