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Workshop themes for North Greenwich forum

Please be ready to join in our round table workshop that provides an excellent format for networking and gathers content for our post-forum report that goes out to our full forum community in the UK and internationally.

Our North Greenwich forum takes place meters from the river boat pier, the Emirates cable car and North Greenwich station on the Jubilee line, which the Mayor of London has described as nationally important infrastructure. The interest in using transport hubs and stations – both current and disused, as anchors and as sites for urban development that blend new office / workspace provision with housing, health centres, education and restaurants, has grown through both necessity of using every available space in cities but also due to the quality benchmark set at King’s Cross St Pancras.

Public realm design was crucial to the success of this project – begun by the Kings Cross Central Partnership alongside Camden Council in the 1990s - and while investment has gone into new housing and apartments, retail and restaurants on the old coal yards, it was a leading art and design college – Central Saint Martins that became the first major tenant of Granary Square, next to the historic industrial canal quayside. As a huge attractor of international talent, the college has created a hub of activity in the newly formed and accessible area of Kings Cross. This university attracted restaurants, cafes, Google HQ and other cutting- edge businesses.

The former Eurostar terminal at Waterloo Station is also being redeveloped in a retail and restaurant offer and is the work of LCR, the UK government’s place-making agency, which is also responsible for retail at St Pancras Station. One hundred million passengers move through the station every year and there has been strong interest in office development around this new retail development. The project is due to open in spring 2021 with 17 restaurants allowing for 500 seats over two floors. Shops numbering forty across three floors and a new pedestrianised street the ‘Waterloo Curve’ are currently being built.

In Manchester on the site of the disused Mayfield station next to Manchester Piccadilly station, detailed planning is underway for a major mixed-use scheme involving LCR, U+ I, Transport for Greater Manchester and the City Council. These make up the Mayfield Partnership, which is aiming to create 10,000 new jobs, 1,400 homes and community space, with 75,000 square metres of offices all pulled together to make a vibrant new district. The Mayfield Depot has already established a reputation as club and venue destination, after the site has been derelict for over 30 years.

A final report in the coming months from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission on how the UK can make ‘places not homes’ and transform retail parks into thriving communities, will be sent to government. Redeveloping abandoned out of town retail parks and ugly old supermarkets would deliver something much more beautiful in the form of thriving new communities where people can raise a family, work or settle down. On housing, the commission praises beautiful developments, including The Malings in Newcastle, which is a riverside development of 76 new homes built on brownfield land and in keeping with traditional terraced properties in the area. An interim report at this stage recommends that councils should have the confidence in saying ‘no to ugliness’ and any financial support from Homes England and councils for a development should ‘aim for beauty’.

UCL (University College London) at Here East hosted our second round-table on housing this summer, with Professor Yolande Barnes, Chair of the Bartlett Real Estate Institute and advisor to the government's 'Building Beautiful, Building Better' Commission. Steve Cole, Head of Strategy at Clarion Housing Group, Steven Butterworth, Senior Director at planning consultancy Lichfields, and low energy architecture expert Mark Elton, Director at Cowan Architects also took part.

Our discussions looked forward to the Commission's December 2019 report and reflected on the themes of the interim report – ‘Creating Space for Beauty’ published in July. A debate took place about the report's emphasis on the word 'beauty' and why this was a helpful word to concentrate on when trying to raise the standard of housing design and place.

Professor Yolande Barnes commented:

'The word beauty is useful as it opens debate beyond the usual architectural critiques to discuss how the whole place (neighbourhood and city) works. You have to think beyond the boundaries of a building. We have to look at how do we design land and design money as well as design product. I mean by this how does the land market work and how do we procure land? We cannot just we keep selling to the highest bidder as the business models behind development have a huge impact on what’s built and its very often that business model that designs the building.

'Authenticity particularly in new housing has been missing. I am not just interested in individual buildings, it’s the beauty of places that matters. Geography is under-rated. Streets and spaces are important and there has to be some authenticity to create beauty. Our space syntax work at UCL is making sense of how people inter-act across spaces. (Beauty is a) productive place where human exchanges can take place. We can see now what has been wrong with single use housing…all of these developments fail the pint (of milk and beer) test! There is often a void of human interaction and that is ugly.

'The interim report outlines the problem, but the next part of the report can look at solutions in a holistic way, and community involvement has a supremely important role. A global phenomenon is that real estate will be in future valued on a net income stream basis and not on immediate capital receipts. What will matter is rent, so building and estate management costs, energy costs and how productive the space is, will be very important to the long-term investors. Therefore, making a place attractive and successful for the long term becomes important and how you respond to what your ‘customers’ – the people living and using the properties - want will be crucial.'

We will discuss what is needed in joined-up planning, investment and design terms to make future projects work as well as possible for transport hub regeneration, and new housing districts.

Click on the link above the main picture of our latest newsletter to read more of our background brief to this important forum.

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