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Getting there: phasing the new 'Venice of London'


Newcastle and Gateshead, second favourites for the European City of Culture 2008 tag and host to this weekend's Stirling Prize bash, continue to regenerate, partially via a series of key new buildings (see pages 2744). Now London has the chance to end decades of blight in its King's Cross railwaylands (see pages 6 and 7).

This is what is called King's Cross Central, perhaps to mirror the other major developer site in the capital around a transport hub, Paddington Central in west London. Everything, it seems, is in the 'centre'.

But developer Argent St George has grasped the nettle with its billion-pound, 20-year plan for the 24ha site.

Action on the area is long overdue, and promises to bring order to the scruffy hinterland of St Pancras and King's Cross stations. Perhaps even, in Dickon Robinson's optimistic words, to turn it into the 'Venice of London'.

But it can also prove, as with Richard Rogers'transport 'nodes' ideas, that transport can be an effective driver.

Because the Channel Tunnel Rail Link's emergence (expected 2007), itself a response to new ideas about transport and Europe, is set to break the yoke of the 19th-century railway infrastructure that has blighted the area in the first place.

It is notable that the developer has chosen the same architects, Allies and Morrison and Porphyrios Associates, which starred in its Brindleyplace scheme in Birmingham - another city centre, mixed-use project which successfully breathed new life into an underdeveloped area and underappreciated canal system. At King's Cross Central there will be new bridges, new 'landmark public spaces', a commitment to public transport taking priority, housing, offices, some reuse of heritage buildings, and headline ideas about those listed gasholders.

But where Argent's plan scores is in its sophisticated approach to land ownership. Effectively it has tied up all the land deals before the design stage, pooling the property assets for the long term so that it is not under short-term pressure to build a money-spinning building early on which distorts the scheme's ideal phasing. It is a new 'quarter'of London which deserves to succeed - and which has a better chance of remaining on track.

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