GRAHAM BAILEY
Waterside regeneration
Historic waterside settings are at last recognised as adding value to development.
Not since the Transport Act 1968 has there been so much focus on the future of Britain's inland waterways. With the recent publication of the DETR document Waterways for Tomorrow, the government provides a thorough review of all aspects of the inland waterways and states its clear vision for the future. 'Waterways for Tomorrow' closely integrates with other recent initiatives relating to transport and planning, and addresses matters raised by the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council (IWAAC). Of immediate interest is the governments recognition and support for the role of waterways in regeneration.

"The improvement and restoration of the inland waterways and the development of adjoining land contributes to regeneration. It creates a pleasant place in which to live, work and play; attracts private sector investment creating jobs and income. New development, particularly housing exploits a waterfront location. The government will seek to increase these benefits by promoting the waterways as a catalyst for urban and rural regeneration" 'Waterways for Tomorrow', Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, June 2000.Changes in commerce, industry and social patterns have left and continue to leave large tracts of land unloved, unwanted and often derelict. Many of these redundant areas in Britain are associated with the inland waterways.

Trade along the navigable rivers had given rise to waterside development, mills and warehouses ever since Roman times, but it was the 18th and 19th centuries that witnessed a transformation in waterway commercial traffic. The great canal age commenced in the second half of the 18th century, but it was the first half of the 19th century that saw the building boom when wharfs, basins and hundreds of substantial warehouses were built.

The canal was the modern way of transporting goods but the coming of the railways signalled a new age. Railways brought previously undreamed of speed which was addictive. There was no going back. The canal just could not compete with this new way. Later, advances in small engine and motor vehicle technology enabled goods to be transported efficiently by road. New highways were built and the flexibility of haulage by road soon saw a large proportion of freight switching from rail to road. Rail companies many of whom had bought out canal companies, practically ceased investment in the old canal network. The commercial use of the waterways dwindled.

Some wharfs and warehouses continued to be used in a minor way by road hauliers, simply because they were there and not required or wanted by anyone else.

As material mechanical handling techniques developed and vehicles increased in size, the old warehouses were found wanting. Orientated towards the canal transport system the road accesses were often small, built for horse and cart. At many sites the new large lorries just simply could not get into the yards or once in, could not turn around. The buildings on the wharfs were invariability built of solid masonry or brickwork and did not lend themselves to conversion to large open loading bays. The interiors too, had, closely spaced columns and, commonly, low ceiling heights to get more floors in. Such arrangements largely precluded modern mechanical handling of goods. In parts of the north on the Aire & Calder Canal commercial traffic was sustained by the greater carrying capacity of the wider waterway. Elsewhere sites and buildings became redundant.

The sheer scale of the wharf and warehouse development of these inland ports is often astonishing Limehouse, Gloucester, Wakefield, Sowerby for instance. The durability of the buildings is undoubted. Most were solidly built of simple form with simple roofs. The smaller wharfs with the single smaller warehouse can be equally impressive in their settings.

The legacy is huge and challenging but offers real opportunities for communities to refocus on some of their run down areas.

Brindley Place, Birmingham.
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Changes in commerce, industry and social patterns have left and continue to leave large tracts of land unloved, unwanted and often derelict. Many of these redundant areas in Britain are associated with the inland waterways.

Trade along the navigable rivers had given rise to waterside development, mills and warehouses ever since Roman times, but it was the 18th and 19th centuries that witnessed a transformation in waterway commercial traffic. The great canal age commenced in the second half of the 18th century, but it was the first half of the 19th century that saw the building boom when wharfs, basins and hundreds of substantial warehouses were built.

The canal was the modern way of transporting goods but the coming of the railways signalled a new age. Railways brought previously undreamed of speed which was addictive. There was no going back. The canal just could not compete with this new way. Later, advances in small engine and motor vehicle technology enabled goods to be transported efficiently by road. New highways were built and the flexibility of haulage by road soon saw a large proportion of freight switching from rail to road. Rail companies many of whom had bought out canal companies, practically ceased investment in the old canal network. The commercial use of the waterways dwindled.

