Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

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

CONTINUE READING

Shifting sands and sea change: How can our seaside towns respond to the productivity challenge?
With the summer holiday season just around the corner, coastal towns up and down the country will be hoping the sun comes out to tempt the great British public to the seaside. It can be easy to forget that many of these coastal communities are in desperate need of regeneration and economic revitalisation, suffering from ongoing decline of their core industries such as domestic tourism, fishing, shipbuilding and port activities, and the challenges of seasonality. Their location on the periphery of the country places them on the periphery of the economy, creating a host of socio-economic problems and in turn, barriers to economic prosperity for their communities. The recent publication of a House of Lords Select Committee report on “the future of seaside towns” provides a timely reminder of the scale and complexity of this challenge, and sets out a series of recommendations for how seaside towns can once again become prosperous and desirable places to live and visit. Reflecting the different stages of evolution of these places, the UK’s seaside economy is far from uniform. Some locations, like Bournemouth and Brighton on the south coast, have benefitted from a model of reinvention that is not available to all. Meanwhile, many smaller coastal towns have seen their unique selling point diminish. Their sense of isolation has left small town, seaside communities overlooked and facing profound economic and social challenges. Blackpool for instance, which tops the seaside destination ‘leader board’ in terms of visitor nights, faces some of the most acute deprivation in the country. The national imperative to drive up productivity and earning power of people across the country – as set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy – provides a further incentive and pertinent backdrop to the Select Committee’s recommendations. Last week saw the publication of a new Tourism Sector Deal setting out how the government will work in partnership with the tourism industry to boost productivity, develop skills and support destinations to enhance their visitor offer. It begs the question: how can Britain’s seaside towns respond to the UK’s productivity challenge and contribute towards national prosperity? The development of Local Industrial Strategies provides the most immediate opportunity for ensuring that the needs of coastal areas are better reflected in local plans to drive economic development, with most well underway via Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Combined Authorities. Framed in context of the Industrial Strategy’s five foundations of productivity (ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and place), there seem to be a number of key areas of opportunity to boost the economic prosperity of our seaside towns: Economic diversification: coastal communities increasingly need to recognise, promote and support diversification of their economies where a sole reliance on tourism is no longer a viable option. Much can be learned from places like Folkestone in Kent, where a new Creative Quarter has been delivered through a regeneration strategy based on the arts, the creative industries, and education. Transport connectivity: is holding back many coastal communities and hindering the realisation of their economic potential. Sub-optimal connections (such as inadequate rail connections and road access via single lane carriageways) can limit the potential for investment in economic diversification, and improvements to transport will be vital in supporting further economic development in isolated coastal communities quite literally at ‘the end of the line’. The forthcoming Shared Prosperity Fund is likely to provide a key source of funding in this regard, alongside the next round of the Coastal Communities Fund. Digital infrastructure: improved digital connectivity presents a significant opportunity to overcome the challenges of peripherality in coastal areas, and would help existing businesses, encourage new businesses, and enable people to work more flexibly from home to achieve the all-important work-life balance; a core part of the offer. Skills and aspirations: limited access to education, in particular to further education (FE) and higher education (HE) institutions, is severely restricting opportunities, denting aspirations for young people in some coastal areas and having a direct knock-on impact on local economic productivity and growth. Recognising that there is never going to be a ‘bricks-and-mortar offering’ of HE in every coastal town, this might necessitate greater scope for flexible access both to FE and HE, such as online, part-time and distance learning. Maximising unique assets: what makes coastal communities different is their unique asset: the coastal and marine environment that surrounds them. Seaside towns that have been most successful at reinventing themselves are those that have identified their own special character and USP. Key to this is a long-term, place-based vision that is supported by local leaders and grounded in each town’s unique assets, whether this be a combination of inherent geography, history, geology and ecology, or created features, such as attractions and culture. Examples of such assets include a university arts centre in Aberystwyth, The Stade historic fishing area in Hastings and a specialist university for the creative industries in Falmouth. The Stade historic fishing beach in Hastings, East Sussex Some of our recent work in the Lichfields economics team has focused on the huge growth potential of our seaside economies and making the case for targeted investment in infrastructure and associated projects to unlock this potential; in locations such as Gosport, Worthing, Southend-on-Sea and Eastbourne. With around half of all LEPs comprising coastal or estuarine areas, it will be interesting to see whether Local Industrial Strategies are embraced as an opportunity for renewed focus on addressing the skills gaps, low wage economies and aspiration challenges faced by many coastal communities. Whether by drawing on existing assets (such as historic infrastructure) or technologies of the future (such as emerging green industries that harness wind and wave power), it’s time for our much-loved seaside towns to play a more meaningful role in the UK’s plan to drive innovation and growth across the country.  

CONTINUE READING