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The Making of the Modern City ll - 'New Districts'

View of former BBC World Service headquarters at Bush House centre of picture, with new public realm around St Mary Le Strand church, Somerset House and the Aldwych (LDA Design for Westminster City Council)

Future Cities Forum invited developers, architects, city authorities, economists, universities and planners to our first forum of the year to discuss best practice for the creation of new districts in London, the Thames Estuary and Essex.

The contributors were:

Ruchi Chakravarty, Director of Place-shaping, Westminster City Council (on the Strand Aldwych)

Beatrice Pembroke, Executive Director for Culture, King’s College London

Cannon Ivers, Director, LDA Design (on the Strand Aldwych and links to the 'Cultural Mile')

Gillian Howard, Head of Projects & Programmes (Environment), City of London Corporation (on new pedestrian squares and traffic calming)

Dan Burr, Partner, Sheppard Robson (on designing new hotels in the City of London)

Alex Longdon, Principal City Planner, Transport for London (on TfL's 'healthy streets' strategy)

Ellie Evans, Managing Partner, Volterra (Liverpool Street station development and economy)

Matt Abbott, Development Director, Almacantar (on Marble Arch Place regeneration)

Jamie Lilley, Associate, MICA Architects (on Centre Point remodelling and St Giles' Square)

Steve Kennard, Director of Regeneration, Hadley Property Group (on Blackwall Yard)

Ken Dytor, Chair, Urban Catalyst (on funding and infrastructure model for Purfleet-on-Thames)

James Baker, Principal, BDP (on innovation hub at Southend Airport)

Ruth Pelopida, Associate Director, Arup (on sound curation in cities for health and culture)

The forum sought answers to the following questions:

- How do we develop and remodel our public spaces post-pandemic?

- What is the role of culture in encouraging visitors and office staff back to London?

- How can we link to blue infrastructure to improve life in our cities?

- How can we ‘humanise’ transport infrastructure for wellbeing?

- Why do we need better models of public / private collaboration?

The first project to be discussed was the £22 million pound project in the Strand/Aldwych that looked at how this area of London with its cultural institutions could be improved with better public realm and traffic-calming measures.

LDA Design which has been working on the project with Westminster City Council, stated:

'This significant London project demonstrates a shift in how we view our city streets. For the first time, it links some of the capital’s most important cultural and educational centres by establishing a new social space that neighbouring institutions, including King’s College London, the London School of Economics, Somerset House, and The Courtauld Institute, can share for art, performances, events or even rehearsals, connecting the public and local communities with exciting new experiences and learning – a place for the curious of mind. Bringing the space immediately to life will be the VoiceLine, an installation by Somerset House Studios resident artist Nick Ryan which integrates sound clips from the BBC archives and marks the broadcaster’s 100th anniversary.'

Above: Creating and reclaiming 'place' with the temporary installation in the Strand Aldwych of'Skate the Strand' - before new public realm construction began (LDA Design)

Cannon Ivers, Director at LDA Design told the forum:

'We have lost the sense of how bad the place was before pandemic. It is now linked in a cultural thread from the Southbank to the Strand, by making changes on the ground and putting a piece of city back into its context. These projects are always about managing transport and the skate park that was put in temporarily was not just a bit of construction going on. By doing that people thought 'oh this is a space now'. It will take years for people to really accept the changes to 'a place' and understand that it is permanently a space but with the increase of alfresco dining now on the pavements we are seeing the shops occupying the street and that really helps.

'There is a lot of planting there and we need to make sure there is interest in keeping it going. It is very important for mental health and we need someone on site to maintain it. In terms of noise management we have gone from buses to bells to bird song and now you do notice the ventilation from the Courtauld's buildings.'

The Strand Aldwych before the removal of traffic (LDA Design / Westminster City Council)

Westminster City Council's Director of Place Shaping, Ruchi Chakravarty, who has been working with Cannon on the project told Future Cities Forum:

‘Safety was the key driver to think about change at the Stand concerns about cars speeding. We worked closely with TfL on this massive bus route, as we had to match or reduce journey times. Once you remove the traffic then you have the beginnings of a place. What is the space going to be was the next question and who is going to walk through that space? There are 45,000 students around the Strand Aldwych but in the old Strand at ground level you would not know that. You have got artists’ studios in Somerset House and then you have the theatres. You are starting to bring the inside out and starting to set that vision for what it could be. It raised the quality of public experience.’

