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Bishop Auckland - a cultural revolution?

Bishop Auckland - a cultural revolution?

Jonathan Wallace & Daniel Gregg 15 Jan 2020
Town centres must re-invent themselves to survive - so say the experts - but this is easier said than done. In Bishop Auckland, County Durham, however, stakeholders have come together to take a unique approach to regeneration. It has come off the back of major investment in a number of arts and cultural heritage projects. This has included various galleries and museums – founded by Jonathan Ruffer as part of The Auckland Project, following his purchase of Auckland Castle - and the creation of Kynren an outdoor theatrical show (put together by the charity, Eleven Arches) which recently announced expansion plans for 2020 with the introduction of a new Park offering a host of new attractions and experiences. Kynren in particular is a high profile and spectacular show which has been rated as one of the top five performances to see in the UK by TripAdvisor and attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the town every year. Image credit: Kynren – an epic tale of England, Bishop Auckland In order to capitalise on this investment, the ‘Brighter Bishop Auckland Regeneration Partnership’ was formed in 2017. It includes a number of stakeholders, such as Durham County Council, The Auckland Project, Eleven Arches, Historic England, the Town Council, Civic Society, Durham University, the South Durham Enterprise Agency and the local college. A Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) was also approved in 2018 and has received funding and expertise from Historic England in order to help tackle heritage at risk and re-use empty buildings. Partnership working has been the key to success so far, but more needs to be done in order to attract further investment, and ultimately people, into the town centre. This is where the Bishop Auckland Masterplan comes in. Stemming from a wide-ranging community engagement exercise, the masterplan identifies various regeneration opportunities. These seek to improve accessibility/connectivity, enhance the environment, utilise vacant/under-used land and buildings, enhance the retail/commercial and tourism offer and increase dwell time in key areas. Land use planning is but one component of the strategy set out in the masterplan. However, it helps to provide the framework for many of these opportunities and, if used in the right way, can remove barriers to further investment. Aside from the new Local Plan, other vehicles which can  help deliver regeneration include Area Action Plans (AAPs), Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) and Local Development Order (LDOs). Most planners are aware of these, but how many local authorities are using them as a pro-active tool? Not as many as you’d hope. One of the objectives of the masterplan is to provide more flexibility over changes of use, to help broaden the town centre’s offer. For any centre to thrive, it must have a range of food and beverage options which help to extend dwell time and draw people in on an evening. The range and quality of restaurants in Bishop Auckland is currently poor but by improving this sector it should be possible to capitalise upon the success of Kynren and the other arts/cultural attractions mentioned earlier. The Council have already responded to the need for flexibility by granting permission for change of use of the former Beales department store to either hotel or residential. Another big issue in Bishop Auckland was the need for a second hotel within the town centre. Subject to market demand emerging, this will help to consolidate the town’s status as a visitor destination and capture as much tourism spending within the centre as possible. The hotel sector has been relatively resilient, despite wider economic uncertainty, and many of the national and regional chains currently active are considering locations within/on the edge of town centres.  Although not formally part of the masterplan, the Bishop Auckland HAZ is also playing a significant role in reviving the town’s fortunes. Its delivery plan identifies 49 different projects with a total value of £1.8m, as part of a programme of strategic action, grant aid, specialist support and guidance. Bishop Auckland is at an early stage in its journey and, like all other centres nationwide, continues to face significant challenges – not least the onward march of internet shopping and the competition from out-of-centre retailing on the town’s outskirts at Tindale Crescent. There is no point trying to turn back the clock and, like many other centres, it is unlikely to attract major new retail development. What it can do, though, is provide a more family-friendly and attractive environment, with a broader range of attractions, which reduces its reliance upon more traditional shopping uses. Not all town centres will be blessed with the same level of private investment and Bishop Auckland is lucky to have such heritage. But dig deep enough and all towns have something unique about their history and their place in society that can be developed and marketed. A holistic approach involving a range of stakeholders usually offers the best prospects of delivering meaningful change in a range of areas – including both the visitor offer and physical environment. The masterplan produced for Bishop Auckland Town Centre is just one part of the rejuvenation of the town. It is a step ahead of many locations across the country, though, where a lack of meaningful action is contributing to the decline of town centres. Whilst only time will tell as to whether it is a real success, it shows the value in having a clear vision and reaping the benefit from regional tourist attractions. Lichfields worked with Ryder Architecture in preparing the Bishop Auckland Town Centre Masterplan. Since then, the town has been selected to bid for the Future High Streets Fund, a new £675 million government fund for interventions which could include investment in physical infrastructure and land assembly. Both Ryder and Lichfields are supporting Durham County Council in preparing their detailed business case for the funding. The masterplan will form a key part of the evidence base for both this bid and funding from a recently announced Town Deal. Header image: View of Bishop Auckland Food Festival from Auckland Tower. Photograph by House of Hues, courtesy of The Auckland Project

