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Infrastructure investment for city prosperity

CGI of North Westgate development in Peterborough (Chapman Taylor Architects), North West of the Cathedral

'Infrastructure 2020' Future Cities Forum analysed the importance of investment and at differing scales for the economic prosperity of the UK with lead speakers Dyan Crowther, CEO of HS1 and Matthew Vickerstaff, Deputy Chief Executive of the Infrastructure & Projects Authority.

Our second panel discussion progressed this with comment from TfL's Head of City Planning, Alex Williams who stated that during this vital time for infrastructure investment and delivery, it is important to take a balanced view on investment throughout the country with that still required for London.

'We - in London - are city of 8.9 million people and by the early 2030s we will be over 10 million. Our core challenge is that the scale of transport demand goes up. We are on 27 million trips a day on the transport network at the moment so an extra 5 million trips per day will need to be accommodated. There has been much talk about levelling up infrastructure investment across the country and I can understand that. However, London is the fastest growing region in the UK so our issue is how we manage this partly by sweating existing assets, and building new lines like the Northern Line Battersea extension and the Bakerloo to Lewisham and beyond, and all this against a backdrop which is saying invest anywhere but London.'

Director of Economy and Place at Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council, Steve Cox, commented that investment in HS2 has a logic but we all need to consider the great benefits that much smaller amounts of infrastructure investment can have on regions and cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds:

'Anyone who knows Cambridgeshire will know the A14 scheme which is finally coming to fruition - and I was involved in the original planning study 20 years ago. But then I looked at cost of that A14 scheme which is a massive infrastructure project and which is about 1% of the cost of HS2. I think the GVA benefit of the scheme is massive. I am not saying don't make investments like HS2 but there are risks if we take our eye off the ball on some of those smaller interventions that connect regional cities like Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes together and into London. The economy of this region operates on a global stage and it is the Golden Goose of the UK economy.'

The discussions also included concern for the number of ailing town centres up and down the country that need investment and regeneration, if their economies are to prosper. Chapman Taylor partner, Tim Partington, who joined the panel discussion, took the debate further around managing city and town centre design for economic prosperity. Some towns in the UK, Tim said, have had their centres destroyed by road engineering and so it is important to look at the medieval street pattern to bring back connectivity:

'Our view is that successful urban regeneration schemes are about hooking into the layers of history and civic references that are common to many towns and cities. Peterborough has a rich history but like many cities across the country it has seen this partially destroyed by industrial activity, bomb damage, and post-war road engineering. Like the scheme we are working on at North Westgate in Peterborough our approach is to take elements of heritage for the master plan and re-connect those parts, streets and buildings that have been severed.'

Broadband connectivity is high on the list of must-haves for future cities to prosper, according to Lead Partner for planning in the Herbert Smith Freehills real estate team, Matthew White. He completed our discussions by providing us with the latest knowledge on the demands placed on today's developers:

'What do successful cities need to be successful? One of the things developers need to focus on is broadband connectivity. We are doing a project here on what future cities need to do to be successful, and broadband and data are core to this..... 89% of homes in Portugal and 99% in South Korea have access to full fibre broadband but only 7% in the UK have high speed connectivity. We in the UK are a backwater on broadband.'

'We have had some great successes (in the UK) on developments around transport hubs, but it's worth saying that the one we can see from the window - Exchange Square completed in 1991 and part of the Broadgate development linked to Liverpool Street Station - went through several rounds of funding with the first developer going bust so these do need a long term vision and investment horizon.

'Stratford City which was built around HS1 and the 2012 Olympics had the full backing of the local authority leader Sir Robin Wales which made a big difference. One of the obstacles we see to developments is local authority resistance and local authority resourcing. Sometimes projects are blocked because they are too tall, and design quality is ignored whereas lower but mediocre buildings are waved through.

'The system asks a lot of developers today. They are expected to provide as part of these schemes open spaces, bus subsidies, public toilets, green power, step free access to mention a few with the Community Infrastructure Levy on top. The packages that these schemes have to bear get bigger and bigger.The creation of successful places does require professional knowledge being transferred. Local authorities do look at places like King's Cross and ask how do we replicate that? It does rely on knowledge and vision.'

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