• BRENTFORD'S REGENERATION CHALLENGE

last modified November 10, 2012 by andrewdakers

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BACKGROUND

Hounslow Borough Council produced an  Urban Design Brief  in 1998 for the South side of High Street Brentford.  In 2000 Kim Wilkie produced a  High Street study for English Heritage reviewing development proposals by Brentford Town Centre (BTC) Ltd - the previous owners of much of the land (high res version of study).  The Council delivered the Planning officers report on the BTC Ltd proposals in 2000.  A year or so later and, despite planning permission being secured (if a legal agreement could be concluded), the planning process stalled over the legal agreement between Council and BTC Ltd.  

In 2001 the  Grand Union Canal and Boston Manor conservation area  was established, which includes some elements of the site.  

In the Summer of 2006 Geronimo Ltd, became the majority landowner of land south of the High Street. Geronimo has given Ballymore an option to purchase, subject to the receipt of a planning permission to redevelop the land.  Ballymore started to  dedicate increasing staff and resources to Geronimo to ensure the best planning permission is obtained as they became increasingly serious about going forward with the site. 

The time therefore seemed right in 2007 for a new community led initiative to develop a "clearly defined expression of the local community’s vision for the future of Brentford High Street".  This became the Brentford High Street Steering Group's first project: a community planning process that brought together the whole community in shaping a vision for Brentford High Street's future.

Many other places have managed to achieve successful, sustainable town centre development that contributes to a good quality, so we felt why shouldn't the Brentford community?  The focus of the project was on finding a sustainable future for the High Street - supported by the whole community - that avoids Brentford becoming another part of Clone Town Britain.

Working initially with the support of the New Economics Foundation we used tools including...

Thematic sub-groups looked at economy, history, planning and environmental issues.  With the community planning project complete the work of the Steering Group is now focused on implementing as many of the recommendations from these groups as possible.  This is with the long term goal of a "High Street that has regenerated in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner – a beacon for communities elsewhere."  

At the end of an 11 month process, in November 2007, we published the Brentford High Street: The Community Vision and presented it to the Isleworth & Brentford Area Committee. 

WHY HAS IT TAKEN SO LONG TO MAKE PROGRESS?

We are often asked why more progress hasn't been made to date in redeveloping the south side of Brentford High Street.  On a complex site and project there are a range of reasons: 

  • Planning permission There is presently no planning permission for the town centre site, although a scheme was proposed in around 2000 by the now defunct Brentford Town Centre Ltd

