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The credit crunch must not scupper regeneration

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This week, our news team has looked at three regeneration projects at different states of stasis (see pages 8-10). We found that most stakeholders are still bullish, but pragmatic and are refocusing their objectives.

What effect will the financial crisis have on our cities? I spoke recently to a senior regeneration director in the Thames Gateway who was optimistic that the cooling of land values could lead to positive outcomes. Some residential-led, high-rise proposals are looking shaky there, and the credit crunch might have the positive outcome of preventing the architectural disasters that have been inflicted around the fringes of the Olympic site and on Stratford High Street. Now is the time for more sober proposals.

But London is its own situation. We focus this week on places more vulnerable to the chronic lack of liquidity in property. In Milton Keynes, just an hour’s drive from the capital, work continues, but starts have stopped. The problems are in the post for places like this. And if places like MK are suffering, the government’s housing targets are ridiculous and will never be fulfilled according to published timescales. Housing Minister Caroline Flint admitted as much this week.

It looks like Bradford has got on the retail regeneration gravy train just too late. Although developer Westfield had signed tenants including Debenhams and Marks & Spencer for its £320 million shopping centre, there is no sign of any building. Margins are low for developers in places like Bradford. The city’s plans to build out Will Alsop’s lake-based masterplan should be encouraged. A high-quality public realm can’t hurt value.

And for Swansea this is an opportunity to focus on priorities. It seems there are now two tiers of development there, and if you’re designing one of the low-priority schemes, you’ve probably downed tools already.

The lessons for government? Find a way of releasing funds so banks will lend money. For the first time in more than a generation, places like these have plans and aspirations. If we miss this chance then it’ll be back to square one for too many towns.

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