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Friday, October 27, 2006
In brief: Allied London and other stuff
Allied London, developers of the Brunswick Centre and endurers of a "rollercoaster of strategy shifts and ownership changes" over the last decade, are set to start acquiring new city centre sites in London with a new restructure that sees Allied's management retain a 20% stake, with Delancey and RBS taking 40% each. Quite big news - Delancey see it as forming a vehicle similar to the retail venture they have going with Centros Miller. They want to do big masterplan-able sites, mixed-use, medium-term.

Ashford are working on plans to establish the UK’s first financial institution to fund the development of local infrastructure.

The £1bn Omega Warrington development finally gets planning permission, after all the objectors got too tired to carry on fighting. Omega Warrington is a JV between RBS, EP and Miller. The first two phases include industrial and distribution space to the north of the site and office accommodation to the south. The south site will also feature complimentary uses and a hotel.

On the local authority side, finally someone gets through: South Cambridgeshire is the first to have its new-style core strategy passed as 'sound' by the planning inspectorate.

Nick Barley has been appointed as the new director of the Lighthouse, Glasgow's architecture centre.
Thames Gateway news
The draft strategic framework for the whole muddy mess is out (well, unofficially, but reported everywhere), and Terry Farrell is crowing because his big park idea has really taken root. He says he is 'very, very gratified'. The draft framework proposes a Thames Estuary Park that “should be seen as an environmental network rather than an individual park” but it won't be a National Park because, of course, that would mean you couldn't build any houses in it.

Among its other proposals, and as if there weren't enough suits there already, the government is to set up a taskforce to speed up housing delivery as they've found that despite declaring it a growth area, it hasn't really seen a massive increase in housing starts. The LDA, EP and Housing Corp will be on it. They're also increasing the housing numbers from 120,000 to 160,000, with most to be inside London's boundaries (another idea from Farrell.)

It also apparently proposes the formation of a Gateway Design Pact, with the quality of new housing development to be policed by government design adviser the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Well, we'll see how that goes with the taskforce to speed up numbers.
Local government white paper round-up
Oh, what a let-down. Months late and keeping everyone in limbo, and then when it arrives, it doesn't really have much in it. Word on the street is generally: why didn't they coordinate the WP with the Lyons review of LG finance out in a month, and the Barker review of planning? Seems pretty daft. And also that Gordon Brown is commissioning a new study into city regions b/c he doesn't want to have them while Tony does, so that's why its so weak in that respect.

Anyway, in brief:

It institutes three new ways that councils can be organised - directly elected mayor, directly elected cabinet that nominates a leader with no executive powers, or councillors, cabinet and leader as now, but functioning on a 4-year cycle where everyone gets elected at once. (The others also have a 4-year term.)

It supports city regions but doesn't say what they will do about it.

A few councils will be allowed to apply for unitary status (Norwich has already put its name in the hat.)

A lot of boring stuff about overview and scrutiny aimed at making things more accountable. A 'Community Call for Action' procedure which will supposedly "give local people a more powerful voice to question decisions taken by their council".

London will be allowed to have Parish Councils despite concerns about this increasing social stratification as rich areas go for it and poor ones don't. PCs to have power to set bylaws and collect spot fines.

Making it easier to set up tenant management organisations and hand over ownership of community assets to community groups.

Caroline Spelman's response: 'toothless', criticises the lack of coordination with the Lyons report and the Barker review, says it doesn't go far enough to devolve power.

Guardian comment here which takes the same view of the watered-down proposals as being maybe worthy, but at least vaguely in the right direction.

Comment from Involve, IPPR, and a useful idiot's guide from ePolitix if you can't be bothered to read the rest of the guff.
Battersea power station continues to be in the news a lot. A double spread in this week's AJ and more, prompted by rumours of new investors, arguments over the s106 agreement, and much more.

Vicky Wang, (presumably daughter of the owner Victor?) gave an interview to Proerty Week this week in which she revealed that she wants to change the epmhasis from the retail-led to make the leisure aspects work harder, citing the Eden project as a precedent. they are calling it the 'Turbine Gardens' and as part of the plan, the station’s 6 acre (2.4 ha) roof will be converted into a landscaped garden and entertainment park. And apparently Yo! Sushi founder Simon Woodroffe is negotiating a deal to open a 40,000 sq ft Yo! Zone spa, including hot pools, steam rooms and massage tables.

Meanwhile, according to a local residents organisation, Parkview want to change their s106 agreement, which states that the power station must be redeveloped in its entirety before anything else can be developed. They claim ‘It is now questioning what is meant by “in its entirety”, and whether it can simply put a roof on it, and leave it as a shell that is watertight.’

But Parkview says it would get the building ready for tenant fit-out, which would include the installation of new floors as well as a provision of a roof over the turbine hall.

The residents blame the influence of prospective new financiers, Treasury Holdings. ‘Since it has engaged in talks with Treasury, it is happy just to get the site into shape, and start residential projects, which would be more attractive to Treasury. Treasury is not interested in hotels and shopping malls, it just wants to turn the whole site into luxury apartments like the rest of Wandsworth riverside, and Parkview realises that.’
Monday, October 23, 2006
Thameslink 2000 may be finished by...2020?
We really can't do anything, can we. Richard Rogers wins the Stirling Prize for a foreign airport that took about 2 days to build in comparison to the Jurassic timescale of Heathrow T5, and Thameslink 2000 has finally taken a step out of the blocks only six years after it was meant to be finished.