‘It's been a completely multi-disciplinary do we create a pause in the footfall of all those walking down from Covent Garden so they can spend some money in the Strand Aldwych and experience some of the amazing things there? What we had with the stakeholders there including the North bank BID was a truly co-creative process to begin to decide what sort of events would we have there?'

Above: Strand Aldwych public realm improvements and traffic removal, view to St Mary Le Strand church - with Bush House to left

King's College London has taken over the buildings that housed BBC Bush House in The Strand and Beatrice Pembroke, Executive Director for Culture, King's College London, commented on the value to the University and its' Vision 2029:

It is our 200th anniversary in 2029 and the Strand/Aldwych project will be transformative for Kings. Prior to the pedestrianisation, we had concerns for student and staff safety and this creation of place is significant for wellbeing. It allows the University to make a difference to society through our research and education. Getting students back has been a big process and having a distinctive place for UK and international students is important.

'We want to work outside in the place as a living classroom while recognising it is also a space for everyone. We want to break down our walls and make sure our research is relevant with the public, for instance our work on urban sustainability. It is the most monitored area in Europe, so it is a good test bed for research into pollution for example.

'Our relationships with cultural partnerships are also important and offer us the chance to co-programme with artists in creating a cultural destination. Partners are working together well here and the fact that there was a culture strand to the project from the start has been essential.'

Above - Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester (Arup)

By contrast, Arup's Associate Director, Ruth Pelopida, spoke at the forum on the place-making design of Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens and the research work that the firm has carried out into sound quality.

Arup described the project:

'Seated at the heart of a major traffic corridor, Piccadilly Gardens transforms Manchester’s central park from a problem area into an effective public space. Roughly the size of a football pitch, Piccadilly Gardens is one of few green public spaces in Manchester city centre. The challenge was to create a new, safe public space with links to adjacent areas. Construction work required careful transportation planning by Arup to ensure minimum disruption to the city centre. Surrounding roads were re-modelled to reduce traffic on the north side of the gardens and to create a bus island on the south side with simplified access for buses. The gardens needed to provide not just an effective pedestrian thoroughfare to transport links, but also a place for people to think, meet friends and relax, just as they would in any city park. To help to achieve this, the park was levelled and a large water feature inserted as its centrepiece. With mechanics and electrics designed by Arup, the fountain plaza, one of the largest in the world, features 180 jets, lit in multi-colour with fibre optic lighting. A pedestrian catwalk bridges the feature, allowing easy access to the railway station. Its 24/7 dramatic lighting promotes safe passage.'

Above: Regeneration of Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester (by EDAW - and 2002 photo by Dixi Carrillo)

Ruth commented:

'The mitigation and management of sound was integral to the project with the presence of transport trying to make this a place of green rest. We had a team that recorded sound over several square miles and a survey to allow people to express their feelings as they heard the noise around them at different times of day. The issue of security came up at night and also understanding which sound could be tolerated and which not.

'We need to be able to tune into bird song and listen to the wind for example in the trees and plants in cities. An internal women's group at Arup also discussed the importance of light at night following the Sarah Everard case.

'Arup has also been carrying out sound studies around the preparations of HS2 and it is helping to assuage fears from people who might be affected by construction or eventually the trains. We carry out sound simulations in our lab at Charlotte Street in London but also use mobile labs. The information gathered is important because it confirms or contradicts assumptions. Our work is also being deployed in the Middle East to understand what it is like to walk down avenues planted with palms and grasses, how you can hear the birds or utilise the sea breeze.'

Above: Corporation of London's London Wall West proposal - by the original 'fortress' roundabout site of the Museum of London

Back in the Capital, the Corporation of London has been taking seriously the need for traffic calming measures particularly around Bank Station and developing a new cultural destination plan for The City (branded 'Destination City').

In May last year, the City of London Corporation set out a bold new vision for the future of the Square Mile that will ensure it remains a world-leading destination for workers, visitors and residents.

In a statement to the Court of Common Council – the City Corporation’s main decision-making body – Policy Chairman Chris Hayward outlined a package of measures designed to boost the vibrancy of the Square Mile, drive forward its recovery from the pandemic and increase its attractiveness to talent. ‘Destination City’ will enhance the Square Mile’s leisure offer to increase its appeal to existing and new audiences by creating a fun, inclusive, innovative and sustainable ecosystem.

