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Tax the warehouse not the high street

We opened our forum this week with a discussion panel talking about 'the controlled staging of cities', the special challenges of transport hubs, the continued success of out of town retail parks and the future of shopping tied to 'culture'.

Ivan Harbour, Senior Partner at Rogers Stirk Harbour (pictured on the far right of the picture above) spoke about his experience of working on the Barangaroo district master-plan, with its 'controlled city staging' of the regeneration of the Sydney Harbour inner suburb, the transforming of the 'out of fashion' bullring in Barcelona into a new mixed use development, the highly successful Ashford out of town retail park, that excites not only domestic shoppers but also European visitors and the Montparnasse masterplan which is re-shaping a 1970's neighbourhood around contemporary climate change concerns.

'Down on the ground the mixed use Barangaroo is highly successful, not just for those working and living there but for tourists and visitors. It's highly choreographed - which prevents a drop to the lowest common denominator.'

The architect also talked about the challenge of persuading the city authorities in Madrid out of their car obsession. Ivan explained why the future for the Distrito Castellana Norte project - where the British practice is knitting together existing neighbourhoods divided by the 'gash' of a railway line - is not the car. 'It's as well connected as King's Cross in London with access to several metro stations and excellent bus services. But the plan is for much enhanced walking and cycling routes and spaces in the area around the Chamartín railway station.'

'At Montparnasse in Paris our master-plan is 'bottom up' Haussmann where we will cut through the retail centre, to re-use all the structures that exist by adding timber structures to concrete, cutting and adding but not demolishing. We are planting 2,500 trees to combat the 'heat island' effect.'

The practice is working directly for the Ville de Paris and the project aim is to 'open the existing but out-dated and introverted Maine-Montparnasse Tour Real Estate Development of the 1950s and 1970s, rendering it more permeable.' The nine hectare site is a transport and cultural hub but needs to be re-shaped to deliver more natural routes across the city and to make it more liveable and lively, while adapting it to modern climate commitments.

LCR Property's Development Director Adrian Lee followed Ivan's talk by continuing with themes around 'connectivity' and the issue of strong place-making at stations. He said 'Stations often create severance and anti-social behaviour but Network Rail has recognised this. These locations are not always places of wonder and joy. We need the operational elements in place but it is the retail, social, business and 'place' parts that bring the joy. They can be forgotten. Why? Engineers deliver the station projects, doing an amazing job but what they don't create is urban integration. We are learning lessons that infrastructure is not enough by itself, and we can't expect the local authorities with slashed budgets to do the regeneration for cities'.

Adrian, is also overseeing the current Waterloo.London project and he pointed out that: ' it's noteworthy that transport retail is out-performing the high street. One explanation is that business rates are too high on the high street. If (retail) trade is done in a big shed in Loughborough then that is where the tax should be. We are running three year leases now, but we believe in a partnership model rather than a landlord-tenant one. This is easier to do across a single ownership project than on a high street which is more fragmented. We are also re-working the Leake Street Arches where we are promoting independent brands and retailers'.

The financing for major projects question was discussed in relation to LCR's Mayfield project in Manchester, where the developer is planning an four acre public park next to the development of the redundant Mayfield station. Adrian believes that in order to make this work project well for the 'public good' - and because Manchester has so few public green spaces - there may well need to be additional financial intervention.

The former head of planning at CBRE, Stuart Robinson, spoke on the panel following Adrian and described how he became involved in place-making and retail via the regeneration of Regent Street and working on King's Cross with Argent. Now working with TfL, Stuart is advising on realising the ambition of building 10,000 homes by 2021 on TfL-owned sites.

'As planners and developers we want to leave a fantastic legacy so I have been trying to set up a way of developing up to 80 projects with a focus on quality of design and place. Dealing with an East Acton or Hounslow West (station) means that we can't replicate King's Cross but we should be living up to the Charles Holden and Frank Pick legacy. We use design review protocols, and we look back to Frank Pick who was an inspiration as well as to the British-Italian architect Roman Paoletti who master-minded the design of the Jubilee Line stations. Pevsner described Pick as greatest commissioner of architecture in 20th century. Paoletti coordinated the architects and laid down the principles to achieve the outstanding quality of the Jubilee Line.

Jubilee Line image supplied courtesy Stuart Robinson/TfL

'We have now divided design into stewardship and place making for people. We try to embed these into psyche of the development team - it gives them 'nagging rights' so they can ask colleagues 'how does this hit our principles for designing stations?' It will really help to bring on beauty and effective place-making. One of the reasons why King's Cross St Pancras regeneration was successful is because it was driven by public realm design and this in turn was driven by people.'

Ivan agreed: 'Guide lines are very important. Architecture is collaborative. Through negotiation you can get better answers so good architecture can take a long time...the best architects can make magic out of compromise.

The British Retail Consortium's Head of Property, Dominic Curran, our fourth panel member commented: 'Ivan spoke about 'the inevitable retail' and despite all the well publicised problems (for high streets and retailers) there will always be a retail role in regeneration projects but I hesitate to put forward retail as a catalyst. As transport is the maker and breaker of cities, so footfall can be the maker and breaker of retail.

'To a large extent the success of retail can be linked to curation of place. However don't forget that the local economy needs to be suppotive, so higher local incomes make a positive difference to retail which is obvious but the link should not be forgotten. Retail is undergoing a transformation …and business rates are fundamental during a huge change with online now taking 20% of retail sales (and this could rise to 50%)...but it is not just online versus offline and most retailers are moving to omni channels with the shop as 'shop window' with more experiences.

'Some centres will have to contract as there is 20% too much space for the industry. We at the BRC think that changes to planning and business rates systems are essential for what is the biggest private sector employer in the UK.

The panel discussion was a full and interesting one for Future Cities Forum and more detail along with images of the projects described will be found in our post event report to be released shortly.

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