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Infrastructure and the place-based approach - November forum Report part three

Above: the 'Connected transport, office, housing and place' panel at The Making of the Modern City at DLA Piper's HQ in the City of London

Future Cities Forum's third panel discussion at 'The Making of the Modern City' this month looked at the issues of funding around connected transport and housing, investment in new rail and underground lines and stations for the regeneration of communities, net zero bus stations and the importance of place and heritage.

Panel contributors included Emma Talbot, Head of Planning at Lewisham Council, Tfl's Head of Planning Projects, Matthew Yates, National Head of Planning, Regeneration and Infrastructure at Lambert Smith Hampton, Dr Steve Norris, Architect Director at BDP, Tom Hewitt, Luke Wormald, Head of Infrastructure at Historic England, Ed Atterwill, Head of Central London, Aviva Investors and Fredrik Lindblom, Partner at DLA Piper.

The temporary loss of the Bakerloo Line extension to Lewisham - due to lack of current funding - was the first topic for discussion and facilitator Heather Fearfield asked Head of Planning at Lewisham Council, Emma Talbot, about the delay to the line:

'It's disappointing and we are viewing it as a pause, so asking when it will arrive - not if! There are really strong benefits - but not just as a piece of infrastructure but wider benefits addressing a part of London that is massively under-represented and this is a travesty. We must have a tube line. We have seen the East London line becoming the overground for Forest Hill and what that has meant, also the new station for Deptford and how that has helped. But it is more than housing. For us we have done a huge amount of building that case, but it has to be more than a tube line, it has to be about unlocking potential and opportunity. So how do we build that business case? Schemes are still coming forward and there is a second phase to play for beyond Lewisham.

Above: the successful Deptford Market Yard development using the arches of the historic carriage ramp to the Network Rail station at Deptford for retail, maker spaces and cafes (U + I plc with Lewisham Council)

Emma was asked why Lewisham hasn't developed a large science hub connected to the hospital and how it was building the brand and place-making to attract investment?

'We had a design review from Network Rail and one of our project engineers asked where are the places for people to kiss? It was an important question because it asks how people experience a place. It has to be about people. With Lewisham we are an inner borough and I think we have been too quiet. I have been at the council for 18 years and working on big projects such as Lewisham Gateway for 17 of those. So, we do carry out big important projects and we deliver on them, but we just don't shout about it and going back to the first question, the Bakerloo line extension delay is not finished. We are very much aligned on the project with TfL, the GLA and the London Borough of Southwark, so it is not a disaster.'

TfL's Head of Planning Projects, Matthew Yates, was asked about the viability of the Bakerloo Line extension for Lewisham:

'We are still doing work on it. A bit of design work has to be done and we are progressing on the business case which is strong, some 25,000 homes are to be built and there is a fare paying passenger revenue stream. But it is a £5m scheme - although one must not forget that there is money for it from private sources and it is on the Mayor of London's agenda.

Matthew was asked whether passengers had come back strongly to using TfL's networks since Covid and would that help to pay for more projects moving forward?

'People are starved of seeing the sights of London and enjoying cultural events, so yes people are travelling. At one point we were down to 5%, now we are seeing 80% return. The bus network figures are higher than on the tube but there are lots of people using the tube at the weekends. Last weekend it was 105% of pre Covid levels.

'We are looking at a mixture of things to determine our project work, that's where we might enable more local, orbital and regional travel. Patronage of Crossrail is higher than we expected and there is a need for local travel. But people aren't going to travel just for the sake of it - there is a need for good high streets, place-making and mixed-use developments.'

Are office workers returning in sufficient numbers to the centre of London and is office design having to work harder to attract them back post Covid? Ed Atterwill, Head of Central London at Aviva Investors, commented:

'Office design has to evolve to get people back, there's no doubt about that. In September this year we were seeing only 30% of workers back in London, while in Cambridge it was 80%, so clearly there are different appetites going on. I think we have to keep pushing it to give people what they want.

'I think we are beyond gimmicks such as slides between floors etc, but we will see open plan design for a period of time. That's great for extroverts but there will be others who don't want to be interrupted and are quite happy working at home. However, with that productivity will start to suffer in business if workforces don't come back and we are starting to see statistics on that coming through. But we have to serve a variety of different people through design'

Ed was asked whether offices need to have ground floors that can be let out so that people are encouraged to use them at weekends?

'In the City of London, we need to try and create space in offices - the ground floors - at weekend to help bring people in. You can see this in places such as Moorgate where a lot of investment is going in and places such as Shoreditch and Spitalfields with good restaurants and shops. The City cannot just operate from 9 to 5 on weekdays.'

How important is it that offices are located around big infrastructure projects? Ed commented:

'We have to make big strategic decisions as far as infrastructure is concerned. Crossrail was a long-time in planning and it has shown it can really deliver the benefits. Those buildings next to it are letting more quickly and at higher rents and the only reason is because that is where they think people want to be.'

