Mixed-use town centre regeneration proposals – 5 key actions to help lead to positive outcomes for all
18 Apr 2018
Over the past two years, a significant proportion of my time in planning consultancy has been spent working on major, mixed-use town centre regeneration proposals. This has involved projects for retail, commercial leisure, food and beverage uses, and purpose-built student accommodation in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire and in Kirkby, Merseyside. The two town centres are very different, with Newcastle-under-Lyme being a traditional market town and Kirkby being relatively new, having been purpose-built in the 1960s. Because of this project work, it has been possible to identify 5 key actions by landowners and developers that could help lead to more positive outcomes for all stakeholders.
Proposed purpose-built student accommodation and retail development in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Image credit: Stride Treglown
Proposed retail and leisure development in Kirkby.
Image credit: Saunders
- Take full account of site characteristics and context
Ensure that the proposal responds to the features of the site and its context, such as its size, topography, vegetation, natural features, access, conservation / heritage assets, the uses of neighbouring buildings, and existing on-site buildings. Designing a proposal to fully take account of the existing features of the site and its context will go a long way towards ensuring a positive outcome is achieved.
- Include strong links and connections
Make sure that the proposal includes strong physical and visual links to the wider town centre, even if the application site is in an existing Primary Shopping Area. Strong links will: encourage linked trips; provide spin-off benefits to the wider town centre / existing businesses; maintain / improve the legibility of the town centre; and provide a pedestrian-friendly environment.
- Get to know the key issues for councillors
Get to know likely key issues for councillors, by analysing recent decisions on similar proposals at Planning Committee and those which were taken to appeal. In Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre, one of the key issues for councillors is that developments should not cause on-street parking problems in nearby residential areas. This issue is addressed through requiring a financial contribution from applicants, which is to be used to fund parking surveys and for the introduction of Resident Parking Zones in the event that it is found that the development is resulting in more on-street parking pressures.
- Design the scheme with the likely operators in mind
A scheme needs to be designed to meet the requirements of future occupiers, including the up to date needs of modern retailers, and commercial leisure operators. Important aspects of targeted design include the configuration of floorspace (i.e. proposing the right size of unit), the inclusion of a mezzanine level, providing maximum accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists alongside adequate surface level car parking, the inclusion of space for anchor tenant(s), the provision of trolley bays, orientation of retail floorspace and satisfying any other specific operator requirements. If a development does not suit retailers’ requirements, they will not sign up to a proposal. Designing to suit occupiers’ needs to be apparent during the pre-application process, including if and when a scheme is to be considered by a design review panel.
- Ensure the local community is engaged
Engage the community at an early stage, take on board comments received where possible and ensure that the final proposal benefits the local community, but know that it is impossible to please everybody and make it clear that compromises will need to be made. It is important that proposals are designed in response to their context, to ensure that a new development is a ‘good neighbour’. Job creation is a very important benefit, often stressed by local communities in their comments on proposals.
Lichfields led negotiations in arriving at a positive recommendation for both proposed developments referenced in this blog. Planning permission for the Kirkby proposal was granted in November 2017. Also in November 2017, the local planning authority in Newcastle-under-Lyme reached a resolution to grant planning permission for the scheme in that town subject to conditions and the completion of a legal agreement. Drafting of the legal agreement continues. Lichfields’ experience and track record of success means it is very well placed to lead on planning for high-profile town centre regeneration schemes.