Some wharfs and warehouses continued to be used in a minor way by road hauliers, simply because they were there and not required or wanted by anyone else.

As material mechanical handling techniques developed and vehicles increased in size, the old warehouses were found wanting. Orientated towards the canal transport system the road accesses were often small, built for horse and cart. At many sites the new large lorries just simply could not get into the yards or once in, could not turn around. The buildings on the wharfs were invariability built of solid masonry or brickwork and did not lend themselves to conversion to large open loading bays. The interiors too, had, closely spaced columns and, commonly, low ceiling heights to get more floors in. Such arrangements largely precluded modern mechanical handling of goods. In parts of the north on the Aire & Calder Canal commercial traffic was sustained by the greater carrying capacity of the wider waterway. Elsewhere sites and buildings became redundant.

The sheer scale of the wharf and warehouse development of these inland ports is often astonishing Limehouse, Gloucester, Wakefield, Sowerby for instance. The durability of the buildings is undoubted. Most were solidly built of simple form with simple roofs. The smaller wharfs with the single smaller warehouse can be equally impressive in their settings.

The legacy is huge and challenging but offers real opportunities for communities to refocus on some of their run down areas.

Hatton, near Warwick: a small rural regeneration project.
Aware of the developing use of the canals for leisure and the potential, British Waterways was careful to avoid what would be considered inappropriate development. The first priority after years of under funding was to carry out essential repairs and make the waterways safe to use. Resources were limited as income from the commercial traffic had declined. Nevertheless, new policies were put in place and with the enthusiasm of the IWA and voluntary groups many canals and historic structures were saved.

Many local authorities too saw the potential of the historic waterside settings. Developments of Gloucester Docks showed how huge magnificent warehouses would be successfully converted to commercial and leisure uses, whilst retaining original appearance and feel of buildings and place.

Grand warehouses are not of course an essential ingredient in waterside regeneration. In the 1960s Birmingham City Council saw the amenity value of the waterways in the city and commenced a programme of repair and conservation with limited development. The schemes at Farmers Bridge and Cambrian Wharf mainly comprised refurbishment of cottages, landscaping and limited leisure development and successfully revitalised these inner city areas. Other areas in the city followed. At Gas Street Basin a larger development was completed. Here buildings and canalside were repaired and new development carefully planned to incorporate pubs, restaurants and visitor facilities. The basin is now a successful, colourful and lively area in the heart of the city. More recently, Brindley Place has been completed. Here the waterway is the focus to a large development of pubs, cafes, restaurants, offices, sports, theatre and conference facilities, and is hugely popular.

All the above schemes are different in terms of buildings re-used and scale but all centre on the waterspace and are successful. These projects are just typical of what is being achieved in all parts of the country in association with British Waterways. Waterway Environment Services (WES) is the inhouse multidisciplinary team of architects, landscape architects, and planners and heritage managers within British Waterways. WES with the canal managers and regional commercial managers has been instrumental in getting regeneration schemes off the ground throughout Britain. Years of undertaking site assessments with the associated in-house Environmental and Scientific Services department, compiling development briefs, waterspace strategies and development designs has enabled schemes in partnerships with local authorities, developers and funding bodies to have a sound basis and clear vision. ,

Gas Street Basin, Birmingham
Whereas just a few years back most developments turned their backs on the waterways (some still do),

British Waterways with local authorities endeavours to ensure that schemes incorporate the waterspace by pointing out proven advantages. Many local authority structure plans and policies make reference to their waterways. Some authorities provide in addition allied supplementary policy and design guidance notes on their waterway 'corridors'.

The initiatives of local authorities is now being endorsed by central government. In 'Waterways for Tomorrow' the DETR announced support for the in land waterways through the planning system. Plan
ning Policy Guidance is to be revised to ensure that the potential of the waterways is considered. The Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council is also to be invited to publish, jointly with the DETR, a good practice document explaining the waterways contribution to regeneration.