The £3.5 billion congestion-easing rail scheme moved a step closer as the Government announced that it was giving planning permission and granting legal powers to Network Rail (NR) for the Thameslink 2000 project. However, Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman stressed that this did not amount to a final go-ahead for the scheme as the DfT was still considering the question of funding.

Talk about giving with one hand, taking with the other. Well, at least that means that at my Borough Market office, we still won't have to move out for a good long while yet.
Olympic stadium blues
After the resignation of Lemley, there was more to set the hacks scribbling this week as it emerged that Richard Rogers has queried the designs for the Olympic Stadium, saying that it should be more 'iconic'. And this is after the ODA announced that it had appointed Team McAlpine as preferred bidder for the stadium because its submission was “the only one that met all the ODA’s prequalification criteria."

The only one? That's pretty desperate. The other team members are HOK Sport and Buro Happold, for the record - and its the same team as did such a good job over at Arsenal's new home. However, it seems like they've got a massively less organised client, as they have till Christmas whether to actually take on the job as they still haven't seen a final design brief. So I'm still unclear how Rogers can crit a design that hasn't even got a brief yet. Sounds like a very British mess already.

Amidst all that, it now seems that West Ham might move into the stadium after Spurs turned it down. Well, that would follow the precedent of Manchester City taking over the ex-Commonwealth Games stadium, in terms of a mediocre team getting a flash stadium and finding that all those extra ticket sales still can't stop them being thrashed by teams like Wigan...
Resignations all round
Well, most of this will be old news to those of you who read any press at all towards the end of last week. But forgive me, I was sick in bed and couldn't get there first. But for the record:

Jack Lemley, the chair of the ODA, resigned in 'uncertain' circumstances. Everyone said nice things but the gossip is that he had differences of opinion with David Higgins, the charismatic Austrailan chief exec. Lemley was 71.

Then Vince Taylor, director of implementation at the Northern Way, left the organisation by "mutual agreement" this week. He probably won't be replaced, as after Prescott's departure, the Northern Way will probably be disbanded pretty soon.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Conference season round-up
This post has been sitting unfinished for nearly two weeks. It's still unfinished, but maybe useful if you want to get the feel of the political landscape. Really its mostly about the Tories, reflecting the current zeitgeist that Labour won't be able to hold out for another term.

Basically, look forward to an easier ride if you want to build houses, in line with a 'competitive streamlining' of the planning system. Cameron has said that there is a social responsibility to provide more homes in rural areas. "We want to build beautiful, iconic new communities, not put the brakes on everything" said Simon Wolfson, CEO of Next but on the 'competitiveness' policy group which will report next summer.

Buzzwords include "positive planning" which means assuming that development should go ahead unless there are compelling reasons to stop it, building in rural villages to supposedly ease the lack of 'local housing for local people', not to mention abolishing use classes so that commercial and residential planning permissions would be effectively interchangeable.

They are also pro more roadbuilding because "better roads create wealth...one of the things we are determined to do is get traffic moving" but with magic green technology to ensure that Cameron's eco image is untainted. The Tories are considering proposals that would see homeowners forced to pay for improvements to the energy efficiency of their properties when they are sold.

David Cameron's quality of life policy review chaired by John Gummer plans to impose "very tough" standards for energy and water efficiency. It intends to bring in tougher green standards for building and refurbishing residential and commercial properties.

Caroline Spelman, Ruth Kelly's opposite number, pledged to 'streamline' the "50 different funding streams for housing and regeneration" into a single 'cohesion fund'. She also pledged to give businesses a referendum on whether to scrap the nine Regional Development Agencies - always opposed by the Tories, who would also scrap Regional Spatial Strategies and the Regional Assemblies.

Spelman added that an overhaul of the Pathfinder programme would be instituted by any future Tory administration. She said: "Thousands of Victorian terraces are being bulldozed regardless of local opposition. This goes against everything we have learned from the past."

Also leapt onto the green bandwagon with a vengeance and David Miliband had a good conference. Blair: the UK needs "the most radical overhaul of energy policy since the War" and to "make sure every new home is at least 40% more energy efficient." Here's Gordon Brown on the environment too.

Labour was defeated over the issue of building more council homes for the 2nd year on the trot - a rebel motion demanding direct investment in council houses was passed despite NEC opposition. Ruth Kelly pledged (in a rather feeble way) that the Government "can and will" build more homes, including council houses. Gordon Brown pledged to double spending on social housing in general, but of course we won't see any direct investment.

Miliband on the environment: "I propose we adopt a new goal as a country: to aim to live as a nation within the limits that the environment can tolerate, One Planet Living. The challenge is immense. But so are the tools at our disposal. We know how to build the low carbon home, make the 150-200mpg car, deliver zero carbon energy."

