Brownfield regeneration by consensus
The redevelopment of historic sites Is an opportunity not only to conserve old buildings and landscape but also to deliver social, economic and environmental objectives.
|Over recent years, there has been a change of emphasis in the UK from a manufacturing to a service economy. The reduction in the size of the armed forces, the more efficient operation of the public utilities and methods of healthcare has led to the disposal of a significant number of historic sites. These may contain notable buildings set within many hectares of landscaped grounds and as such offer the opportunity not only to regenerate nearby neighbourhoods but also to revitalise the surrounding communities.
These brownfield sites may be situated at the centre of an urban conurbation or, in the case of former asylums and hospitals which were originally built in the open countryside, they may have become absorbed by the ripples of urban development. The reuse of these sites is of interest and perceived value to a wide range of parties: the site owners, government, local authorities, developers and financiers, and the local community.
|Discussion at a community planning weekend.|
The site owner, in many cases a government agency, will wish to seek maximum financial return from the disposal of the site, whilst developers and financiers are keen to make the most of the development opportunity. Local residents within the neighbouring community will be anxious over the uncertainty of future redevelopment. Local employers and employees will be interested in the potential for job creation. Historical societies, local amenity and specialist interest groups, Local Agenda 21 groups and members of the wider community will all have their own specific areas of concern.
In order for the redevelopment of these historic sites to address the wide range of often conflicting aspirations, the challenge is to develop a consensus-led approach. All interested parties must be included, creating a collective vision and a way forward that has the capacity to deliver.
These sites are in almost all cases well-established environments containing quality buildings and mature landscape. As a minimum the planning process provides statutory protection through the designation of conservation areas or the listing of buildings. Further guidance on the form of redevelopment is often provided in the form of a planning or development brief, outlining appropriate land uses and proposing a development strategy that identifies areas of character and buildings of interest.
Development or planning briefs can vary greatly in their quality, primarily as a result of the timescale in which they have been prepared. If too short a time is allowed for the disposal of sites, this may result in difficulties later in the planning process or the true value of the site will not be realised. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged this importance with the publication in 1999 of guidance for government departments and nondepartmental public bodies on the disposal of historic buildings. In the past, large sites, especially those owned by the Ministry of Defence, have been released with very little notice. There may be a wide divide between advised practice and reality.
At Royal Clarence Yard and St George Barracks North in Gosport, bids for the site - which contained a total of eight Ancient Scheduled Monuments and an additional six listed buildings - were based on a draft development brief without the input of English Heritage.
Sales particulars for these historic sites often appear to have been put together with minimal expenditure. Vital information may be missing, such as topographical, building and tree surveys, There may be little real understanding of the historical relevance. One key aim of the DCMS guidance refers to the preparation of Briefs that should be 'informed by an authoritative and independent analysis of the sites' 'heritage significance'.
One would assume that landowners and local authorities recognise that they need to work together. However, collaboration often seems strained as landowners seek to maximise land value and the planning authority or elected members seek to limit anypotential threat of development. The reality is often more of a collision course than a steady stroll towards a shared goal.
The landowner, in negotiation with the planning authority (either in the preparation of a development brief or in the submission of a planning application), tries to ensure maximum return, committing to as little as possible with no assurance of delivery. At the same time the planning authority and elected members seek to limit development through the development brief, believing less is more.
At the outset of many projects, we therefore find ourselves working in a hostile environment, with uncertainty, lack of clear intention and communication leading to feelings of distrust and fear between all parties.
With a change in emphasis of Government regeneration initiatives, the vast majority of the redevelopment of former sites is carried out by the private sector. These projects are often of a significant size, with a development programme lasting up to ten years. In order to commit to the long-term involvement, they require the confidence and security of appropriate planning permission to underpin the site value, and yet this must be flexible enough to accommodate and withstand changes in the market.
It is important that you never create your own ideas first and then consult on them later. Never hold a traditional public meeting. Always start with a blank sheet of paper and establish from the outset an inclusive participatory process that will generate a sense of common ownership. Finding the solutions together is what counts.
Different groups will inevitably come to the table with different backgrounds, different aspirations, different objectives. Single-issue groups, tunnel-vision politicians and single- discipline professionals will only begin to understand the wider implications of their beliefs and actions if they actively share them with others.
The community planning process encourages this to happen. It follows the principle that everybody has something to give towards shaping the future and enables all interested parties to contribute to the development process. Through a short, intensive burst of activity, with structured yet open-ended workshops, community planning can indeed free up decision making habits to generate a critical mass of ideas and expectations that are ultimately owned by the participants.
One must proceed with caution. The country is littered with communities suffering from consultation fatigue. The commissioning client must be absolutely clear at the start how far they are prepared to go to achieve a consensus approach with regard to the proposed development. Community planning should not be viewed as an exercise in public relations.
The private sector is attracted to community planning through its efficiency, leading to an overall shorter timescale, and the potential to add value to the project. Working with the private sector does indeed offer a clarity of purpose and decision making.
