Newham Council regeneration chief Clive Dutton has defended the local authority’s troubled Meanwhile London competition following a torrid week for the programme
Last week London Pleasure Gardens, one of the four winning schemes, entered administration, while a second scheme, Industri[us], has temporarily closed.
A third, Caravanserai, has cut its opening hours. The fourth winning scheme, Royal Docks Baths, is on hold.
But Dutton, executive director for regeneration at the east London borough, told AJ: ‘We need to reflect on the programme in a measured way and take stock in the round, rather than making a knee-jerk reaction. Having a series of sites doing pop-up in a capital city is leading-edge. People will have different experiences. But we feel there is an opportunity for this approach to be beneficial.’
The Meanwhile Competition was launched by Newham with the London Development Agency (LDA), Design for London and Property Week magazine in November 2010.
Source: Image by Tom Page
The competition sought temporary entrepreneurial projects that would attract people to Canning Town and Royal Docks during the 2012 Games, with the ambition of attracting developers to the borough to invest in schemes worth up to £22 billion.
However, the contest specified no budget for developing entrants’ ideas, and winners were responsible for all costs, such as site remediation, design, planning and build costs, as specified in the competition terms and conditions. The terms also warned that ‘profit share or rental income’ could be required if any profit was made.
The contest attracted 42 entries and was judged by a high-profile jury which included Dutton, LDA deputy chief executive Peter Bishop, Architecture Foundation director Sarah Ichioka, New London Architecture chairman Peter Murray, Property Week editor Giles Barrie, Argent Group joint chief executive Roger Madelin, Urban Splash chairman Tom Bloxham, Design for London head Mark Brearley and Building Design editorial director Amanda Baillieu.
Announcing the winning ideas at the MIPIM property fair in spring 2011, London mayor Boris Johnson said they would ‘help the Royal Docks and Canning Town become a thriving new economic hub for the capital’.
But events last week appear to have dealt a blow to such hopes.
London Pleasure Gardens, developed by Strong and Co, which partnered with the RIBA London to build pavilions and host events at the Pontoon Dock site, entered administration 3 August.
Deloitte joint administrator Rob Harding said: ‘London Pleasure Gardens has underperformed against its original business plan both in respect of festival activity and far fewer visitors than originally envisaged passing through the site and using its facilities.’ More than £1 million was spent on remediating the 60,000m2 site, though no mention was made of contaminated ground in the competition’s documentation.
Industri[us], proposed by architecture practice Fluid, closed seven days later for the rest of August as it grappled with ‘crippling’ running costs and a lack of funding.
Elsewhere, Caravanserai has had to reduce its opening hours, with one trader describing business as ‘slow’; and the Floating Village scheme has been put on hold.
The key problem for the three Meanwhile schemes that were built has been a dearth of visitors during the London Games, when they were hoping to be at their busiest. The funding plan for Industri[us] was based largely on attracting business from thousands of visitors to the nearby ExCeL Centre during the Games. With visitor numbers hugely down on LOCOG forecasts, Fluid resorted to hosting gigs to raise money and asked Newham Council for help with running costs.When the council turned down the funding plea, it decided the events were not a practical short-term solution.
Fluid is using the rest of August to work towards a viable model for the struggling scheme.
Director Christina Norton told AJ: ‘There is no point continuing with the plan we had for the Olympic period, so we’ve decided to close for that period and look at how we can develop our model.
‘Until we have a sense that the events will raise enough cash to contribute to our community aims, [we are putting them on hold].’
Fluid and its partners and sponsors have invested resources worth £200,000 in Industri[us] while Newham Council loaned £3.3 million to London Pleasure Gardens.
Caravanserai trading market is temporarily closed from Monday to Wednesday and is open for one hour less than previously on Thursday to Sunday as the scheme adjusts to meet demand from local people.
Ash Sakula Architects, one of the architecture practices behind the Caravanserai project, said local traders could not justify being on site full-time without the Olympic visitor trade.
Practice partner Cany Ash told AJ: ‘We could have [been there] all day if there had been 40,000 people going past, but there is a new reality.
‘We are now open from 3pm until 8pm to catch local people. We are open Thursday to Sunday to concentrate our efforts.’
Ash Sakula said it had so far managed to break even on Caravanserai – although it has invested a great deal of time.
The final scheme, Studio Egret West’s Floating Village – was put on hold until after the Games. Partner David West said: ‘Our Floating Village project was paused to allow the Siemens Centre and the Cable Car to be constructed.
‘Now the Cable Car is completed and the Olympics over, we will be reviewing and refining the Floating Village project over the coming months.’
Although much of the blame for the low visitor numbers has been leveled at LOCOG transport inefficiencies during the Games, there have been claims that Newham Council lacked the conviction to back its competition when the going got tough.
Competition judge Ichioka said: ‘I don’t know the intricacies of the situation, but it is very unfortunate if Newham Council are more eager to champion innovative urban approaches in their words, rather than in their deeds.’
A source close to one of the winners said private sector partners should be included in future competitions to add commercial thinking.
‘The council got really scared. It has a visionary hat on and a local council hat on,’ the source explained.
However, Dutton said the council had been clear from the start that no direct funding would be available for the projects.
Of the Industri[us] bid for council funding he said: ‘Industri[us] was a business and it was their proposition to do this and their assumptions about footfall during the Olympics.’
On claims that the council put too much onus on the winners to run the sites, Dutton said: ‘The make-up of the consortia was up to the entrants. There is no reason why architects and artists can’t run businesses.’
Dutton said the high-profile initiative would be seen as a pioneering way of using derelict land.
He added: ‘Lessons will be learnt but I am confident others will be looking to see how this concept can be used in an age of austerity.
‘This is a resourceful way to bring land into use in a way that will help the local community. I am confident that it will come to be seen as a success in the long run.’
Fellow judge Murray said the competition showed the importance of winners having expertise in several fields.
‘Meanwhile London may be temporary but it still has to be based on a sound business model,’ he said.
‘Putting on an event for three years is not the same as an event that lasts three years and requires a different level of expertise as well as building design.’
Ash insisted the programme should not be judged on financial grounds alone.
‘Caravanserai has been successful for the amount of time it’s been there,’ she said.
‘What we are doing with this project is changing people’s perceptions of Canning Town. Public relations firms are paid a lot of money to do what we are doing.’
Caravanserai for the Canning Town site: proposed by EXYST, Space Makers Agency, Ash Sakula and others, who aim to create an ‘adaptable, open courtyard surrounded by busy shops and production spaces, collaboratively produced by architects, thinkers, makers, community groups and local residents’.
Status: Open, but with reduced hours
Source: Agnese Sanvito
London Pleasure Gardens for the Pontoon Dock site: proposed by Strong and Co, the creators of Shangri-La at Glastonbury. A ‘waterside festival site’ to feature year-round attractions and summer-time spectaculars.
Status: Under administration
Industri[us] for the Royal Business Park site: proposed by Fluid, with Colliers International, Dare and others. The concept aims to rework found materials and waste products, bringing together artists, entrepreneurs, social businesses, local people and scientists. Newham Council has said it would work with this project so that it can be extended to other sites in the borough.
Status: Temporarily closed to visitors
Royal Docks Baths for Pontoon Dock: proposed by Studio Egret West, this was to be a ‘floating swimming pool in Pontoon Dock made from seven re-used Thames lighters to form a pontoon, floating structure, café restaurant and spa’. This site was not in the original competition but the judges decided the scheme should be included as an extra winner.
Status: Not yet built