Above: Leicester St Margaret's Bus Station, after remodelling by BDP

Future Cities Forum's research during its levelling-up forums in the North of England, showed that bus travel in some locations, could be as important to the regeneration of towns and cities as the big infrastructure projects. Tom Hewitt, Architect Director at BDP, suggested that smaller infrastructure projects like Leicester's new net zero bus station at St Margaret's are often quicker and easier to deliver:

'We have seen how the raft of huge projects are often marred with issues of support and the advantage of smaller projects is that they are not subject to same kind of problems. You can get on and deliver them in a shorter time and Leicester bus station is a case in point. It deals with wider areas and connections via National Express and connections to airports.

'The council was very positive on building a net zero bus station and there was the opportunity to embed it with good landscaping. We advised them to re-develop the original bus station where it was, of course extending and adapting it, but with a saving of some £2 million in costs. It was a much more pragmatic approach, delivered during Covid and giving a significant transformation, while safeguarding the apron space.

'It presented a more sustainable station and the wayfinding from it to the Haymarket Station organised by the Council across 200 yards of desolate car parking, created a connected vision.

Above: the historic St Pancras Station shed with Eurostar platforms and restaurants, and main retail level below

On the consideration of conserving heritage around new infrastructure projects, Luke Wormald, Head of Infrastructure at Historic England, described how important it is to enter into productive dialogue where planning is concerned:

'I don't think we are doing away with lots of heritage when planning new infrastructure and after all heritage is good for place making in our towns and cities. At Historic England we have a people focus and heritage has an appeal, but we are making sure that it is understood in the planning process which can be a constraint. But often through negotiation and discussion we can come to the right decisions.

'We were seen as quite difficult when the impact on the Kings Cross St Pancras Station redevelopment plan was being discussed, but perhaps not now. It was the same over London Bridge and the Euston Arch loss is now a cause celebre. But with the resurgence of St Pancras, we have a brilliant example of long-term thinking. We like to advise on the future. Fashions come and go but what was once seen as a monstrosity, people now come from all over the world to see the St Pancras Station. Further afield there is the case of the M8 motorway and Glasgow and in Bratislava with the central motorway going between the castle and the cathedral. We wouldn't do that now.'

Above: aerial shot of Tilbury, looking towards the Thames estuary (from Tilbury Towns Fund)

Dr Steve Norris, National Head of Planning, Regeneration and Infrastructure at Lambert Smith Hampton agreed:

'We have spent the last three years to help our clients bid for government funding around high streets etc. The good thing to come out of that was the town investment plans. Culture and heritage were all part of that as indeed was working with the community. We worked with some of the most deprived towns in the country. Tilbury was one of them where we were bringing the riverside to the fore. It has some fantastic old forts, one where Queen Elizabeth made her speech about the Armada and the Thames Clipper is now going in there. But these towns have to be commercially viable too. I have worked for a long time in my career on retail regeneration but now the situation is very different. Our shopping centres are failing, and they need to be consolidated or knocked down. In Stockton a shopping centre has been pulled down to create a riverside park, where place-making, health and wellbeing are so important. We need to re-think our high streets, are they are less about retail than education, culture and healthcare now?

What about the planning system - is it too broken to deal with this? Steve commented:

'Thirty years ago, the planning system was emasculated. The big shopping centres were allowed to rip the heart out of towns and cities, and they haven't recovered. The planning system is broken and there is no funding. There is a focus on digitising but not a focus on retaining staff. Planning staff are moving out into the private sector. On the other hand, planning is blamed for everything and the decisions that are made can be made for political reasons. Some planners are fed up with the strange decisions that councillors are making just for political reasons. Two years ago, with the shake-up of the planning system, Boris Johnson said we have the most radical planning system now but where are we? Town funding is fragmented and now some projects cannot be delivered because the costs are going up, so communities cannot see change. We need to bring back regional planning and perhaps devolution can help, that maybe the opportunity.'

Finally, Fredrik Lindblom, Partner at DLA Piper joined the panel discussion to contrast the development of green infrastructure in Norway with the UK:

'The UK is seen at the forefront of moving towards green infrastructure. I work with private equity clients that invest in infrastructure and what I see is the disparity between political ambition and the power to create the framework that will make that happen. The overall concern is speed for scale, and I think we need to empower the regions here. Take EV charging in the UK - in one sense Norway is the most e-mobile nation in the world - and the UK is asking well why can't we get there? But you are not going to roll out EV charging stations without cost. In Norway it is purely fiscal, and it costs a fortune. In some ways Norway is the last communist outpost so the government just made a decision to cut all taxes on EV vehicles and create separate charger lanes. Today I would say 60% of cars are electric. In Norway we have simple infrastructure, but there are more complexities in the UK. The important thing is to help private investment to know that there is a clear vision in the UK, and at the moment there is a lack of stability.'

Future Cities Forum was grateful to all participants on the panel who gave a clear update on the direction of investment for connected transport, workspace, housing and place-making.


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