Repurposing towns and cities in partnership is vital to creating connected, inclusive communities

Muse continues to deliver its unique brand of place-changing repurposed regeneration in partnership. Writes Phil Mayall, board director at Muse Developments

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It’s safe to say that it’s been challenging time for everyone. As we move forward, taking positive steps out of lockdown, we’re now in a position where we can see the post-Covid landscape.

While there are definitely going to be economic bumps in the road, it’s certainly not the dystopian world many had predicted. There are clear opportunities available to bring forward the right schemes that deliver direct benefits to communities, driving inward investment and prosperity, while creating opportunities for all… which is where repurposing, or urban regeneration, comes into play.

Urban regeneration or town-centre repurposing isn’t having a one size fits all approach to deliver shiny new buildings in the hope that ‘if we build it, they will come’. It’s about understanding an area’s specific needs and issues, strengths, heritage and aspirations. Then working with the existing grain of the area, creating the right infrastructure and mix of amenity to bring people of all social demographics back and thereby maximising the positive impact on the community.

At the turn of the 20th Century, town and city centres were thriving places full of commerce, people and life. As time moved on, they destabilised, depopulated and became driven by an expanding retail offer, making places indistinguishable from one another, creating a sustained period of flux. What’s clear from this, is that it’s people living, working, studying, shopping and playing in central conurbations will drive their renaissance.  

As we know, the structural shift away from ‘faceless’ and generic retail has been accelerated by the pandemic. By taking a long-term, broad-based view of regeneration, rather than looking at it piecemeal, real long-lasting change can be brought forward. The key now and to make sure our towns and cities are robust and resilient enough to tackle future crises, is making sure we turn them into true 15-minute cities that provide everything needed for work, leisure, education, amenity and living in a safe, vibrant, sustainable and connected place. Retail will remain highly relevant. However, it needs to be just that – relevant.

Across the Muse business, we’re increasingly being asked to look holistically at alternative uses for shopping centres that either local authorities have acquired to gain control of their town centre, or by institutional owners struggling with the rise of vacant units and reducing rental income. Again, this has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Vital to the success of any programme of regeneration is collaboration and partnership. There’s a once in a multi-generational opportunity to transform places for the better. Councils have the ability to take this wider view, but in any event, they’re entirely right in their approach, and now more than ever, public-sector intervention is crucial if our towns and cities are to thrive in adversity. What’s key here is courage. The public and private sectors, working together, must have the courage of their convictions to look forward and take calculated risks where necessary. Essentially what was right for our towns and cities immediately prior to the pandemic will likely be right for the long term. Success requires a pragmatic, joined-up approach from both sides.

As a business, we’re proud to be part of a strong parent company in Morgan Sindall Group plc, which is the UK’s leading construction and regeneration group, with strong cash reserves and a robust business model focusing on self-help and organic growth. This gives us the resources to work alongside local authorities across the North West and beyond to take that long-term view but deliver at pace to deliver the change that’s needed. Couple this with our tenacious team of development surveyors, project managers and corporate support, means we’re uniquely placed to create sustainable and place-changing schemes that’ll stand the test of time.

This article first appeared in DQ Issue 20.

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