This sought to rejuvenate the UK's towns and cities and was delivered on the back of 105 recommendations made by Richard Rogers' urban taskforce in 1999. One commitment in the paper was that a meeting would be held to assess the success of regeneration policy. And that promise has not been forgotten: at next week's urban summit, Prescott will have to explain, defend and perhaps modify his urban policy.
The occasion will certainly be used by the government to trumpet its achievements. Others will use it as an opportunity to attack the lack of progress with the so-called urban renaissance. But its real significance is as a forum for debate on the lessons that have been learned over the past two years so that a consensus can be reached on the best way to do regeneration.
If partnership is significant and relevant, it shouldn’t be too difficult to secure a budget
Tom Russell, New East Manchester
In advance of the summit, Building puts three large schemes under the microscope. Each was launched on a wave of publicity and promised to improve the lives of local residents. However, it has become obvious that the government has not achieved all it set out to do in all of them.
Rochester Riverside, a £100m project in Medway, Kent, has been a disaster. The site is derelict and will remain so for a long time. It is an example of what a lack of expertise and state bungling can do.
After two failures, we view the prospect of any further progress in the light of those
Colin Lovell, Medway council
Progress in east Manchester is more likely to bring a smile to Prescott's face. A community sick of the grime and crime around it is working hard with its urban regeneration company to develop thousands of houses and places of employment. It has become a template for other regenerations.
The Greenwich Peninsula
South-east London’s Greenwich Peninsula has long been the government’s exemplary regeneration project, and one thing that it illustrates is that large-scale regeneration is a painfully slow process. In 1997, landowner English Partnerships commissioned Richard Rogers to produce a masterplan for the 119 ha former gasworks. Soon after, the government chose the northern tip of the site for the Millennium Dome and Prescott personally launched the Millennium Village – a £250m, 1377-home sustainable community located at the southern end and that he promised would be a “showcase to the world”. Then things started to go wrong. The dome flopped and the village bogged down in planning problems for 18 months as joint developers Countryside Properties and Taylor Woodrow haggled with the council over planning gain. Alan Cherry, chairman of Countryside Properties, says the problem was that the council was not brought into the scheme early enough. The consortium’s plans for the village differed from what had been set out in Rogers’ masterplan and they were worked through with EP, rather than the local authority. Cherry adds that signing the deal with EP took longer than expected: “One of the issues that has got to be faced is that projects like this are very complicated,” he says. “It took about a year to conclude the formal agreement with EP.” Cherry believes that one lesson learned is that legal and planning gain issues have to be ironed out before a project goes out to tender. There was also a legal skirmish. Architect HTA left the project in June 1999, alleged that the developers were not building what they said they would when they won the competition, and sued Countryside and Taywood for breaking their contract. This was resolved in June of this year, but the affair forced Prescott to set up an advisory panel headed by Rogers and Sir Stuart Lipton to monitor this and subsequent millennium villages. A project observer says: “One of the lessons everyone learned is that there has to be some sort of monitoring throughout the project – it should not just be left to EP.” Government plans to dispose of the dome and surrounding land also went wrong. Japanese Bank Nomura was preferred bidder until it dropped the project in September 2000. Less than six months later the Legacy consortium, backed by Irish property company Treasury Holdings, was ditched by the government. Both collapses were largely the result of concerns over the commercial viability of the dome. However, things are finally coming together at Greenwich. A consortium called Meridian Delta – a joint venture between Lend Lease and Quintain – has signed a deal with EP to turn the dome into a £135m arena for sports and leisure activities. It will also spend £65m building 1 million sq ft of commercial, leisure and retail in a horseshoe around the dome, and fill the rest of the peninsula with a 9000 home mixed tenure residential quarter. The proposals went out to consultation locally this week and the consortium aims to submit the scheme, masterplanned by Terry Farrell and Partners, for planning later this year. Quintain director Nick Shattock hints that government determination, as opposed to policy, may be the reason this project is finally going ahead: “John Prescott has visited the dome again and is keeping an eye on the project,” he says. To ensure the public purse shares in any profits, the consortium will pay EP in advance for each plot it develops. However the developer concedes the project will take 15-20 years to complete. The first two phases of the millennium village are being built and the developer is about to apply to permission to double the number of homes at the development to 2500. This highlights how far ideas about densities have moved on in the past few years – and indicates that Greenwich is finally stacking up as a viable development.
