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Sustainable planning for Greater Manchester and Blackpool

Above: Victoria Riverside, Greater Manchester (FEC / Manchester City Council)

Creating sustainable districts and towns with high quality place, was the topic of Future Cities Forum's third panel discussion which took a wider look at areas outside central Manchester and beyond to Blackpool.

Questions were asked on how to get the right mix of housing and facilities at Victoria North, outside Manchester's city centre, how cutbacks in council planning departments would affect the long-term appetite for investors, how heritage could be used as a starting place for a new masterplan and improved public realm at St Petersfield, Ashton, and how the UK government's Levelling Up Fund could help re-invent Blackpool town centre.

Panel participants included Far East Consortium's Senior Project Director, Tom Fenton, CBRE's Senior Director, Harry Bolton, LDA Design's Director, Mark Graham and Blackpool Council's Growth & Prosperity Programme Director, Nick Gerrard.

Developing the poorer districts of the City of Manchester with good quality housing has been a priority for the Council in the levelling up agenda. It has been working with Far East Consortium (FEC) to create a new identity for a collection of seven North Manchester neighbourhoods called Victoria North - a residential-led regeneration of £4 billion.

The aim is to deliver 15,000 homes in Manchester alongside new transport infrastructure, public parks and realm, schools, healthcare amenities and commercial space. The development will rejuvenate 390-acres of disused land to create new residential communities and employment space while bringing fresh investment and regeneration to existing communities, including Collyhurst, over the next 10 to15 years.

CGI of new homes at South Collyhurst (FEC and Manchester City Council)

The new district – Manchester’s largest ever residential regeneration project – will deliver a blend of family homes and apartments across a range of tenures including social and affordable housing and open market private sale. The regeneration will provide new connections to the city centre for Manchester’s northern areas crossing the River Irk into MeadowSide, an FEC-led residential development surrounding Angel Meadow Park with first residents due to move in later this year.

The first phase of Victoria North took a major step forward this year with the submission of a planning application for Collyhurst Village, which will include 244 new homes and a 1.3 hectare public park. Phase one of development also includes the regeneration of the Red Bank area within the Irk river valley, which is largely a former industrial area.

Tom Fenton, Senior Project Director at FEC described the aims of the development:

'This development is really a lesson on how traditionally wealth of city would always travel south in city. Victoria North has the River Irk running through it but you wouldn't know it was there. We are aiming to make it a feature for the benefit of the community. The project covers 40 hectares with seven districts and it is being built both for a new populace and existing people in city. It ties up important current day initiatives such as active travel and net zero.

'The development has to work for current council house inhabitants. This is among the poorest of neighbourhoods in the region and therefore nationally. People living there have poor health and education and they do not identify with what goes on in central Manchester - it doesn't work for them and they do not feel connected to centre. We do not want to gentrify the areas but make it work better for them. They need access to good insulated housing with better air quality and there needs to be an initiative in getting people into jobs and a better educational offer. We need to access joined up government investment at the right time, because infrastructure takes longer to plan for.'

CBRE's Senior Director, Harry Bolton, voiced concerns at the forum that local authorities have lost some of their senior planning expertise and this will cause problems for future levelling up. Harry commented:

'We have seen this loss and are concerned that certain authorities are really stretched. If we are going to deliver our housing ambitions in levelling up, it all takes resources. The planning application process has suffered with the people we have lost from councils and that is a senior expertise loss. When you are dealing with complicated planning issues, you need experienced people to take what are sometimes difficult decisions.

'Regeneration is about people. Access to jobs and health and wellbeing makes a place. Materials costs are moving quickly and what investors need is surety around time frames. Could the 35% fee increase in planning applications go to planning departments to help build up expertise again?'

CBRE has been involved in work for a new masterplan for the market town of Ashton which Tameside Council has approved. LDA Design is leading the masterplan to create a new business neighbourhood, St Petersfield - a desirable location for the innovation, design and tech sector, bringing quality jobs to the area and making it a more connected part of the town.

Above: CGI of offices and streetscape at St Petersfield, Manchester (from the master plan by LDA Design for Tameside Council)

The St Petersfield site, Tameside Council says, represents a significant regeneration opportunity for Ashton town centre and was awarded almost £20 million from the government's Levelling up Fund for the revamp. The site is home to the Grade II* listed Ashton Old Baths and state-of-the-art Data Centre, now a successful digital hub and co-working space, and Henry Square, forming the centre piece to a network of historic grid-iron streets.

LDA Design provides landscape-led master planning, landscape architecture and planning services. The consultancy is currently designing and delivering some of the UK’s most challenging public realm projects, including Strand-Aldwych in London, George Street in Edinburgh, as well as projects in Newcastle and Liverpool City Centres.

