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Masterplans are about building communities, not just homes

Christine Murray
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South Kilburn and North West Cambridge demonstrate a commitment to the architects employed to create them and to the people who will live there, says Christine Murray

At a recent lecture, David Chipperfield bemoaned how the art of town planning had morphed into masterplanning – and how most masterplans are less about creating pieces of city than leveraging maximum value out of the site.

In this issue, AJ architecture editor Laura Mark takes a look at two masterplans with a difference: Brent Council’s South Kilburn Regeneration and the North West Cambridge Extension. Both have stakeholders engaged in the long-term future of these sites with the ambition to build not just housing, but vibrant communities.

In Cambridge, the university is looking to build homes to attract great staff, but the first building to complete is a school. With plans for a health centre, supermarket, nursery and other public facilities (as well as 3,000 homes), they have designed a social ecosystem for the young families they wish to attract to this ready-made community.

Not partnering with a developer has given the council more bang for its buck

In South Kilburn, the story is familiar: a council looking to regenerate an estate through the sale of private homes. But Brent Council’s plan to replace 1,200 social-rent homes and build an additional 1,200 private sale homes moves beyond this well-worn narrative in London by providing exemplar tenure-blind accommodation and high-quality architecture without a private developer partner.

Not partnering with a developer has given the council more bang for its buck in avoiding private sector viability assessments, which often require a minimum 20 per cent profit margin. With the uncertainty of Brexit wobbling the market, as evidenced by the results of the AJ’s Brexit survey published in this issue, it could be that we will see developers safeguarding their profits by cutting costs and corners even further. With London mayor Sadiq Khan looking to drive up contribution levels of affordable housing to 50 per cent, he’s recently announced a panel specifically appointed to scrutinise viability assessments, which are often submitted (even if often not publicly disclosed) alongside planning applications. Developers have been known to underplay the profitability of schemes in planning to avoid arduous Section 106 contributions, so Khan is right to skill up with a team that can make independent value assessments.

Countryside CGI Proctor and Mattews 2

Countryside CGI Proctor and Mattews 2

Lot S1 & S2 of the North-West Cambridge masterplan, designed by Proctor & Matthews Architects

Also key to the success of these two masterplans is a commitment to the architects they employ. As Heather Topel, project director of North West Cambridge, says in her interview with the AJ, the university novates all their architects to ensure quality output. And, while Brent Council does not novate its architects, it does stay true to their original designs, ensuring detail and material choices are enshrined in the planning application and don’t change when a project goes on site.

Both these developments take the long view and are commited to the future of these sites and the people who will live there. This sentiment is not as rare as it seems – most local councils believe in the value of their regeneration projects, and fail to see how they go wrong. A few simple lessons can be learned from the approach at North West Cambridge and South Kilburn: put the detail in the planning application and stay on top of the contractor, ensuring they build to the architect’s specification and design; keep the original architect involved, preferably novated; don’t fall into the viability trap by partnering with a developer who will overload your site and ruin the project to boost their profits; and make sure you are building a community, not just homes.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I do wonder how much the author really knows about South Kilburn or is just reading the Council's press releases about how wonderful their schemes are. As a South Kilburn resident, things look rather different to the utopian picture painted. Just to restrict myself to one major point. Where does the idea come from that brent is redeveloping South Kilburn "without a private developer partner". True, there isn't just one, there are lots! And they make life miserable for residents.

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