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Lessons in public-private partnerships

Indicative CGI of proposed public realm around TV studios at Purfleet-on-Thames (AHMM Architects)

What lessons can be learned around new models of public-private partnerships in today's development projects?

Chair of developer, Urban Catalyst, Ken Dytor, spoke about this during our online discussion forum around the master planning of new towns, and in particular Purfleet-on-Thames. Urban Catalyst is a mixed-use real estate development firm, established in 1998 with a strong history of delivering public-private projects.

'We put together a true partnership with Thurrock Council. They put their land holding into the pot but we didn't have to pay for it upfront', explained Ken.

'This structure allowed us to be more challenging in what we could deliver rather than having an expensive land value eating away from the word go. This is a valuable lesson in how public and private sectors can work together. The development agreement we put in place has been instrumental in allowing us to get where we are in a relatively short space of time, and has enabled the unlocking of the government Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) contribution.

'What the £75 million from HIF does is unlock the infrastructure that allows the housing to be developed. It will enable us to close the level crossing and to build the bridge over the railway and then to to proceed with development of the residential. We have the consent to build up to 2,800 homes. The HIF allows us to put in infrastructure at the early stages and this is important. I think it's quite wrong where communities are created with the housing built first and then infrastructure is put in later, and I think David on the council would agree with that.'

David Moore, Assistant Director of Place, Thurrock Council spoke about infrastructure investment in the region and wider regeneration sites:

'We are talking about over 2,800 houses into the borough so the new infrastructure will help to allay residents' fears. On a wider scale we have many different industries. We have ports, logistics with a history linked to Thames Estuary. We have £20 billion of investment across the borough including £6 billion which the council is directly involved in. The main hubs for development are at Tilbury, Grays and Purfleet. The £75 million from HIF is very important and helpful. We are also bidding for funding from the Future High Streets Fund and Towns Fund for Grays and also Tilbury. We have not got the money yet but we are conscious that Grays would benefit and we are working closely with New River REIT (which owns the shopping centre) and they have their own plan with over £200 million of redevelopment.

'The railway bisects both Purfleet and Grays. We are working with Network Rail to install an underpass to get round the dangerous level crossing. We are working to put in an underpass and lower the high street.The Council is looking at bringing its offices into Grays and onto the high street, to increase activity and regeneration there where we want the high street to work for shopping and we are looking at ways to increase links down to the river front.

'The Purfleet funding also looks at strengthening links to the river while increasing flood defences. We have plans for Grays beach and we are also looking at jetties across Grays and Tilbury. We are hoping to see an increase in river traffic into the city and across the estuary which will take us back to our roots. There may be schemes like Paramount park across the river which we can link to.'

Ken Dytor - who is also on the board of High House Production Park where the Royal Opera House has production teams - expanded on the regeneration plan which includes the creation of a new media village:

'The media village is an exciting part of the planning proposal that we have consent for. The move eastwards of creative industries is seen by the GLA and Film London as important and they recognise the Thames Estuary Production Corridor as the area of future growth as Pinewood is full up. Purfleet is a key hub for attracting interest and investment into media industries.'

Founder Director of Stirling Prize-winning architects AHMM, Paul Monaghan who also joined our online discussion forum and is designing the media village, described the cultural history of Purfleet:

'There is a rich history in the Purfleet area, with the chalk pits, the places where Turner used to sketch, the Victorian pleasure garden, and Dracula was written in the vicinity so there is is a already a dramatic element and creative heritage.

'In terms of the master-plan it will be built around the rail station and there will be a new square with new school, health centre and over 2,500 homes. It's a new heart for Purfleet. Film studios are big sheds but these will be mostly hidden. In terms of the housing the focus is on making a great sustainable place with excellent public realm.

On building a hub for media post-production, Ken added:

'At the moment there is no spare capacity for media space according to Film London - should filming get up and running again.The demand for visual output is huge, with organisations like HBO and Netflix producing new material. People like Amazon are constantly asking how they can better promote their products. Whilst our facilities deliver film and TV post production, other media areas will grow. The use of the studios may change and evolve but we think it is a good bedrock for developing Purfleet.

'Creativity and the arts are at the heart of what we do. As part of our consultation process we have brought on board Kinetika based at High House which does arts-based engagement with communities (and produced the successful Silk River project linking the Thames with communities in India). We are planning a whole series of activities which will work with local schools and community, though this has been put back by the C-Virus at the moment. I was Chair of Rivington Place for 10 years so I know that using the arts is a fantastic way to build place.

David Moore of Thurrock continued:

'There is a strong presence of artist studios at High House and there are plans to increase this. To make a wider point we at Thurrock see the creative sector as very important. It's not just the high-end AI stuff but set painters and carpenters working on staging for the Royal Opera House that provide jobs here and the supply chains that go with that. When I was at Knowsley Council we used the old ordnance factory for creative spaces and that worked very well.

Ken then moved on to discussing the importance of Purfleet-on-Thames as a healthy new town:

'Urban Catalyst is a healthy new town developer under NHS England and we are very proud of's a good challenge and one that everyone could be embracing. Educational and healthcare delivery is at the core of what we are doing. One of the first things we did was to work with the local CCG studying the health of Purfleet residents. This was hugely helpful. We then asked 'What are the drivers that could change the health of the residents?' An integrated medical centre was then included in the master-plan.

'Another issue was that they could not get nurses into the area. We looked at creating a training centre for nurses as a solution and so we started conversations with London South Bank University who are the biggest trainer of nurses in the country. It was natural then to look at designing affordable accommodation for nurses. We want to create a campus so creating education and health centres around the public realm is important. Having university and health content is the way forward, and it's amazing how this has been missed by the development community.'

Paul commented on why biodiversity and sustainability are important to the healthy new town scheme:

'I was involved with the government's Building Better Building Beautiful Commission and the public realm and greening agenda is vital. I often say spend less on architecture and more on landscape. Bike lanes, outdoor space and the sustainability theme are all really important for well-being. It's what people enjoy. It's the topography of the site at Purfleet which will provide quirkiness and create interesting corners, rather than laying out a grid plan. We are trying to create something that is of the place rather than just imposed.'

David Moore concluded the discussion by saying:

'With a combination of cheaper land values than London, over £20 billion of development taking place with investment in infrastructure including health and education centres allied to the expansion of the Thames Production Corridor, we have a strong message to put out to investors and developers.'

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