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Blueprint for city futures

Lord Rogers this week launched the final report of his Urban Task Force - a latterday Abercrombie Plan - with a call for a massive design- led public programme to revitalise our towns and cities. Studded with 105 ambitious recommendations for central Government to incorporate into an Urban White Paper, the report calls for an 'urban renaissance' (see pages 6-7). It aims to persuade home-buyers to flock back to newly revitalised urban areas through a complex mix of tax-breaks, new funding initiatives and 'more positive' planning guidance, with a much freer attitude towards high-density schemes.

For architects there is much to cheer. The report calls for a national campaign to improve urban design, based on education, more 'demonstration' projects - such as the Architecture Foundation's Roadshows - more spatial masterplans, and many more government-sponsored competitions for public regeneration projects.

Task Force secretary John Rouse told the aj that there will also be at least a doubling of the network of architecture centres across the uk, funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and co-ordinated by cabe, the new Commission for Architecture headed by Stuart Lipton. The report recommends one in each 'major city', with a minimum network of 12 'properly-funded' centres. Like much of the report, this idea has arisen from visits to Spain and the Holland to review similar schemes, seen to be 'the natural custodians' of debate on the future of the public realm.'

The 328-page report, Towards an Urban Renaissance, is the result of a year's work by the Taskforce, formed by deputy prime minister John Prescott. Rogers said its main aim was to improve the quality of life in cities by turning them into 'compact, mixed-use, well connected places', and to utilise brownfield sites to accommodate 60 per cent of housing requirements. He also wants to see Government ensure that the process is design-led, to engender 'beautiful cities which lift the heart', that local authorities lead the renaissance, and that local people are empowered as responsibility is devolved down to them.

By the year 2021 the Task Force wants: 'significant improvement' in environmental indicators; improved social indicators; increased use of brownfield sites in line with housing demand; the blurring of distinctions between social and market housing; five major English cities in the European 'top 50' for quality of life and none in the bottom third; a reputation for innovation in sustainable and high-quality design and for England to be the world leader in urban development.

The Task Force has not costed the proposals, admitting that they will not come cheap, but argues that the cost of doing nothing would be greater. It is recommending the pumping of £500 million over 10 years into a 'renaissance fund' for local groups to tackle eyesores and derelict buildings - 'gashes in the urban texture.' Other money will come through the pursuit of private finance applications - it wants Government to pilot an estate renewal and a more general area-regeneration project through the pfi. It also wants 'arms-length Urban Regeneration Companies' to raise private finance and speed up work.

riba president David Rock commended the 'holistic' approach of the report, but agreed with Rogers that without a 'joined up government' - the urban renaissance would be difficult to attain.

The report will now form the basis of the Urban White Paper and a Rural White Paper, both of which will be published in the next 12 months. Other members of the Task Force were Ricky Burdett (lse), housing developer Alan Cherry, planner Sir Peter Hall, Tony Burton (cpre), Martin Crookston (Llewelyn-Davies), Anthony Dunnett (se Economic Development Agency), Phil Kirby (environment director, bg properties), David Lunts (Prince's Foundation), Anthony Mayer (Housing Corporation), Anne Power (social housing expert, lse), Sir Crispin Tickell (government adviser on sustainable development), Wendy Thomson (Newham Council chief exec), and Lorna Walker (Ove Arup).

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