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Workshops on joined-up infrastructure planning at Future Cities Forum

Our round table exercise was warmly welcomed by our attendees at our June Future Cities Forum where we were discussing joined-up infrastructure and cultural regeneration, but also looking at some of the infrastructure challenges that face a London borough such as Tower Hamlets.

All our workshop tables joined in enthusiastically with tackling questions on best practise for ensuring new housing are connected properly to transport and utilities infrastructure investment. Feedback was strong and will be included in our full forum report that will published shortly. A few highlights are below.

Dominic Eaton, Director at Stride Treglown, leads residential projects at the architecture firm's London office and cherishes the art of drawing by hand, having previously had work displayed at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and RIBA. Not surprisingly, he handed us notes from his table discussions, beautifully illustrated. His comments were especially worthwhile, as they followed up on research from our Woolwich regeneration forum where Professor Sadie Morgan, architect and National Infrastructure Commissioner, spoke on the importance of good design in the infrastructure space. Sadie has just formed a new cohort of commissioners to look at this.

'King’s Cross (Argent) stands as a great example of infrastructure / landscaping done early, and finished off as the project progresses so new residents are not living on a building site. However, technology change presents challenges in future proofing buildings and developments. Building regulations keep changing. The architects’ perspective is often lost and brought in very late on developments. Councils do not, as a rule, push hard enough for quality of design and innovation. What about our young architects becoming developers to follow the money. What does this mean for future of profession and influence of strong design?' Dominic said.

Simon Payne, former Cambridge City Council Director of Environment and now running Lambsquay Consulting reported back: 'Our discussion focussed in on the timing of infrastructure provision. Often the behaviour of individuals and organisations is established at first occupation and the infrastructure needs to be in place early to support sustainable and successful places. The creation of large scale new communities can take a generation to complete and in that time technology and behaviours will change. We need to do more to strengthen our engagement with the people who will actually live and work in these places – especially the younger generation.'

Matthew Pullen, Infrastructure Planning Manager,Tower Hamlets, reported that his table discussed how the physical landscape could create spaces for new and more established communities to meet and mix as the borough develops. His group asked whether education units could be placed adjacent to the Canary Wharf estate linking learning to local jobs and talked about the need for high quality routes to encourage modal shift to cycling and walking. There was a comment that streets should be meeting spaces and not just seen as connections, using the Tower Hamlets existing 'Liveable Neighbourhoods' programme.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council, John Mothersole, mentioned that in his group discussion it was suggested that perhaps the relative disconnected nature of place in Tower Hamlet's Isle of Dogs could be turned to advantage and looked on as London's 'peaceful quarter' since currently there is an emerging mood of 'slow is better than fast'.

Lead Designer at Arup, Ricky Sandhu, reported that: 'Having an underutilised waterfront is a huge missed opportunity. Whilst the area is curtailed to E-W-S by the Thames, it could and should see this as a huge benefit and opportunity. Creating a district that is very walkable to not only green space but blue space is an enormous possibility here and one that hasn’t been captured to date. All great cities grew from the water (London included) and here we are in the Isle of Dogs not capitalising on this.

'The streets must be designed to encourage interaction and attract businesses and residents but not lose their character. Canary Wharf has imposed a grid on the site that is ‘alien’ to the DNA of this unique piece of city and has created a sprawling streetscape that disconnects the southern regions. The streets are the life blood of any city and here in Tower Hamlets the streets could revitalise the district by providing more green infrastructure, more access for cyclists, pedestrians and sustainable urban transport – but without losing the Tower Hamlets DNA – our ‘street of the future’ is a perfect project therefore for this area to experiment with.'

Thank you to all our forum attendees, whose expertise made our research round table such a success. We will be putting the full research into our forum report.

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