The country's major regeneration schemes have been exercising the minds and probably also the patience of investors over the past 12 months and more. Economic downturn caused funding and development partners, building tenants and homebuyers to drift away throwing profit projections awry, while cuts in public sector finance diminished the potential for local authorities and regeneration agencies to ride to the rescue. As a result, projects have had to be reviewed, refinanced, reworked and rephased in efforts to make the numbers stack up.
Planning magazine's run down of the UK's top 100 regeneration projects shows the clear impact of the downturn, from North Solihull, where a 3,200home scheme to the east of Birmingham being delivered under a public-private joint venture is under review, to Edinburgh's Leith Harbour, which has already been scaled back. But the good news from the listing, now in its fifth year, is that the overall picture is slightly brighter than it looked 12 months ago and schemes have adapted to survive.
In 2009 the amount of development space completed for housing, commercial and leisure uses all fell, with retail the only sector to have grown. Since then the tables have turned. In 2010 the amount of completed residential space rose by 27 per cent to well over 300,000sq m, while commercial space grew by 26 per cent to almost 160,000sq m. By contrast, completed retail space levels plummeted by 64 per cent as the high street felt the pain of reduced consumer spending. In spite of that drop, total square metreage of completed development space in 2010 was up 38 per cent on 2009 levels.
Overall, private sector funding commitment across the top 100 rose by 15 per cent over the 12 months but Planning supplement editor Adam Branson stops short of calling time on regeneration's downturn. He concludes: "A full-blown recovery in an area of the development industry as dependent on public money cannot be taken as a given."
Olympics' green claim tops London park ambitions
Eight of the top 10 projects are in the economically vibrant capital and London unsurprisingly dominates UK regeneration with 18 schemes out of the total 100. Pole position goes to the 2.5sq km Olympic Park, where London 2012's claim to be the "greenest games ever" is being expressed literally in a parkland environment with more than 4,000 trees. Second in the listing is King's Cross Central, which will eventually have 10 new parks and squares, and third place goes to Greenwich Peninsula which features 20ha of parkland.
While the Olympic Park sprints towards the finish line, the rest of the schemes in the listing are engaged in the long, hard slog of a marathon. Roger Madelin, joint chief executive of developer Argent and board member of King's Cross Central, acknowledges that the scheme moved slowly through 2009 and the early part of 2010, but development is now regaining pace. A new Central St Martins College of Art and Design opens later this year, and 117 affordable homes are scheduled for completion next.
Outside London, regeneration's second city is Milton Keynes with eight projects, boosted by the substantial amount of public land released for development. Salford/Manchester boasts seven projects and Birmingham six. Scotland and Wales follow with five and four schemes respectively.
Infrastructure engineering and urban design consultancy Alan Baxter is working on two top 100 projects in Wales, Coed Darcy and The Works Ebbw Vale. Partner David Taylor says: "Very large projects have felt the chill wind of the downturn, but they seem to have a momentum that is carrying them forward." Both aim to transform industrial sites. Coed Darcy was home to an oil refinery, but is being redeveloped into a mixed-use community, "where the plan fits very much into the natural, rugged landscape", says Taylor. Ebbw Vale lies within rolling Welsh hills and was formerly a steelworks.
For such major transformational schemes, landscaping has a strategic role, says Taylor. "At Coed Darcy it is integral to the masterplan, the location and the design code. At Ebbw Vale the landscaping strategy sets the context for the place. It is not just a housing estate. A lot of money is being spent on the transformation - there will even be a green bridge linking the two sides of the valley."
Schemes have been going through major changes in development mix over the past 12 months, as developers hope to catch the right market at the right time. At Salford's Greengate, homes have been reduced and commercial space increased, while London's Clapham Park Estate is one of many sites where affordable homes are being built ahead of open market ones. Housing elements have been prime targets for revision and the dismantling of the Labour Government's planning framework is allowing a shift from high-density apartment blocks in favour of lower-density houses. Houses suit the uncertain economic climate because construction can be adjusted to match sales rates.
Home design points to new garden pattern
Even in the capital, the two-bedroom apartment is no longer as dominant as it was through the boom years, says Colin James, director of urban design at landscape and urban design practice LDA Design. "Schemes are now more moderated. At the outer edges densities have come down and outside London we are noticing far more of a move to family homes and gardens," he says, In the light of this, LDA Design is working on a new small house type with integrated courtyard garden. Housebuilders too are talking of providing "fitted" gardens and one, Wiltshire-based Environ Homes, is committing to provide them.