Key commitments include:

  • A £2.5 million annual investment to boost the City’s leisure offer, building on recent cross-London campaigns and creating a leading destination for workers, residents and UK and international visitors to enjoy.

  • An exciting events programme including outdoor festivals, music, art, education, sport and wellness.

  • A new voice for tourism and leisure in the Square Mile will be established, backed by a City Envoy Network consisting of leaders from a range of sectors

  • The City’s public realm will be made even more enticing. The opening of the riverside walk at Queenhithe will deliver a complete riverside route for the Thames Path through the Square Mile and in September, the viewing platform at 22 Bishopsgate – London’s highest free viewing spot – will open, offering stunning views of the City and beyond.

  • New collaborations with the City’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) will include initiatives such as the Fleet Street Quarter’s Experiential Neighbourhood pilot, focused on wellness; as well as the EC BID’s Gen Z programme to attract young people to the area.

  • A partnership with the government’s High Streets Taskforce will explore opportunities to reinvigorate the City’s retail offer, building on the success of flagships One New Change and the Royal Exchange, and celebrating the unique retail offer at Leadenhall Market.

  • A new deal with partners Cornerstone and Freshwave will activate a 5G infrastructure pilot to all mobile networks in October, with full roll out by the end of 2023. This will make the City even more accessible and better connected for visitors, workers and residents.

Above: Bank interchange in the City of London on a wet Friday in May 2021 - a district emerging from the pandemic - view to the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England on left

Gillian Howard, Head of Projects and Programmes (Environment) at the Corporation, told the forum that the traffic calming measures at Bank have had a huge impact on people's commuting behaviour:

'We noticed that people were emerging from Bank underground station onto very narrow footways and so decided to only allow buses and cycles on the roads around it. It was an experiment but the numbers of people cycling went through the roof as soon as this was begun in 2018. There was also an uplift in walking and encouraged more people to come through the area. It has created new public and contemplation spaces and allowed everyone to take part and enjoy events such as the marathon and the Lord Mayor's show.

Above: View out from the Portsoken Pavilion, designed by Make Architects, to the new Aldgate Square (Photo from Littlehampton Welding Company)

'Our Destination City programme is aimed at making the area a 24/7 experience. The pandemic has had good and bad influences and the City is showing itself to be adaptable. We now have different businesses coming in - not just banking and insurance - SMEs for example and we are listening to what they need. They say they want public spaces for their employees and its not even the big parks, just activation spaces. You now see people doing yoga in Aldgate and school children enjoy the fountains that we have put in place.'

Boundary House, City of London, with tree-planted roof garden - courtesy Sheppard Robson.

With the advent of 'Destination City' the case for more hotels in this area of London has been made. Sheppard Robson's design of Boundary House, a 311-room hotel, will sit at the heart of the reimagined ‘Fenchurch Triangle’ at the eastern edge of the City of London, inspired by the creative character of the area and will find new ways of engaging with the surrounding neighbourhood.

The architecture firm says the design looks to add a new social focus to the area, embodying the aspiration of the ‘Destination City’ vision to drive forward the recovery from the pandemic and increase its appeal to new and existing audiences:

'The project builds on this ambition by taking a constrained infill site and adding a mix of leisure, entertainment, cultural and educational spaces. This range of uses are brought together on the lower ground floors, which have been created through in-depth consultation with local stakeholders, producers, and education organisations. This social “anchor” for the area moves past the familiar notions of hotel reception, creating flexible spaces and studios available to hotel guests, local organisations and the general public to book. The spaces open to the community include 456m2 of workspace that are focused on education, skills and training, with the project making several commitments to the community, including: free meeting rooms for students and free room hire for the wider community; discounted podcast studio time; and hospitality-focused apprenticeship schemes to support the City Fringe Opportunity Area. The building’s distinctive curved form follows the alignment of the historic Jewry Street, with the base articulated by arched vaults which echo the Victorian railway arches nearby. The main façade has deep set windows with glazed brick reveals. A strong cornice two-thirds up the building negotiates the transition in scale, and, above this, a “crown” of brick fins taper upwards, with the greenery of the rooftop visible at the very top. Rangoon Street, at the southern end of the site, will be transformed from a service access into a new landscaped public realm, with distinctive red glazed theatre seating steps and tree planting drawing people towards the building.

