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Regeneration on the waterside - Bristol fashion

What is the secret of successful waterside regeneration? Which design and planning principles make for successful and sustainable redevelopment? The regeneration of Bristol waterfront may be seen as something of a test case: should it follow the recommendation of the Urban Task Force by adopting a design-led scheme, or should it continue in the old market- led mould? These questions lay at the heart of 'Quay Visions', a conference about waterside regeneration, held at Bristol's Arnolfini Gallery on 12- 13 September.

Opening the morning session was George Ferguson of Ferguson Mann Architects, member of Concept Planning Group and masterplanner of a controversial new urban design-led scheme for the redevelopment of Bristol's Harbourside. He said that sustainable regeneration was produced by creating buildings around spaces, by encouraging people to use those spaces, and by making the most of local landmarks. Calling for pedestrian- and bike-friendly environments, with mixed uses and for mixed tenancies of shops and bars by small, individual, local businesses, he cited Baltimore and Chicago as examples of good practice.

Ian Cawley, Project Director at Crest Nicholson Properties (the developers backing a £200m scheme by Arup Associates for the regeneration of Bristol Harbourside), gave a detailed account of the three principal phases involved in setting up a partnership for a regeneration project. The emphasis was on the market and its demands; it was not until late in the process that the advice of an architect came into the equation, and although planning guidance had a rather higher priority, it still lagged behind the advice of property agents.

The priorities for good waterfront regeneration as described by Kevin Murray, director of edaw and senior vice-president of the rtpi, were long- term viability and sustainability. Drawing upon his experience of a number of such projects in this country and abroad, he ranked environmental, spatial and policy issues equal with economic considerations. There were special factors at play on waterside sites, not least the need to knit them in with the rest of the city, to make positive use of their historical associations and to render them accessible and attractive to the entire community as well as to visitors.

Lessons from the past were still applicable today, said David Lunts, director of the Prince's Foundation and Urban Task Force member. There was no direct correlation between development density and quality of life, he said, citing the example of the borough of Kensington and Chelsea which is the most densely-packed in England. The grid layout of old northern towns, taken for granted until about 50 years ago, had legibility, linkage, multiple connections, sustainability and mixed uses. This reduced land- take but also increased the viability of local retail, leisure and community uses, and provided a better quality of life.

Paul Finch reported to the conference on the workshop session, which considered:

the issues needing most urgent attention in waterfront regeneration (accessibility, transport, inclusivity, organic growth)

the obstacles to resolving these questions (lack of planning clarity, entrenched positions, pressure of time, single developer)

examples from the conference which could help addressing the issues (early and repeated consultation, urban design-led schemes, raise level of debate, consider wider context).

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