Working with officers from the council’s investment and development team, the masterplan will look to create a significant new ‘place’ for people to work, which integrates with the wider town centre and is complementary to its prominent location, existing built form and assets of heritage value. St Petersfield will benefit from a Dark Fibre network ensuring it has amongst the best digital connectivity in the country. The plan will seek to bring together previous developments and will enlist the assistance of key stakeholders, existing occupants and members of the surrounding local community.

Mark Graham, Director at LDA Design and project lead for St Petersfield joined the discussion to explain the vision for the masterplan:

'I guess heritage is very important but we look beyond that and focus more about place and streets. The old baths were derelict and but have now been converted into innovative work space and it has attracted people who want to base themselves there, but when we started to look at the place overall, we focussed on the grid of streets.

'The industrial revolution meant that it became a planned town, looking after the health and rights of workers in the area, so we took that through in our plans, wanting to deliver healthy public spaces and buildings which enliven the streets. So it was important to look beyond the buildings.

'The challenge of thinking about the greening of cities is very important. Lockdown has shown that need to connect to nature. We are delivering future regeneration and social growth needs to be aligned with strong landscape growth and the importance of public realm'

Above: 'Roll up! Roll up!' CGI of the Circus section of the new Blackpool Museum (courtesy Blackpool Museum)

Blackpool Council's Growth & Prosperity Development Programme Director, Nick Gerrard, following on with the net zero theme, admitting in the debate that the town could do with a few more trees in its regeneration. Blackpool Council has also been working to re-invent the town's brand as a safe family leisure destination.

Last year in a Future Cities Forum discussion the V&A's Chief Operating Officer, Tim Reeve spoke of a collaboration with the council on a new museum - Blackpool Museum - which will feature exhibits from the world of showbusiness.

Tim said:

'Let me say that Blackpool is an amazing place and the V&A has been involved with the town for many years, we will be offering some objects to the new museum project, some knowhow, some research expertise, but it is first and foremost a partnership.'

Leader of Blackpool Council, Cllr Lynn Williams echoed, in that discussion, the sense of partnership with the V&A, saying that the academic working that had already taken place with the project's curator had been well received, but admitted that it was 'real kudos' to be working with the V&A:

'We are most excited about the offer of the Morecambe and Wise suits and George Formby's 'banjo ukulele', but our programme is about more than this as we have a design lab project working with young people, objects going on show in Blackpool that relate to our illuminations and 'Light up North' work which we have invested a lot in. The Tracey Emin funding has been very helpful for NEON (fair access to higher education) in Blackpool.

'But there have been people who have never visited Blackpool and we also need to work with our residents raising their pride around Show Time. We want to be known for more than being top of the list for things like deprivation. We have the Winter Gardens and beautiful ballrooms too. Have we lost our international audience due to Covid-19? Perhaps we never quite had it, but we do want to present our cultural-led tourism and expand our residents and visitors ideas on what Blackpool has to offer, particularly among those who have never been to the Winter Gardens, for example.'

Nick Gerrard, commented:

'Good planning is important to the town and to recruit people we are saying post pandemic that they don't have to be in the office in Blackpool all week, it is simply not necessary. It is the culture within the planning team that they realise they are part of the regeneration of the town and are determined to get things done.

'Blackpool has a £2 billion growth programme, with aim of creating more activity within its town centre, an all year round tourism offer and get jobs in growth sectors in the enterprise zone, next to the airport. The new conference centre has had renewed enthusiasm from people attending again and realising it is a place they want to go. It combines the historic and the new in its facilities.

'Additionally we have a £300 million new leisure centre, one thousand new hotel bed spaces are being planned and a fantastic renovation of the old post office to convert to hotel and suites. We have a £50 million Town Deal from the government but have failed at our Future High Streets Fund. I would like the government to start supporting private investment in a place like Blackpool. The good thing is we have a clear consistent vision which helps because we have set backs every day.'

The UK government has stated 'Blackpool, which has 8 of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England, will receive support to deliver a root and branch transformation of the town.

'The package includes a crackdown on rogue landlords by scaling up the local enforcement team to deliver more action on those not meeting current standards and a transformative King’s Cross style regeneration programme to create beautiful new homes and turbocharge tourism in the area.

'The plans have been developed by government, local leaders, businesses and community groups who are working together to tackle the entrenched inequalities that have held the town back, as part of a new strategic partnership.

Levelling Up Secretary Rt Hon Michael Gove MP said:

'For too long great British towns like Blackpool have been held back by deeply entrenched problems that impact the everyday lives of local families - and we are working to put that right. Our levelling up plan will help transform this proud coastal town and deliver real change for thousands of families across Blackpool.'

Below: the newly extended Blackpool Winter Gardens and Conference Centre (Courtesy Blackpool Council)


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