So far, so relatively good for the landscaping sector, but this remains an age of austerity and when money is tight greenery can often be dismissed as an unaffordable luxury. In fact, James says, the opposite has proved to be the case. "In this market there is a huge supply of houses in established areas so new homes need landscaping and public realm. Big housebuilders have been approaching us to develop green infrastructure strategies for their schemes, when previously those would have been commissioned by local authorities. There is a recognition that landscaping gives value."
LDA Design is in the happy position of having a healthy workload in current and future projects. One emerging scheme is Meridian Water in north London, a 70ha waterside site close to Lea Valley Regional Park that was formerly occupied by a gasworks and industrial premises. The practice is creating a masterplan for a 5,000-home eco-community.
The backers clearly believe that there will be a healthy market for those homes. So too do others, James says: "Underlying housing need is feeding a quiet confidence. Plans are being drawn up for recovery for a few years' time. As people are anticipating that recovery, there is more optimism about regeneration and sustainable approaches."
The Top 100 Regeneration Projects 2011 costs £15. For a copy, email email@example.com
TOP 25 SCHEMES BY SIZE OF REQUIRED INVESTMENT
Rank Site Location Investment
£1 Olympic Park East London 8.09bn
2 Kings Cross Central Central London 6bn
3 Greenwich Peninsula North Greenwich, south-east 4.6bn
4 Brent Cross Cricklewood Brent, north-west London 4.5bn
5 Wembley City Brent, north-west London 3.8bn
6 Barking Riverside Barking & Dagenham, east 3.5bn
7 Clyde Gateway East Glasgow 2.5bn
8 Stratford City Stratford, east London 2bn
9 North Solihull Bordering east Birmingham/ 1.8bn
10 Royal Arsenal South-east London 1.35bn
=11 Chatham Maritime St Mary's Island, north 1.25bn
=11 Greater Middlehaven Middlesbrough, Teeside 1.25bn
13 Kidbrooke Village Greenwich, south London 1.25bn
14 Warrington Omega North Warrington, Cheshire 1.24bn
15 Woodberry Down Hackney, east London 1.1bn
=16 Basildon Town Centre Basildon, south Essex 1bn
=16 Glan Llyn Newport, south Wales 1bn
18 Dundee wider Waterfront Dundee 925m
=19 Coed Darcy Neath Port Talbot, south 900m
=19 Selly Oak South-west Birmingham 900m
21 Bagland Bay and Transit Port Talbot and Swansea 850m
22 Holt Town Waterfront East Manchester 842m
23 Grahame Park Colindale, north-west 810m
24 Queenborough and Rushenden Isle of Sheppey, Kent 800m
25 Brooklands Milton Keynes 781m
SNAPSHOT OF THE TOP 100
Brooklands, Milton Keynes
Development of the greenfield area will see a commercial centre, schools, housing and public space. Currently under construction is the 9m-high and 80m-wide Brooklands Public Open Space Ridge, including footpaths, glades and a seating area. Other key landscaping elements are Brooklands Meadows, due to open this summer, and a second 12ha park. The scheme's key investors are affordable housing provider Places for People with Homes and Communities Agency and Milton Keynes Council.
Kidbrooke Village, Greenwich
The redevelopment of the Ferrier Estate in south-east London reaches its first milestones this year with the delivery of the Thomas Tallis Secondary School and the first private sale homes. The project has 55ha of open space including green "fingers" and the new Cator Park. Investors are Berkeley Homes, with Homes and Communities Agency and London Borough of Greenwich.
Baglan Bay and Transit
The former petrochemical site is set for major redevelopment once ground remediation is complete. Developer St Modwen is awaiting planners' approval on a masterplan for the 420ha Baglan Bay site while Swansea University has won outline permission for a £200m science and innovation campus for 4,000 students on the smaller Transit site. The two are working with BP and the Welsh Assembly Government on the project.
Brent Cross, Cricklewood
This 16ha regeneration includes transformation of the Brent Cross Shopping Centre, creation of a commercial district, homes and amenities, plus green roofs for 10 per cent of roof space. There are plans to turn the Clitterhouse Playing Fields into community gardens, sports facilities, and a dedicated dog park. Design proposals talk of "open grass spaces and avenue planting, with areas of woodland planting, flower beds and meadow grassland". The project won full planning permission last October and is backed by Hammerson, Standard Life Investments and the UK Shopping Centre Trust.
Eastside Locks, Birmingham
This site has had outline planning permission since 2008 for a mix of retail, leisure, homes and workplaces. Work is scheduled to start next month on a 6.75ha park with tree-lined gardens, water feature and children's educational space. The project is being developed by Goodmans, Advantage West Midlands and Birmingham City Council.