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50 years of utopia

50 years of utopia

James Burman 03 Oct 2019
I never thought the Barbican Estate and Marmite had anything in common: you probably either love them or you hate them? Well, maybe not. This year (July) marks half a century since residents first moved into the Barbican Estate and with each decade, love for the grey concrete mass on the north edge of the City of London seems to grow and grow. Its dominance on the skyline has diminished as other tall buildings appear but its distinct silhouette is still very recognisable. The Barbican Estate ‘Barbican’ was the name of a street in the commercial area of the ward Cripplegate before Second World War bombing devastated the area in 1940. The Barbican Redevelopment Scheme took nearly thirty years to design and build and was completed in 1969. The development of the 40-acre bomb site involved the design of over 2000 flats, (including 3 of the tallest towers in London at the time), two schools and an arts centre. When erected, the concept and designs were controversial and even today it still sparks great debate. It was a pioneer of its time in terms of accommodation mix, size, design and quality - offering a place to live where almost all amenities were on site. The Barbican Centre plans were approved in 1971 and included a 2000 seat concert hall, 1300 seat theatre, art gallery, library, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, cinemas, catering facilities, foyers and car parks. The scale and complexity of the project matched that of the earlier residential scheme taking over a decade to build and was described as “one of the modern wonders of the world” by the Queen in 1982 due to its scale, cohesion and ambition. Clearly the Architects - Chamberlin, Powell and Bon – while creating a project that created conversation and divided opinion had done something right as in 2001 the Barbican was Grade II listed. But, why exactly has the development proved to have grown in popularity, appreciation and value over the last 50 years? Nick Thompson, Senior Director and Head of Major Projects & Design at Lichfields noted that whilst the Barbican is a generally revered development nowadays and provides its residents with very convenient amenities as well as London with first class facilities its relative isolation, and inward-looking design with little ground level interaction with the outside world does not provide a good model for creating cohesive and interesting environments particularly for pedestrians moving through the area. It can be described in a city such as London as a unique development, reflecting design thinking at a particular point in time. The quality of its design and build has been a major factor in its longevity. Though it was built by the City of London Corporation, it was never intended to be a traditional Council Estate aimed at low-income families paying subsidised rents. Rents at the Barbican in 1969 were premium – about £12 per week for a one-bedroom flat which allowed the Council not to skimp on build quality. Inside, the flats were well built too, with good quality finishes and a generous scale. Today’s London Plan provides minimum floorspace guidance of 538sqft (Chapter 3, Policy 3.5) for a one bedroom flat. This compares to a one-bedroom in the Barbican around 700sqft combined with good ceiling heights and natural light making them feel even bigger. The community spirit held by its residents is another factor that makes the development special. It’s hard to imagine this being the case with it being so popular with visitors but from owner’s clubs and associations to a website run by residents, it’s clear that the Barbican community love where they live and wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else – often up and downsizing within the Barbican itself depending on their family circumstances. Of course, a creation so polarising as the Barbican can’t be without its negatives. As many who have visited know, navigating around the estate can be tricky. Legibility including its relationship to the outside world is poor. Ray Bowden, who moved to the Estate with his wife in 1969, remembers being father to the first baby born in a Barbican flat – because the midwife failed to find them! In addition, while there are fantastic and unusual amenities provided on site (such as cinema and the cultural hub), others that you might consider more normal (such as gyms, cafes or restaurants) are nothing special at the Barbican. And considering the service charge is enough to make you choke on your “nothing special” meal – roughly £3000 per year for a one bedroom and £5000 for a two bedroom – the Barbican does not come with any exclusive resident perks such as gyms or bars. In additional to the service charge, residents have to pay towards the estate’s upkeep – about £4000 per year is normal. However, if you are willing to accept this, it is this loyalty (and heavy financial commitment) that keeps the Barbican at its best. Many other examples of sixties council estates have failed arguably (amongst other factors) due to the lack and expense of upkeep. This goes back to the point of ownership and build quality – on the whole the City of London is not having to pay for the upkeep of the estate, the residents are. So, what about the future? It appears that the Barbican is to continue to go from strength to strength, Blake Tower, formally the Barbican YMCA before being turned into luxury flats will officially become part of the estate in September. The Estate’s connectivity will also be boosted next year by the arrival of Crossrail at Farringdon. Finally, there are also plans to relocate the Museum of London (part of the Barbican) to a new home in Farringdon from London Wall and be replaced by a £300m concert hall. It is hoped that this project will reinvigorate the South-Western boundary of the Estate where it meets the rest of the City. Asked if we might ever see the Barbican’s listing re-designated to Grade II* or even Grade I, Nick Bridgland, Heritage Director at Lichfields commented: “Brutalism has always provoked strong reactions but, 50 years on, it is possible to be bit more objective about its greatest buildings.  The Barbican Estate was designed by one of the leading architectural practices of the day, is instantly recognisable and has stood the test of time.  Other blocks of flats of this era such as Trellick and Balfron Towers by Ernö Goldfinger, the Byker Estate in Newcastle and Park Hill in Sheffield are listed at II* so greater formal recognition of the Barbican should not be ruled out”.  Until then, the Barbican will continue to create conversation and divide opinion but one thing’s for sure, after 50 years, it’s most certainly here to stay. References: Our building our architectureOur archive constructionHomes & PropertyLife at the Barbican was joyous from the start

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