Also: on the city-region debate, it is still all to play for. Miliband said that we have "100 great British cities driving our country forward. They should trusted with the power and the politics to lead environmental change, driving forward sustainable housing, taking responsibility for congestion charging and improved public transport, heading the drive for new jobs and new wealth."

So: varying shades of greenwash all round. Such a nice easy vote-winner, at least until we all start calculating how much it will cost our pockets.

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Doubledecker houses in Barking
Or rather, the return of the maisonette. Tres retro.

In one of the most debated development sites in the London Thames Gateway, Barking Riverside consortium has come up with a proposal to build “double decker” houses so that 30% of the 10,800 units planned for the site can be three or four-bedroom family homes without depriving the site of open space.

The houses would be similar to conventional maisonettes, but would have decking to provide high-level gardens, the consortium said. “There is a drive for family housing here, but it won’t all be traditional. These designs will allow us to get a lot of family housing on the site and the homes could be ideally suited for modern methods of construction.”
Friday, October 06, 2006
Tories to scrap use classes?
Surely some mistake. Getting rid of use classes would basically mean no planning at all. The Tories have been talking about slimming down planning but this is the most radical yet.

Michael Gove, the Tories’ housing spokesperson, told a fringe event organised by CABE that the system of “use class orders” should be scrapped to give commercial and residential projects the same planning status. Gove’s proposals would mean that developers would no longer have to submit a planning application if they wanted to change the use of a building from commercial to residential.

Gove said scrapping the distinction between the two uses was a logical response to the lack of demand for commercial space. He said: “I am very attracted to the idea of abolishing use class orders and the distinction between commercial and residential. At the moment, we have hundreds of thousands of square metres of office space that is empty."

He said circumstances had changed since the late eighties, when the Tories introduced use class orders because commercial development was generally less polluting. Scrapping use class orders would also make it easier for developers to respond to market conditions. However, it is likely to anger homeowners because it will make it easier to build commercial schemes in residential areas.
Mixed-use failing to deliver
Everyone knows that the only way to do development now and get it through the raft of policy and guidance is to do mixed-use. Apartment blocks have retail on the ground floor, office buildings have retail on the ground floor, big schemes mix it all up with residentially-led ones still finding room for retail, offices and live-work. All in the cause of sustainability, local shops and local jobs, less travelling and less fumes.

Except it seems that we haven't figured out how to masterplan and design all this new space to make it attractive to the market. About one-third of the commercial space in new mixed-use developments in London is lying empty, a report by London Development Research has revealed.

Within mixed-use schemes the long-term vacancy rate for offices is 34% and 27% for shops. Short-term rates are 75% for offices and 52% for shops. The research covers schemes that have been finished for between six months and five-and-a-half years.

The report calculates that a quarter of all residential developments finished during the five-year period, are mixed use, totalling 550 schemes. Residential developers have delivered almost 1m m2 of non-residential space over the period.

Commercial space struggles to find tenants for several reasons. Some space is not in the right location, having been built to satisfy local authority demand rather than market requirements. Some schemes featured space that had not been well designed for commercial users, with units that are too small or too large, irregular in shape or with low ceilings.

The boroughs with the greatest problems letting office space were Camden, Hackney, Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth. Those that struggled most to let retail space were Hackney and Lambeth. The report pointed out that some of the vacant space would be let if local authorities would allow a change of use.

“Developers are learning more about how to specify and let commercial space, and planners are becoming more sensitive to change. It is becoming clear that the policy isn’t working,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if mixed-use policy isn’t tweaked to reflect the marketplace.”
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Wimpey halted in Purfleet
A planning appeal to build more than 570 homes in Purfleet, Essex, has been rejected by Ruth Kelly on design grounds.

Wimpey appealed against Thurrock Borough Council's failure to grant permission for the homes, as well as public space and a river walkway, but after a public inquiry Kelly has upheld the refusal, stating that the site should instead make way for a future "world-leading" development.

She notes that the site would be "highly conspicuous", lying at "the gateway to the [Thames] Gateway" and whatever development takes place on it should be of "high design quality".

The decision was taken following design advice provided by CABE. A spokeswoman from Wimpey said: "We are looking at the implications of the decision before planning any next steps." The company has already secured an earlier permission for 504 homes on the site.

Update: I just read that this scheme is designed by Ian Ritchie Architects, a well-known design firm whose prinicpal judges the Stirling Prize. This must be quite an embarrassment.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Congratulations to Herzog & de Meuron
...who have been awarded this year's RIBA Gold Medal.
Argent agrees KXC section 106
Argent and Camden have finally thrashed out a deal on all Section 106 agreements for the £2bn Kings Cross rail lands scheme.

Peter Bishop said: ‘We have established all Section 106 agreements, and we will be signing in November. It’s been a great accomplishment steering a scheme as complex as King’s Cross through the minefields of community and political process, and doing so without a public inquiry.

‘It will be a futuristic scheme, especially in terms of public access – it will really buck the trend.’

Argent has been bracing itself for a judicial review following a campaign by local residents who claimed Camden council’s handling of the affordable housing was ‘flawed’. It was originally thought that the allocation for affordable housing was too small, but evidently an acceptable new agreement has been reached.