Rewarding land restoration

An emphasis on renewal of the urban fabric is at the forefront in this final RTPI awards round-up, writes Anthony Fyson.

Regeneration and conservation are long-established elements of the planner's armoury. This year's RTPI Planning Awards shortlist shows that good practice is still developing across the nation.

Urban bus stations are often associated with rundown environments in need of modernisation. In the case of the Multrees Walk and Edinburgh Bus Station project, the site is also a key one in the heart of the city's New Town conservation area. A worn-out bus station, down-at-heel pubs, unused offices and a dangerous pedestrian circulation system have been replaced by a high-density mixed-use development of shops and offices and a bus station with airport-style facilities.

A pedestrian street bisects the development, replacing the tortuous route through the old bus terminus. The rebuilt station has 18 stands with indoor waiting facilities and a controlled entry and exit point. The whole development respects the surrounding urban grain and scale.

Birmingham's Court 15 project has rescued the last remaining early 19th century courtyard of back-to-back housing in the city and turned it into a visitor attraction. Public opinion favoured saving the houses and using them to tell part of the domestic history of the city. A partnership between council planners, the Birmingham Conservation Trust and the National Trust has created an informative display and ensured its long-term viability.

The four houses reflect four different stages in the area's past. The scheme includes a recreation of the 1930s corner sweet shop with authentic confectionery for sale, along with education rooms and offices. Three cottages have been restored as revenue-producing holiday homes. The scheme has triggered interest in further regeneration.

Birmingham's other shortlisted entry is the £500 million Bullring shopping centre, which replaces the brutalist architecture and unfriendly environment of its 1960s predecessor. After early refurbishment ideas failed to tackle the monolithic development, opposition formed around Birmingham for People, which advocated restoring the historic street pattern focused on St Martin's Church.

This concept emerged as the basis for the redevelopment. Streets, boulevards, squares and maximum permeability generate an atmospheric street life. The iconic building the city craved is provided by the Selfridges store with its design clad in aluminium discs. The project remodelled the inner ring road, introduced two public squares and public art and refurbished the church and Moor Street station.

A similar scale of regeneration has occurred in east Manchester, with sport as the spearhead. The Sportcity development incorporates City of Manchester Stadium, the English Institute for Sport, a regional athletics arena, a tennis centre and the National Cycling Centre. The first phase of a district centre occupied by Asda Wal-Mart has been established.

In one of the most deprived communities in England, lost jobs, dilapidated buildings and contaminated ground have given way to a source of work, shops and healthy activity. The extensive sports, retail and leisure complex is popular with a community that once had very few facilities. The project, led by a partnership including Manchester City Council, key funding partner Sport England and AMEC Developments, is an object lesson in how to turn around an inner city district.

Sometimes regeneration projects appear likely to introduce further environmental threats. Proposals for a fuel bunkering facility at Portland Harbour in Dorset had to obtain eight separate consents. Consultancy Terence O'Rourke, acting for Portland Bunkers International Ltd, devised a single environmental statement to satisfy all the regulatory requirements, including concerns about oil spillage and the effect on a grade II listed breakwater.

Local economic benefits include attracting shipping to the port and establishing ancillary businesses. By refurbishing old underground fuel tanks the need for disruptive building was avoided. The developers held positive public consultations, something never experienced when the Royal Navy was in occupation, and the public generally welcomed the chance to bring Portland back to life.

The regenerative effect of heritage restoration programmes is well illustrated by Tynemouth Village, once an elegant resort and later an attractive commuter village. Although designated as a conservation area in 1973, Tynemouth deteriorated considerably until a six-year renewal programme was launched in 1998 with £1,350,000 support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the ODPM and the private sector.

Problems tackled included monuments in disrepair, poor traffic management, substandard lighting, shabby paving, loss of historic features on buildings and vacant properties. A village character statement and Placecheck exercises led by a community-based steering group were very effective and led to the adoption of the statement by the local authority as supplementary planning guidance.

The market town of March in the Cambridgeshire fens once boasted the second largest railway marshalling yards in Europe. Their disuse seemed complete until bringing the railway back became feasible in 2002 when Network Rail identified a need arising from a depot closure associated with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. A prison occupied part of the site but most of the rest was brownfield and ready at short notice to become an engineering supply and recycling facility for rail ballast.

Issues overcome by Cambridgeshire County Council and Fenland District Council included moving a nature conservation area, noise suppression measures and compensation to the town for loss of recreation land. Major infrastructure has been introduced, taking just 11 months from the initial pre-application meeting to the first train running through the site.

- The RTPI Planning Awards are sponsored by the Countryside Agency, the Crown Estate, English Partnerships, Kings Chambers, Macdonald & Company, the Planning Officers Society and pps TerraQuest.

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