It looks great. But is Greenwich Millennium Village a realistic model for urban regeneration across the UK?
On a recent visit to the site, I was accompanied by a contingent from Hastings Council. Although clearly impressed, they expressed some reservations. Proctor Matthews' newly completed houses (see pages 26 to 33) look modern, urban and jolly. But do they look like home? Fortunately the target audience has answered in the affirmative, but then London's cosmopolitan population has brought with it a broad range of preconceptions and tastes. Contemporary housing is an acquired taste. The statistics might relate an impressive thermal and acoustic performance, but instinct suggests that any building which comes adorned with corrugated aluminium is likely to be noisy and cold. And while it may be absurd to build in brick purely on the basis that it looks warmer, or safer, or generally more solid, it is equally absurd to present a population with housing which it does not actually like.
Greenwich is also unusual in that it is rare to find an urban site so large that it can evolve its own aesthetic without paying heed to an existing urban context.
Hastings is typical of many of the UK's less affluent urban towns in that it is littered with derelict buildings or gap sites which need to be revived. Its strategy is to pitch for a 'millennium necklace' as opposed to a 'millennium village' - a cluster of smaller regeneration and newbuild projects which will bring investment into the town while reinstating the urban grain. Dividing the work into discrete packages should make it simpler to share out - a strategy which should be to the advantage of smaller local practices, which may be ill-equipped to tackle projects at a mega scale.
The Greenwich scheme is a valuable flagship project.
The Hastings party picked up useful information about funding, planning, management, construction and environmental concerns. Their challenge is to develop a model which is suited to the local context. But first the government has to accept an unsettling truth: that large-scale investment will not necessarily be rewarded with eye-catching architecture on a clearly defined site.