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Shopping for true regeneration

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The real value of retail for effective urban regeneration came under the microscope at the AJ-backed 'Cities Fight Back' conference at the RIBA last week.

Regeneration has carved up communities and encouraged decay, a leading architectural academic told last week's 'Cities Fight Back' conference, in a debate on how vital shopping centres have become to communities.

Hedley Smyth, senior lecturer at UCL's Bartlett School of Architecture, said regeneration had built walls that were effectively barriers to neighbouring areas that had not been so lucky. 'Walls keep people in but they also keep them out and it is people who make a city, so we want them in, ' he told delegates.

Smyth spoke of doughnuts - prosperous areas surrounding deprived pockets. He said: 'Walls are being built, decay has been encouraged.' He singled out Birmingham's International Convention Centre as a success for carefully linking into surrounding areas. However, nearby Brindleyplace had created a wall between itself and marginalised areas behind it.

'Developers have embraced regeneration to maximise asset values and appease planners.

More attention is needed to encourage diversity of public space in private management and open up development to make it less introverted, ' said Smyth.

CABE chief executive John Rouse insisted Brindleyplace was a success on any level and would bring benefits to the city for years to come. Five keys to retail-led regeneration include leadership, management and ease of movement. 'We must make love to highway engineers, ' he quipped. 'Since the 1950s, we have thrown brickbats and we must bring them into the camp.'

Retail's regeneration achievement was extraordinary and had become vital for the image of the city, said Tony Travers, an LSE urban expert. 'Harvey Nicholls is more important for a city than the arrival of a new factory or manufacturing plant, ' he said.

But Jenefer Greenwood, president of the British Council of Shopping Centres, admitted retail design from the 1980s 'deserved the rejoinders of being monolithic, lacking in character or even destroying of character.

We had to wake up and get real to unfix the fixed positions'.

Tuning in to design The BBC, meanwhile, told delegates of its aim to become the most creative organisation in the world - and how it would use some of the finest architects to achieve that goal.

'We need a shop window to exhibit our products, ' said John Smith, director of finance, property and business affairs. 'We want to become the world's most creative organisation and our buildings must reflect that aim and enable our 24,000 employees to exhibit their creativity in everything they do.'

He told the conference the BBC used to see its buildings as 'commodities rather than strategic assets'. Smith said he cringed at BBC blunders, including an extension to 'iconic gem' Broadcasting House.

Its building at White City was the most hated of all the BBC's 522 properties, totalling 750,000m 2, said Smith. 'It's completely grey and tin except for the wooden fire doors.'

Smith was unhappy that a scheme by Foster and Partners for the site was scuppered a few years ago, but he looked forward to an alternative scheme on the site by Allies and Morrison, which is half-built and will house 6,000 staff, shops and streets. Meanwhile, MacCormac Jamieson Prichard is working on an extension to Broadcasting House with a theatre, cafe and courtyard, 146 studios and 130km of cabling.

Changing Chester The conference also heard how plans for a £90 million network of raised shopping arcades in historic Chester by Michael Hopkins and Partners and Chapman Taylor went for detailed planning consent last Friday.

The ultra-modern Northgate masterplan includes a new square, overlooked by a glass-fronted theatre with a barrel vault. Its raised balconies will link up with two-level shopping arcades which echo existing blackand-white Tudor-style shopping areas nearby.

There will also be 112 flats with roof gardens, a new library, a multi-storey car park, offices and 40,000m 2of shops. An existing Grade II-listed building on the 4.6ha site around Crook Street will be refurbished for the London & Amsterdam scheme. Building could start late in 2003 and end in 2007.

'The arcades will be made of traditional materials such as oak timber frames but in a modern way, ' said David Selby, a partner at Hopkins. 'The project will have the domestic scale and character of Chester and achieve permeability, sustainability and accessibility.'

Rodney Carran, a director of Chapman Taylor, said: 'Retail-led regeneration does not feature in recent urban design documents, even though it is the financial driver and determines the vitality.'

Shifting Sheffield Sheffield is also getting the treatment. A £200 million retail quarter in Sheffield is due to go for planning approval this autumn, said masterplanner BDP. The 100,000m 2project will include designs by Penoyre & Prasad and Allies and Morrison, focusing on housing, a swimming pool, a gateway station, a hotel, e-campus and 2,000 car parking spaces. The project is being driven by Hammerson and Sheffield One, an urban regeneration company, which complained of confusion caused by ever-changing policies on cars.

Shopping in the city, England's fifth largest with 540,000 people, has been destroyed by out-of-town retailers and a fragmented centre. A major part of the scheme will be a new store for John Lewis, which enjoyed a 72 per cent rise in sales after another recent relocation in Southampton.

But shop relocation was risky, and Anne Humphries, a John Lewis director, laid down '10 commandments', including the need for an adjacent car park but no large bus stations nearby.

Paul Finch, of CABE and the AJ, said the Americans made a feature of car parks.'Unlike our NCP tenth-rate apologies, their luxury buildings are palaces for parking with public facilities like shops at the ground floor, ' said Finch.

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