In the late 1990s, east Manchester was a husk of the booming, industrial hub it had been in the post-war era. The destruction of the 1100 ha area’s manufacturing base led to a 60% employment loss between 1975 and 1985, from which it never recovered. By 1999, one-fifth of its properties lay vacant and unemployment stood at about 13%. In October 1999 the government set up New East Manchester, the country’s second urban regeneration company after Liverpool Vision. Regeneration minister Hilary Armstrong charged it with a £2bn, 10-15 year mission to rid the area of the characteristics of “neglect, decline and exodus”. Success is already being seen on the ground. The Commonwealth Games was staged in east Manchester earlier this year at the SportCity development, on which Countryside Properties is to build about 400 homes. Construction is expected to start next year, as are the first phases of the Beswick and New Islington housing schemes. And the 90 acre site of the first phase of developer Ask–Akeler’s North Manchester Business Park, earmarked as the new employment centre, is almost fully remediated. Urban Splash is developing the 1400-home New Islington scheme. Nick Johnson, director of development at the regeneration company, believes that east Manchester has benefited from the regeneration of neighbouring areas, such as the notorious Hulme Estate (which launched the career of David Lunts, now head of Prescott’s urban policy unit), and schemes necessitated by the IRA’s demolition of the city centre in 1996. “The city is building on the lessons learned in the past,” says Johnson. “East Manchester has been successful because it has recognised the importance of process.” This includes appointing a developer, largely on the basis of its track record, before working up designs for the scheme. Johnson says this stops project bidders from working in a design vacuum at the bidding stage. The council’s experience in regeneration projects means that it has built up the necessary expertise to undertake such large-scale schemes. It was from within the council that the idea of setting up an urban regeneration company was first mooted, long before the recommendation of the Rogers taskforce, which some actually felt delayed the establishment of New East Manchester, as it prompted Prescott to consider the model at greater length. New East Manchester is lucky to have understanding partners in the council, the North West Regional Development Agency and EP. Urban regeneration companies, which have no statutory powers, have to raise money largely through the private sector and are therefore virtually unworkable unless their partners are in agreement. Tom Russell, chief executive of New East Manchester, says: “If partnership is significant and relevant, it shouldn’t be too difficult to secure a budget – in my experience the partners have been extremely supportive.” Just as importantly, the local community seems to be convinced that east Manchester is on the verge of renaissance. Designed by Will Alsop, New Islington was blasted by architectural watchdog CABE for its lack of “detailed thinking”. But residents love the plans. Francis, a 40-year-old security guard, says: “It looks clean and nice. It’s a bit more daring. People would accept the upheaval.” And 44-year-old solicitor Christina adds: “People around here are ready for this estate to go forward. People are fed up – especially the parents.” But there is still much to do. Until the schemes are built, the high rates of dereliction and crime will remain: just last month the Brown Cow, a popular local pub in the heart of Ancoats, was burned down. Bored local kids playing with fire are suspected to be the cause – a symptom of the lack of facilities in this rundown area.
In 1998, the £100m regeneration of Rochester Riverside in Kent was considered so vital that Prescott gave Medway council compulsory purchase powers to assemble the derelict 80-acre site against the wishes of the landowners. Two years later, regeneration minister Hilary Armstrong mentioned Rochester Riverside in the same breath as the Royal Docks, Greenwich Millennium Village and the Royal Arsenal, some of the most significant projects in the South-east. Today the site is still derelict and is no longer being mentioned by ministers. Like the dome redevelopment, the project has had two false starts. In November 2000 a Berkeley Group-led consortium, with designs by Demetri Porphyrios and HTA Architects, pulled out of negotiations with the council citing the costs of remediation. Then reserve bidder Wimpey dropped out last year for similar reasons. Now the council is to go through the whole process again. So what went wrong? “Well, what you had was a bunch of councillors with an extremely amateurish approach,” says one former bidder. “The council was stuttering along trying to deal with the project without vision or experience.” The council asked bidders to pay the costs of remediating the site . As this included the defusing of bombs left over from the Second World War and the construction of flood defences, the pricetag could have been anything up to £100m. English Partnerships was unable to help out because it had already spent a substantial proportion of its budget on remediating the Greenwich Peninsula. Bidders were not impressed. In its defence, the council points out that it was let down by the government. Colin Lovell, regeneration and environment projects manager, says it has taken too long to reintroduce gap funding after its first proposal was outlawed under European Union’s competition rules. The government has since come up with a compromise, namely the dereliction aid scheme, which – if approved – would allow some money to come through the RDAs. He says: “There is such a big difference between the land values in developing greenfield and brownfield land; there needs to be a level playing field.” One solution that has been mooted is to introduce an executive body that would be similar to an urban development company. This differs from a regeneration company in that it controls its own budget and has planning powers. HTA director Ben Derbyshire says: “Area-based organisations with powers similar to UDCs are required, as they have got the skill and authority, the powers of land assembly and planning as well as the resources. All that’s needed is to bolt on what has been learned about empowering communities since the last round of UDCs.” The council has had to form a partnership with the South East England Development Agency to gain access to the £15m it needs to complete its compulsory purchase orders. It hopes that this partnership may be extended to help pay for part of the remediation of the site, so that developers would would have lower costs. Lovell admits, though, that the regeneration of Rochester Riverside is far from guaranteed: “We’re hopeful, but having had two failures we view the prospect of any further progress in the light of those.”