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EUROPAN FINALLY BEARS FRUIT

AGENDA

The only thing that Europan has ever succeeded in building in the UK is a growing feeling of disappointment. Elsewhere in Europe the contest has been welcomed with open arms and, over the last 17 years, has regularly achieved its aim - giving young practices the unparalleled opportunity to build large-scale high-quality housing projects.

Here, however, Europan has repeatedly failed to get anything off the drawing board.

None of its competitionwinning schemes have ever been built and three years ago the UK withdrew from Europan 7 following a series of failed projects (AJ 30.01.03).

Why then should the release of Europan 9's three UK competition sites - unveiled next Tuesday - be of any real interest to anyone?

The reason is that Europan 8 has - rather astonishingly - been moderately successful.

Admittedly there was no outright winner for the Milton Keynes site (AJ 16.02.06) and Witherford Watson Mann's brief for the Stonebridge Park plot has changed since, but both schemes are now moving again.

More importantly, Loop's proposals for a Housing Market Renewal (Pathfinder) area in Oldham (pictured) look set to become the first Europan scheme to get off the ground in Blighty. This unexpected development is thanks mainly to the efforts of CABE, which has managed to establish a successful link with landowners and developers who actually want to build the designs.

As Urban Splash deputy chief executive Nick Johnson admits, it's pretty basic stuff.

The developer, who was chair of the Oldham jury panel and is a member of the steering group for the competition, says: 'I had previously been asked to be involved in various capacities but I said I was only interested if we could right the wrongs of the past.

'A fundamental tenet for me was [to find] people in control of a site who actually wanted to deliver the scheme.

In the past there wasn't the level of seriousness there should have been and no real intention of seeing [projects] through.'

However, Johnson has been delighted by the progress of the 150-unit Oldham housing scheme, which is due to go in for planning within months.

'I'd like to think Europan 8 has enhanced the competition's credibility and its ability to deliver, ' he said.

The success of the project has also led to the formation of Loop, set up following the competition win. James White, 32, and his friends Alex Franklin and Phil Catcheside, established the practice after their Europan success - even if only White can work full-time for the edgling studio until more work comes in. White says: 'It has almost been backto-front for us. When a practice gets its foot on the ladder it's usually doing smaller jobs. But we are jumping right in there.'

Worryingly for Loop and urban-design collaborator Harry Dobbs Design, there's no way of escaping the media spotlight. Let's hope the finished product is worth the wait.

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