Above: street level view of Boundary House, Fenchurch Triangle, City of London (Sheppard Robson) with public realm steps

Dan Burr, Partner at Sheppard Robson explained to the forum:

'The hotel is in a place where there were some redundant 80's buildings and narrow pedestrian streets that would present a challenge to place trees there. It is a tight infill, so we decided to plant 50 new trees on the roof of the hotel building where there will be a restaurant and this forms part of a network of roofscapes across the city. At the base of the building because of the narrow streets we wanted to scoop out areas and put in seating.

'It follows on from our work with CitizenM where the new concept was that of building a community or meeting point. The front of CitizenM in Tower Hill has a bakery at the front and it makes the threshold of the hotel very easy to cross, encouraging people in. We find that we are now working in designing hotels that you can come and sit down and work in and offices that offer hospitality.

'We wanted to make sure that Boundary House would be a flexible space for cultural activities and exhibitions and there was a demand for podcast studios, so we have included them in the design. The warm reddish brick of the outside gives way through archways to the rear red frontage of the cultural space, the colour catching your eye. It is a hotel that works for the neighbourhood and also as a cultural space.'

Above: CGI of new station entrance at Old Street - at night (Transport for London)

At 'Silicon Roundabout' on the North Eastern edge of the City of London, Transport for London has been working closely with Islington and Hackney Councils to make the area around Old Street station more friendly for people walking and cycling. TfL aims to finish most highway works by spring 2023. The transport authority is currently improving pedestrian crossings and adding segregated cycle lanes in the area. The roundabout was returned to two-way traffic in 2019.

TfL is also doing work in and around the station. A new public space around a new station entrance will make it easier to walk into and around the station and change between trains and buses. By spring 2023 TfL aims to build a new main station entrance to Old Street station - it will have a green roof to complement the public space and environment. This and the entrance from Cowper Street will replace three of the four previous subway entrances. Subway 3 (southwest exit) is next to close. It will then build a new lift from street level into the St Agnes Well mall retail concourse below, refurbish the concourse and retail mall, and then complete improvements to the lighting, paving and street furniture in the new public space.

Principal City Planner from Transport for London, Alex Longdon described to the forum how important these improvements to the public realm will be for both travellers and residents of the district:

'At Old Street Station, there was never a possibility of a chance encounter, you just wanted to get away. It is the heart of Tech City but the previous layout of the roundabout wasn't unlocking potential. There has been a safety point for walking and cycling here and there was a serious collision in 2018. Our aim has been to reduce traffic dominance and provide surface level crossings.

'People will be able to spend time socialising with the introduction of picnic tables and the green roof on the station adds to the feeling of nature. The Islington promenade of light with the tree planting has ended abruptly at the station but now with the public realm improvement programme, it can continue.

Ruth Pelopida commented: 'On community and their room for new independent businesses in these developments - especially when rentals go up?'

Ellie Evans responded: 'Development applications can fail if the developer has not given enough attention to protecting local businesses, and understanding their priorities. I saw a CPO fail recently because the proposal - a good one replacing a failing shopping centre with housing, and a care home - had not given enough consideration to the business of a local nightclub owner who had been in situ for years. We are seeing a huge shift towards wanting a list of all the tenants'.

Steve Kennard added: It's very much down to the developer on what can be provided on the ground floor level. Let's try harder than just delivering a Tesco Metro - which can be very useful, of course, but is boring and is easy to deliver. The ground floor at our project near Stratford International Station where we are working is about community - so we are looking at providing a food hall. This may present a different number on the spread sheet, than going for a Waitrose, for instance.'

Matt Abbott said: 'There is an increasing role for planning authorities for improving planning policy around cultural provision and the City of London is leading on this with Destination City. It has to of course, because of the drop in activity during and straight after the pandemic.'

The question of how Section 106 money - in relation to keeping independent and local businesses thriving - should be allocated on projects was discussed. LDA Design's Cannon Ivers said:

' You could ring fence the section 106s by passing it to local cultural groups and artists / makers as they can activate in a hyper-local way. Originality has currency.'

