A snapshot into the revolution of Town and City Centres in the UK
The advent of online shopping has increasingly been putting the majority of the UK’s high streets and town/city centres through their paces over the last few decades (I’m looking at you, Amazon).
It’s indisputable that Covid-19 has exacerbated their decline. News regarding the closure of major high street outlets is becoming more frequent; empty commercial units in our local town centre’s has become the ‘norm’. Against the backdrop of the growing housing crisis and the ever-intensifying climate crisis emergency, it’s clear there’s a crying need for the rejuvenation of the public realm.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Government’s introduction of Use Class E last September has provided an opportunity for buildings to be used more flexibly across several different uses which previously would have required planning permission. Paired with the introduction of a new permitted development right for the change of use from Class E to residential, planning reforms will hopefully help developers and local authorities to get creative with these spaces, and consequently assist with the emergence of revitalised town/city centres and high streets. Unsurprisingly we’re already seeing a trend in requests for planning advice on the scope and applicability of Use Class E, and how it can be utilised as a means of helping spaces fulfil a flexible need.
In the spirit of optimism for what the future might hold for our towns and city centres, here’s three examples of how developers and local authorities have come together to deliver ambitious, bespoke schemes despite market adversity –
This £110m regeneration project has turned a former school, grassed areas and car parking into a mixed use development comprising a mix of public, residential and commercial spaces – tidily compiled into an interconnected podium and tower reaching 28 storeys. The development includes 175 homes, a co-located college, landscaped garden terraces, a gallery and a gym – all cleverly designed to promote the sense of community in the heart of Shoreditch. The development was completed last October, and is a stellar example of creative, but suitably dense placemaking in London.
Milton Keynes Council is in the process of realising its ambitious plan to deliver its biggest and greenest regeneration project in Bletchley. Having recently approved £62m of funding, the project will demolish Serpentine Court (currently mixed-use retail and residential) to deliver around 589 new green homes (approximately 50% of these will be social housing), a new local centre with retail units and enhanced green spaces. Through the inclusion of an innovative energy centre, the Council hopes to reduce energy bills for its residents by 70% whilst cutting their carbon footprints by 50%. At public consultation, 84% of the residents occupying Serpentine Court voted in favour of the scheme.
Southampton City Council have recently given the thumbs up to amendments to a large regeneration scheme (originally approved in 2019) in response to the pandemic by reducing originally earmarked commercial space and replacing it with more residential units. The £250 million scheme will replace the already demolished shopping centre and other existing buildings with around 519 new homes, integrated green space and retail provision.