Limehouse, London
Green and tranquil
It is clear that a waterside location brings added value to any development. Not only does it afford the opportunity of a lively colourful setting for cafes and public space but it can also in other areas provide a green and tranquil setting for residential development. Urban or rural the waterspace is important to any regeneration scheme. It may be the key element but many other factors need to be considered to produce a scheme of environmental quality and economic viability and benefit. An understanding of the total environment is absolutely necessary. Here a multi-disciplinary approach is required. Clearly, preliminaries include research and study into such issues as planning policies; development potential in terms of demand and economic viability of various uses and returns:
• Ownership
• Restrictions and constraints
• Funding and grant potential for conservation areas, listed buildings and or economic regeneration; and proposed adjacent development.

In addition the development design will necessitate consideration of detailed matters:
• archaeology:
• Architectural history, heritage and conservation
• Landscape
• Ecology
• Substrata
• Services
• Access, pedestrian routes and transport.

Tower Wharf, Chester, is a 3.3 hectare underdeveloped site near the city centre. The site had been vacant for many years, nothing having replaced the intense canal activity once commercial traffic declined. Only an office development in one part had been built in the 1950s but this too became redundant and derelict. The site would have been unappealing and difficult to attract new uses if it had not been for a few redeeming features. These were pedestrian access to the town centre of Chester, a very wide canal basin frontage along one side and a few listed buildings in one corner, one of which had been sensitively converted to a licensed restaurant.

The Chester local plan pointed to a mixed-use development on this site. Certainly, market research indicated there was a demand for housing here but other uses were less certain. An attractive housing development could have been designed but too high a proportion of housing would not have maximised the community and economic benefit. The site held opportunities for a creating a lively waterfront.

The basin, Gloucester Docks. All photos: British Waterways.
Research into the history of the site revealed the earlier existence of another canal basin on the site. Preliminary site investigation confirmed that the coping stones and walls of the basin were still in place. Further historical and archaeological research revealed the basin had been filled in in the 1960s to form a car park. The filling material had been dumped on five boats that were still in the basin. Although the land area for building would be smaller, repairing and re-watering the basin as a focus for development would more than compensate. Initial ideas attracted the interest of developers and users and now an exciting scheme of hotel, pubs, restaurants and bistros around the basin is proposed. These, together with offices, housing and small retail units, will have easy access to the city centre and will be a lively and enjoyable place to visit.

Hatton was a British Waterways Maintenance Yard with a collection of substantial under-used buildings in a rural setting. The site has always attracted visitors who enjoy the views down the locks to the nearby town of Warwick, but the general impression was always marred by the buildings and worn out external areas.

The town basin, Coventry
The buildings had originally been heavy workshops and were soundly constructed in solid brickwork, but let down by defective details. Originally of large span single-volume spaces, some years ago makeshift intermediate floors had been inserted in order the building could be used for offices.

Green belt policy precluded major development here so the aim was to carry out a good standard of repair and conservation to buildings and landscape to produce a high quality office environment. A limited amount of new building in a contemporary style was incorporated to provide accommodation for British Waterways heritage skills training centre. A phase two will include more landscaping to car parks and additional facilities for visitors and boaters.

The original appearance of the buildings has hardly changed, the only noticeable difference being the substitution of glazed screens for timber doors to the large workshop openings. Original brick paving to the waterside yard has been retained and landscaping with low level lighting introduced. Overall the resultant scheme provides a very attractive waterside office environment for users and makes a valuable contribution to the setting for visitors whilst retaining historic continuity.

There are many towns in Britain in which major waterside regeneration has been successfully completed and their images are familiar. The above described two schemes have been selected because they are probably less well known yet illustrate the wide variety of challenges and opportunities the waterside environment offers.

Graham Bailey is British Waterways Conservation Architect

CONTEXT 69 : MARCH 2001