Above: CGI of proposed Liverpool Street Station remodelling, concourse view (Herzog de Meuron for Sellar Property Group and Network Rail)

How is the case made for improvements to station environments on a cost basis? Ellie Evans, Managing Partner at Volterra, an economics consultancy explained:

'Volterra is an economics consultancy specialising in the economic and social impact of development projects and transport infrastructure. We support developers with socio-economic advice through the planning process and understand the importance of considering the ways in which transport infrastructure and land availability can impact upon where growth is needed. Volterra has specific expertise in considering the benefits of transport investments where standard models do not give the full picture. Sometimes the public benefits or social value do not translate well into cost benefits but nevertheless are important.'

'We have been working on the plan for the re-development of Liverpool Street Station and looking at the economic benefits. One issue is the poor accessibility. There is only one lift in the station and that creates mobility issues for parents with young children or disabled people.

'There are some challenges to heritage but if some (of the) harm could be debated alongside the benefits, there would be a good trade off through design changes.'

Historic England made its position clear on the current proposals in November 2022. It said:

'The proposed redevelopment of the station would have a severe impact on the Bishopsgate Conservation Area, and more widely on the extraordinary historic character of the City of London. The scheme would trample on the listed station and hotel rather than showcase their heritage. The 16-storey tower and bulk of development proposed above the station is so large that it is likely to encroach on views of some of London’s great landmarks, including those of St Paul’s Cathedral protected under the London Views Management Framework.

The scheme includes some improvements to railway infrastructure, but these are minor compared with recent successes at London Bridge, King’s Cross and St Pancras Stations. Unlike at those stations, the small improvements offered by the scheme at Liverpool Street Station would only be achieved at heavy cost to the character of one of London’s most valued public buildings.'

Above: aerial view of Marble Arch Place, looking south west towards Hyde Park - courtesy Almacantar

The design of gateways into cities is important and often discussed at Future Cities Forum. Almacantar joined our event to discuss Marble Arch Place, which has added new homes and office space to the junction of the Portman Estate and the start of Oxford Street in London's West End.

Almacantar has described the now-demolished Marble Arch Tower as one of few buildings in the West End as unworthy of their location. It talks of it as the 'anonymous and increasingly dilapidated 1960s office block that loomed unloved over the meeting point of Oxford Street, Mayfair and Hyde Park.'

The developer acquired the building in 2012, replacing it with 'Marble Arch Place', designed by renowned architect Rafael Vinoly to offer a blend of residential, office, retail and leisure space in London. It spans two buildings, extending eighteen storeys above ground and an extraordinary five below. At the top of the building is The Bryanston - a collection of apartments with panoramic apartments with panoramic view over Hyde Park. Office space - 83,000 square feet - curls round into Oxford Street and is arranged over seven floors with three outdoor terraces and again views over Hyde Park.

Almacantar is keen to stress that Marble Arch has acted as an entry point to the heart of London since Roman times, but admits in recent decades it had lost this sense of presence. It states that it was its vision was to transform it into a place that not only re-establishes the majesty of its location but opens up an attractive gateway to the bustling community of The Portman Estate.

Before commenting on Marble Arch Place, Almacantar's Development Director, Matt Abbott, praised the work carried out on place-making at the Strand/Aldwych and Aldgate:

‘You are genuinely surprised at the Strand Aldwych and also the Aldgate scheme in the City of London where pedestrians and cyclists have been prioritised, by just how nice it is to be there’s that cost point where ultimately people in cars and taxis can’t spend money there, so you don’t get the extra benefits and activity that creates revenue. I wonder if at some point the ground floors of Bush House could be opened up?

'I don't think that Marble Arch Tower, which was a landmark with 20 storeys, was thought of as a heritage building. The 1960s building was very much of its time with no real focus on pedestrian realm. Above ground it had an Odeon cinema. What we have done (with Marble Arch Place) is connect to the culture in Hyde Park itself with summer concerts and leisure, and linking to the Portman estate with the curated retail offer and the garden squares. The scheme acts as a gateway making it easier for residents and tourists to move between the park and the Portman Estate, so we are passionate that it's a genuine improvement.

Matt went onto describe the importance of heritage:

‘At Centre Point which is a listed building, we have preserved the heritage. The beautiful St Giles Square has been opened up with the change in bus routes around the area. The public realm is now so much more attractive. Tenants want to see an active neighbourhood with restaurants, bars and cultural activities...wanting a more positive association between their brands and the local spaces.'