The participatory approach is time consuming. It incurs a cost to the promoter. However, the cost is small when compared with the total investment in the project and some of the long-term benefits can be immeasurable. Participation can, and should, continue well beyond the granting of planning permission. Residents and occupants of a neighbourhood can become real and permanent stakeholders through the creation of a community development trust.
|Royal Clarence Yard and St George Barracks North, Gosport: a consensus emerged for a mixeduse redevelopment on the historic waterfront location, not just something for visitors.
At Caterham Barracks, Linden Homes achieved outstanding results by deciding to engage in a longterm participatory process. This was backed up by a real commitment to turn a vision into reality. A Community Planning Weekend was held in spring 1998, out of which came the key recommendation - to continue community involvement in the project.
At Caterham, the closure of the barracks in 1995 had left a social and economic void in the surrounding area. The mixed-use redevelopment created the opportunity for a combination of residential, employment, leisure, and retail and community uses to be provided. Existing buildings were to be retained where conventional housing or commercial uses were not appropriate or viable. Subsequently a development trust has been set up to manage the community facilities on site. The former chapel, NAAFI and gymnasium have been handed over to the trust as part of a Section 106 agreement, along with prime pumping finance. The refurbished buildings will eventually accommodate a dance studio, exhibition and rehearsal space, local training facilities and even a police station.
The decision to allow 'meanwhile' (temporary) uses to occupy existing buildings during the redevelopment programme was an imaginative approach. This has brought vitality to the emerging environment, while generating some income for the developer. By 1999 a total of 32 businesses, employing over 200 people, had been relocated to the Caterham Barracks site within existing buildings.
|Caterham Barracks, Surrey. A development brief saw the redevelopment of the barracks as a threat rather than an opportunity. The benefits that the development could bring become apparent only, when more than a thousand participants engaged in a planning weekend. Joined-up thinking led to the creation a mixed-use urban village, employment and training initiatives and the setting up of a Community Development Trust with, assets in excess of £4 million.
A project can promote wider aspirations, but this should not be perceived as a green light for inappropriate development. Responsible and considered proposals should be accompanied by a comprehensive urban design strategy which incorporates the retention of key buildings and the enhancement of spaces, thereby protecting the character of the site. This cannot be achieved without gaining a proper understanding of the historical relevance of the site and its components.
The redevelopment of heritage sites may also be of further benefit if the site is seen as part of a wider overall area strategy. Such sites, particularly those formerly used by the military, are often located within defined grounds and are enclosed by protective walls. The local community have usually been denied access so that redevelopment provides the opportunity to break down these barriers and integrate the site within the surrounding neighbourhood.
At Woolwich Arsenal the future redevelopment will enable the town centre to reconnect with the River Thames. In Gosport the extensive land ownership by the MoD has meant that little of the town has had access to the waterfront and Portsmouth Harbour. The redevelopment of Royal Clarence Yard will significantly increase the extent of the waterfront accessible to the public.
These sites require a flexibility in local authority standards such as privacy distances, the provision of amenity space, and the application of adoptable highway standards. The overall quality of the environment should be the driving force behind solutions. Residential tenure should be mixed. In addition to residential accommodation for sale, homes for rent and shared ownership should be distributed throughout the site. The more enlightened developers are delivering this as an alternative to the creation of ghettos defined by tenure.
There are a number of factors that dictate the successful redevelopment of historic brown field sites. One of which has to be the choice of developer. This must be someone with the appropriate experience and a committed project team. But first and foremost the developer must have the confidence and determination to stick to the vision that is created.
It is necessary to identify the most appropriate form of agreement with the local planning authority before the disposal of the site. A comprehensive plan must be prepared, not a series of piecemeal applications. This will then form the basis for an integrated strategy and for suitable Section 106 negotiations. The entering in of contracts between the landowner and the preferred developer can ensure negotiation with a single party that will proceed with far greater certainty. Large sites do involve considerable up-front expenditure by the private sector. Their risks must be borne in mind, along with those of the community who fear a negative impact on their neighbourhood.
Within smaller and non-urban local authorities where there is a lack of specialist urban design or architectural advice, conservation officers are often seen as the arbiters of design solutions in the planning process. Decisions may be made which retain structures that are inappropriate within the wider context of the redevelopment scheme. Historical research and analysis is important but a holistic approach is essential: replication and pastiche may or may not be the answer.
The planning process must thus look beyond simple conservation. The true value of heritage is to retain a respect for the past while being relevant to those who live in the present. If a viable practical use can be found for a building which does not abuse its heritage, this is more likely to guarantee the life of that structure. Imaginative re-use of buildings can provide immense benefits to the community, not least of which is for people to recognise and revere the architecture of the past.
|Marcus Adams, an architect and urban designer, is director of John Thompson & Partners. He has been responsible for the projects at Caterham Barracks, Surrey and Royal Clarence Yard and St George Barracks North, Gosport.||
CONTEXT 69 : MARCH 2001