Emma Rosser from EGI reports:
Regeneration experts pointed to employment space and evolved retail as key components in the housing developments of the future.
“The old paradigm of residential, commercial and retail – forget it, that’s gone,” said Jo Negrini, chief executive at Croydon Council.
“We need fluid, flexible, proper mixed-use. That’s where there will be a future; it won’t be in 40-storey residential towers. What we have learnt to our detriment in Croydon is if you hang off one type of use, it becomes obsolete at some point.”
Barry Jessup, director at First Base, which focuses on mixed-use developments, specialising in urban renewal and placemaking, said sustainable housing developments needed to look at employment first.
“We try to create that sense of identity, put the employment back, create the opportunities for work, and then overlay that with housing that will be accelerated, because it becomes more viable.
“It’s also more sustainable: you’re not then having to knock it all down again in 30 years’ time because you created an estate that nobody wants.”
Jessup said it was essential to have a location with the ability to support those three components – commercial, residential and retail. “The retail offer is very important, perhaps not in the format that is currently in a lot of town centres, but it has a very important role to play.”
The prioritisation of mixed-use development isn’t restricted to private investors and developers. As public landowners release large swathes of land, they have new housing targets to consider alongside neighbouring commercial uses.
Stuart Kirkwood, development director at Network Rail, said the network relied on joint ventures to fund and develop land.
“The logic behind that was partly to capture the value from the asset, but also partly because many of the sites we have left have significant interfaces with the rail.”
Network Rail has announced Blackstone and Telereal as the preferred buyers to develop 5,200 assets in its £1.46bn Arches portfolio. The vast majority of sites are located under rail arches, with occupiers including restaurants, bars, offices, retail, leisure, breweries, car washes, gyms and healthcare centres.
Retail shift to experiential
Negrini added that high-street and town centre retail offerings were shifting, and that this evolution would enhance communities.
“We are moving away from pure consumerism to experience. The future of retail and the future of the high street is very much about creating an experience and there’s going to be a lot more about information, knowledge and education.
She pointed to Apple as an example of retail that was not driven by instant transactions, but rather by a customer experience.
“We are flogging a dead horse with House of Fraser and Debenhams,” she said. “They are going and there’s a reason for that. The bottom is falling out of a certain type of retail.
“When we are thinking about our town centres, it’s about art, it’s about culture, education. It’s about creating a different type of experience.”
Jessup added: “Retail is not dying; a certain format of stores that are no longer fit for purpose are closing.”
He said a reversion to shops that utilised space for commercial and residential on top of retail provided a “massive opportunity”.
“High streets have a fantastic opportunity to regenerate and refresh themselves.
“Some of these high streets and town centres will look entirely different in 10 years’ time.”