Centre Point CGI showing street level seating areas and (inset) the original position of road and traffic - courtesy of MICA Architects

Centre Point is a Grade II Listed complex within central London. The designs transform the office building and public realm into a new residential use tower with retail, restaurants and a major public space at its base.

MICA Architects state that it was designed originally as part of a traffic gyratory system, and that their remodelling proposals consider the complex of buildings in their wider setting, afforded opportunities by Crossrail and Camden’s West End Project to create a new London square. Formed of four structurally independent parts: Tower, Link bridge, House and Extension, the buildings exhibit remarkable structural ingenuity.

Above: St Giles Square's new public spaces, looking towards new Crossrail station entrance with part of Centre Point on right

MICA's Associate Director, Jamie Lilley, commented at the forum:

'Since 2014, MICA Architects have been working on the public realm and first five storeys of Centre Point, looking at ways you can break down the thresholds of the architecture of a masculine generation and how you move people around the spaces at ground level. There is the consideration of the bus traffic and why the tower is there and a unique opportunity to be light and playful with an environment the size of Leicester Square.

'There is pressure to provide coherence with the underground station to tie in with the landscape scheme and retail under the leadership of Westminster City and Camden Council. Also the challenge of blending more transient public and private space. There need to be pocket parks and ways of attracting people in, link spaces as we travel through. Cultural strands require patience to establish and larger bodies need to support private companies. We need culture to create a dialogue throughout the day.'

Above: Blackwall Yard - the view over the former graving dock to the O2 Arena across the Thames (Hadley Property Group / LDA Design)

Steve Kennard, Director of Regeneration at Hadley Property Group continued the theme in our discussion of opening up places for everyone to enjoy.

The Blackwall Yard scheme proposed by Hadley Property Group will open up a stretch of the Thames Path to Londoners for the first time in decades. Tower Hamlets said the new plans are of benefit to the public. Consultation had discovered that more than 90% of people surveyed thought that the area lacked amenities they were looking for such as good food and places to shop. The development includes just under 900 tenure-blind homes, including affordable, a new primary school, a pub, cafe and retail. The site, much of which was being used as a car park, sits between Canary Wharf and the Royal Docks and is a short walk from the East India DLR station. Transformed it will form a new link between Tower Hamlets and the Greenwich Peninsula. Benjamin Walker, LDA Design's lead for the project said: 'Our design includes a permanent area of water for wild swimming, water capture and cleaning as well as floating exhibition and performance space plus an area for the new school to use for outside learning. The cap of the dock has been transformed into a series of inviting terraces which make the most of the view across the Thames to the O2.'

The site was of low ecological value, so LDA Design saw this is an opportunity to increase biodiversity across the site. A gravel garden will feature attractive drifts of inter-tidal planting. There will also be rain gardens and allotments.

Steve Kennard said:

'The public realm around our development at Blackwall Yard had never been open to public. It was next to a data centre and it took years to buy it. We focused on the public realm and put a lot of effort into the design. It works as a 15-minute city for the community that is there.

'This is not a gated place but inclusive. The community does want the pub, the local supermarket and school and also a hub where people can come together. We weren't asked to create the latter, we just did it. It's a peaceful place away from the noisy station and is truly a space for contemplation.

'We had 83 people voting in our favour from the community and far fewer against. The opposition was around the idea that the development of homes would swamp the local bus service but we created a jetty for transport through the Clipper service so that was answered.'

Above: The Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop for the Royal Opera House at High House, Purfleet, Essex

Urban Catalyst also consulted the community at Purfleet on Thames and discovered what it really was concerned about was the creation of jobs and how housing would be created nearby.

Urban Catalyst Chair, Ken Dytor has previously commented to Future Cities Forum on building a hub for media post-production and creating jobs:

'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.

Ken Dytor explained:

'The story of the development of Purfleet town centre is one of successful public private collaboration and healthy pragmatism, with a flexible framework to find urban solutions. Planning with the council allowed for that with a long term view.

'Some people are not even aware of the Royal Opera House down there as a production base and next to it a training studio for the film industry. The community wanted apprenticeships and training and this seemed the ideal location to deliver 2,800 affordable homes around the rail station. We have also planned for a school and medical centre and we have one million feet of studios. We are creating smart studios for the immersive audio industry with Microsoft, and degree courses are an important element of the educational provision. The investment is huge and the big players such as Thurrock Council and Swan Housing have changed, so we have had to change the finances, but the creative industries are also changing rapidly and creating opportunity.'