  • Land acquisition and consolidation  One of the major barriers to implementing a "comprehensive" scheme on the South Side of Brentford High Street has been fragmented land ownership.  Consolidation has been ongoing for around 15-20 years!  There are now just a few small pockets of land in an 8-9 acre site to the South Side of Brentford High Street where Ballymore (Geronimo Ltd) continue to be in discussion with various landowners.  One piece of land, County Parade, is owned by the Council.  The Council has agreed that they will put their land (ie the County Parade site) into the right scheme – on terms to be agreed.  Ballymore are therefore masterplanning on that basis. 
    • Compulsory Purchase Orders - In the Brentford Area Action Plan (BAAP) the Council has committed to using Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs), if any pockets of land need to be acquired to enable a scheme supported by the Council to progress. Unfortunately CPOs as a route to completing land acquisition can take many years.  My personal view is that I hope fair deals are found for the land sellers, purchasers and the surrounding community.  The higher the land price rises the more development pressure this will put on the site and then infrastructure (health, schools etc) used by the local community, which would be unfortunate.
  • Site brief/ Policy context   
    • In 2007 the High Street Steering Group completed an innovative, award winning community visioning project which considered all aspects of the sustainable regeneration of our town centre and set out 114 recommendations by which any scheme brought forward by developers should be assessed.   
    • We understand the developers Ballymore's initial scheme concept - referenced in Estates Gazette and displayed on their then architect BDP's website briefly - was not particularly well received when presented to The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).  The site is also at high risk of flooding which means that plans must be supported by the Environment Agency.  This is another major challenge for the developers. The Steering Group was very frustrated at the time that, despite several promises, Ballymore did not forward their scheme for review by local councillors and the wider community.  Since then a much more collaborative approach has developed between Ballymore and the High Street Steering Group (see below).
    • At a meeting of Isleworth & Brentford Local Area Committee (IBAC) on 22 January 2009 Mr Jordan advised IBAC councillors: "A recent meeting was held with David Lunts, Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), at which this site was raised. Hounslow would be meeting the Agency again to discuss the delivery of a number of large sites within the Brentford area.... Mike Jordan suggested that the HCA was the partner to engage with and noted the housing emphasis in their agenda. He added that as ever, early progress would be impossible without a consensus among the Authority/ HCA and the developer, Ballymore as to what form the regeneration would take.... The Authority was promoting the phased rebuilding of the Town Centre to a human scale, as finance for an incremental approach may be more accessible in the current economic climate. Officers supported having a master plan but acknowledged that it could be implemented in phases. Discussions with Ballymore this week suggested the company was moving towards a phased approach – either due to “credit crunch” or due to the asking price for the remaining parcels of land. Mike Jordan acknowledged that some things would be harder to achieve using an incremental approach, such as a Waterman’s replacement....Mike Jordan indicated that the developer had instructed architects to resume work on the project and was anticipated to approach the Authority in the coming weeks with a phased proposal, reflecting the current economic mood."
    • In early 2009 LB Hounslow’s Brentford Area Action Plan was given approval after many years of consultation.  A significant part of this local planning policy document is devoted to the town centre.
    • After an initial false start, with a new project team in place, in 2009 Ballymore undertook an initial community consultation exercise with key stakeholders supported by Soundings; organised a visit to other London sites with similar characteristics to Brentford High Street for key stakeholders; spent 2 days canvassing views on the High Street; and started working to deliver a programme of temporary uses on site.  In a letter to local councillors on 12 June 2009 (and then repeated in Steering Group/ Brentford Chamber meeting at Watermans, 15 June 2009) Ballymore said they were: "Keen to bring forward development on the site...[develop] a masterplan brief... [However, in common with most we] are in the hands of our funders who will provide the several million pounds of finance needed to deliver an acceptable scheme to planning permission... we cannot guarantee this will happen in the short to medium term."
    • In 2010, with funding secured from Ballymore and the local area committee S106 fund, Ballymore and the High Street Steering Group commissioned a joint workshop and report that was facilitated and produced by The Princes Foundation for the Built Environment.   The workshop (15 March 2010 at St Pauls Church) and final report started to work through the complex urban design required for the site.  This was to provide the basis of Ballymore's brief for the urban planners hired to develop a planning application for the site. 
    • The report’s site consolidation plan included suggested storey heights and on ‘Architectural character’ of a new scheme it concluded: "The site ...also has some good warehouse buildings from different decades but with frames structures, masonry infill and often metal windows... New development should attempt to pick up on these local clues and develop places of subtly different architectural character that marry well with the heritage and function of the area."
    • The High Street Steering Group continue to monitor whether sufficient Council officer time is being given to progressing this vital regeneration project.  We welcome the recent (April 2011) appointment of a Town Centre Manager (2 days a week Brentford/ 3 days Hounslow).  We have long campaigned for this role and it is a welcome development as it provides substantially more dedicated capacity than previous existed to support town centre regeneration.
    • In May/ June 2011 Ballymore appointed a project team to progress the development of a masterplan for the site. This is led by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris supported by MaccreanorLavington Architects and Glenn Howells Architects.  The team is also supported by Soundings.  A meeting on 28th July 2011 of Brentford High Street Steering Group, Brentford Chamber of Commerce and Brentford Community Council was Ballymore's first presentation of their initial work to the local community.   The High Street Steering Group welcomes the mix of architects being involved in the process, which is much more likely to deliver a textured scheme that blends well with Brentford's urban character.  The work of the development team can be tracked at www.myBrentford.com 

LOOKING FORWARD

  • Investment   None of the above will happen without continued investment.  The total development cost is likely to be in the region of £200m (approx figure drawn from modelling behind Brentford High Street: The Community Vision report - Nov 2007).  Whilst we have been frustrated at some aspects of how the process has progressed to date (at times too many shops remain boarded up, older buildings are not being well cared for, and one of our boatyards is closed) we welcome Ballymore's readiness to invest in Brentford and their responsiveness to addressing these concerns in recent years.   However, naturally, local people’s frustration with the painfully slow progress and visible development blight continues to bubble away.  
  • Economic climate - Particularly given the current economic climate, we welcome Ballymore’s commitment to the site with their initial consultation in April 09, the joint working with the Princes' Foundation for the Built Environment in 2010, and their recent success in securing funding to proceed with the masterplanning phase of the scheme. 
  • Outer London Fund - Brentford High Street Steering Group supported LB Hounslow, ISIS (Commerce Rd developers) and Ballymore on a "Round 2" bid for funding from The Mayor's Outer London for Brentford Town Centre.  Whilst we remain sometimes 'critical friends', cross-sector collaboration is vital.  By working together we can hopefully secure faster the scale of investment needed to ensure Brentford's town centre regeneration is a world-class scheme and is win-win for investors and the community alike. 
KEY ISSUES AND TRANSPARENT DIALOGUE          
    BHSSG are using an innovative Regeneration Scorecard to monitor the progress of Ballymore's scheme against the community's priorities set out in the Community Vision and other key reference points for local planning.   Throughout the masterplanning process we have examined:

    ·         Massing – does the emerging scheme align with storey heights in the Prince’s Foundation’s Consolidation Plan?

    ·         Balance of residential to retail

    o    Type of housing

    o    Achieving a successful retail mix, that increases the quality of retail, whilst not squeezing out independents and creating a ‘CloneTown’

    §  Introducing a new supermarket that does not compete directly with Morrisons, thus causing another site to become vacant

    ·         Architectural character

    ·         Preservation and restoration of historical buildings

    ·         Environmental sustainability

    ·         Flooding

    ·         Phasing of development – and the relocation of traders during and post-build

FURTHER BACKGROUND READING

If you have further queries please do not hesitate to email me directly.

Andrew Dakers

Chair, Brentford High Street Steering Group

November 2012