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'Sea change' under way in UK shopping centres

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The UK is undergoing a 'sea change' in its approach to the design of inner-city shopping centres, according to CABE chief executive Jon Rouse. He believes developers are already buying into the idea that retail complexes can no longer be dropped into the centre of towns irrespective of their street pattern, and points to the EDAWmasterplanned Manchester city centre as a good example of this. According to Rouse, developers have for years got away with doing 'bog standard' shopping centres, both in and on the edge of towns. But new laws introduced by the Conservative government, and a change of heart, mean that architects can now expect to be asked to respect the urban fabric - or even restore it after 30 years of blight.

Next month, Benoy and the Birmingham Alliance, a team of developers working on the giant Birmingham BullRing regeneration project, will release images of how a new relationship between shops and streets will work.

New images of Future Systems' Selfridges store, currently being constructed on the edge of the BullRing, will also be revealed.

But, crucially, the British Council for Shopping Centres (BCSC) will receive preliminary findings from a comprehensive report on inner-city retail, being compiled by BDP.

BDP director Peter Drummond talks about 'retail-led regeneration' - the ability of shopping developments to transform the fortunes of neglected cityscapes. He believes Bristol, Chester, Manchester, Reading and Sheffield will all provide examples of this approach. BDP's masterplan of the Paradise Street area of Liverpool even includes work by architects such as Dixon.Jones, Page and Park, Haworth Tompkins and Cesar Pelli.

'I think that what has happened is that, after a period of inactivity in the early '90s, people began taking up their pencils again but realised that it wasn't a question of picking up where they left off, ' said Drummond.

'Traditional shopping centres get tired very quickly and are a very inflexible building type. They are difficult to upgrade.'His report to the BCSC will contain a checklist of guidelines and design exemplars.

Dr Chris Upton, speaking at the Urban Design Alliance's annual conference last month, was encouraged by the developments but is not impressed by post-war regeneration in the Midlands. 'It's a very sobering thought.

Pay a visit to the cities of central Europe and it's difficult to think that the Second World War ever took place. But go to Birmingham and Coventry and it's equally hard to believe that it ever came to an end, ' he said.

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