Above: CGI of new town square at Purfleet-on-Thames (AHMM for Urban Catalyst)

Above: Bridge seating area at Launchpad, Southend (BDP)

How can Southend in Essex compete to attract talent from the science and innovation sector, which the UK government has supported in the drive for economic growth? How can this expand to create new and prosperous districts for surrounding areas?

Southend on Sea City Council recently opened an innovative business hub and workplace at Airport Business Park in Southend. The new building, designed by a multidisciplinary team from BDP has been named Launchpad and will provide high quality, serviced office space and business support for small and medium enterprises in Southend-on-Sea, Rochford and the surrounding area. The council has been working with organisations interested in occupying space at Launchpad, to fill the building with innovative businesses which fit the criteria to bring business growth, discovery, innovation and collaboration to the region.

BDP describes the project:

'Oxford Innovation Space becomes the first business to set up its services in the workspace and will be responsible for managing the operations, helping to attract further companies to build an environment where aspiring entrepreneurs and start-up businesses can co-locate, establish themselves, share ideas, network and flourish.

'Commissioned by Southend on Sea City Council, Launchpad is a highly-sustainable, three-storey business hub designed to meet BREEAM Outstanding and the highest level of sustainability to support the council’s climate change agenda. The building attracted South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) Local Growth Fund and Nature Smart Cities funding through the European Union.

'It brings more than 2,300 square metres of office and workshop space which will encourage collaborative and creative business activity, attracting start-ups, small to medium-sized enterprise companies and business park occupiers from the region. The building provides a range of business-critical facilities including a workplace nucleus, individual office spaces, conference and meeting suites, a café and eatery and external seating and collaboration areas.'

James Baker, lead architect and Principal at BDP, told the forum:

'Launchpad is a highly flexible, sustainable incubator building which is designed to foster collaboration between innovative businesses. As a business hub, it ensures a true platform for creating growth in the region in a building that aligns with the latest sustainable thinking and design. It is an exemplar workplace project, not just for Essex but for the UK, and we are incredibly proud of what has been achieved.

'The master plan with links to cycle routes was triggering spend in the middle of Covid and providing small businesses to establish themselves and be nurtured. A company making airline seats on the edge of Southend Airport, is now the biggest company on the park.

'What has been created on this out of town park is socially conscious, has attracted nature funding and is of BREEAM standard.'

Further issues were raised in general conversation at the forum: the introduction and retention of independent businesses with the soaring cost of rentals and the role of Section 106 money as well as the improvement of planning policy around cultural provision.

Ruth Pelopida of Arup commented: 'On community and there room for new independent businesses in these urban developments - especially when rentals go up?'

Ellie Evans of Volterra responded: 'Development applications can fail if the developer has not given enough attention to protecting local businesses, and understanding their priorities. I saw a CPO fail recently because the proposal - a good one replacing a failing shopping centre with housing, and a care home - had not given enough consideration to the business of a local nightclub owner who had been in situ for years. We are seeing a huge shift towards wanting a list of all the tenants'.

Steve Kennard of Hadley Property Group added: It's very much down to the developer on what can be provided on the ground floor level. Let's try harder than just delivering a Tesco Metro - which can be very useful, of course, but is boring and is easy to deliver. The ground floor at our project near Stratford International Station where we are working is about community - so we are looking at providing a food hall. This may present a different number on the spread sheet, than going for a Waitrose, for instance.'

Matt Abbott of Almacantar said: 'There is an increasing role for planning authorities for improving planning policy around cultural provision and the City of London is leading on this with Destination City. It has to of course, because of the drop in activity during and straight after the pandemic.'

The question of how Section 106 money - in relation to keeping independent and local businesses thriving - should be allocated on projects was discussed. LDA Design's Cannon Ivers said:

' You could ring fence the section 106s by passing it to local cultural groups and artists / makers as they can activate in a hyper-local way. Originality has currency.'

Thank you to all our contributors who made this discussion fascinating and drew attention to the importance of investment in new districts and public realm across the UK.

Science innovation and investment as well as housing development and net zero planning will be topics an our next forum at Newnham College, Cambridge this month, with Cambridge University Estates Division, Wellcome Genome Campus, TusPark, BioMed Realty, East West Rail Company and South Cambridgeshire District Council among others.


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