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Poplar prescription for success

Leaside Regeneration's chief executive Michael Owens explainswhy this east London borough is avoiding having a masterplan

Leaside in east London is faced with high levels of social exclusion, unemployment and poverty. Yet on the boundaries of our area are prosperous centres such as Canary Wharf, the City of London and the Excel conference centre. A masterplan alone could not possibly achieve what we need to do: to bring jobs, homes and an improvement in quality of life and environment. This needs more flexibility and farsightedness. We discussed at length with our partners how best we could serve the needs of communities and businesses in our area and concluded that a masterplan might actually hold back regeneration if it were seen to be too prescriptive and inflexible.

We instructed EDAW to produce a model for the future, deliberately avoiding the term 'masterplan'. In my view masterplans often present only a physical model of the future. The main challenge for Leaside is to show how the area and its people can be integrated with the surrounding renaissance in the east London economy. We therefore need a set of proposals that can promote an inspiring vision of the area's potential, balancing proposals about how and where new development can take place, with text and images that communicate how the area's communities can be beneficiaries in, and contributors to, east London's regeneration.

We developed a 'Framework and Vision' document - our plans for the future - after a great deal of research not only into the demographic makeup of Leaside, but also the surrounding, developed areas. We found that there were both physical and psychological barriers to development that need to be overcome in some way. We have the benefit of the River Lea that runs from north to south, but this tends to separate us from our neighbours to the east.

Added to this, the A12 cuts a similar, and very destructive swathe through the region.

Our document identifies the means to integrate across these geographical barriers - in the way a masterplan would - but goes further by looking in broad terms at the kind of regeneration that we want to follow. The short-term, quick-profit solution might be to promote warehousing developments here. That would simply fill up Leaside with large space users who employ few people and offer no career prospects. Similarly, left to its own devices, residential 'regeneration' would lead to rigid segregation of private development from social housing, replicating the mistakes of the past. We will depend on individual developers to bring with them the investment and jobs and, working with social housing agencies and local people, mixed communities - all operating within the broad agenda set by this framework. We envisage a Leaside that in 10 years will have lower unemployment than today and a wider mix of uses and housing tenures.

One of the drawbacks of masterplanning is that it can lead to a segmentation of land uses because there is a tendency to think in plan form. The best solutions will overlay one land use on another: homes above shops; offices above shops; and live/work units. That will result in a vibrant, mixed community. One use must not dominate. More than 64,000 people live here at the moment, and that number should increase if we do our job properly.We want the document to inspire local people as much as the development industry - it is one way of promoting a common ambition.

We are not the local authority, and so we have no direct responsibility for planning matters, although we are a partnership, with businesses, other regeneration agencies and a number of public bodies. Nor are we a development corporation, so we do not have the resources to implement our plans without help from the public and private sector.

What we do have is enthusiasm and drive, an effective partnership, and a visionary plan that will act as a catalyst for a series of projects that will help us achieve our goals.

I believe that our approach is unique, but right for our area.We are not dealing with a cleared site here.

People live and work here already. I want to make their lives better, as well as attracting more people in to share in the experience. This will take many years, but in the meantime we have already started the process.

To contact Leaside Regeneration call 020 8980 0111

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