CIVIC SOCIETY NEWS
CIVIC SOCIETY NEWS
Martin Booker, RIBA, Managing Director of Fibre Architects, gives a personal view on the future of town centres
During the lockdown I’ve mainly been working from home and on the couple of occasions that I had to visit our office in Huddersfield I decided to cycle the seven miles to work on my recently purchased electric bike.
This made me realise the great work and investment that has been made by Kirklees and Sustrans in recent times to make this type of journey much more safe and enjoyable for cyclists, and the 30 minutes it took was only a little more than the 20 minutes it sometimes takes in the car.
We often do not appreciate the great facilities, services, opportunities and buildings that we have in our local area and our reluctance to change our ways often precludes new and continued ways of using and adapting these in the way we live and work.
The way our town centres develop over the coming years will have to overcome such resistance, and it will be down to our local authority, community leaders and property developers to provide vision and work together to ensure their survival. The Covid-19 situation has of course exacerbated this.
Town centres are traditionally places where people live, work, shop, eat, are entertained, socialise and relax with family, friends and colleagues and this should continue to be the case.
The local and wider economy clearly affects demand and investment in our towns, and the impact of changing times and the lockdown especially on the retail, leisure and office sectors will inevitably see demand for these uses fall and/or change.
Fundamental to town centres thriving in the future will be the ability to ensure that a variety of demographic, including families with children, continue to want to live, work and enjoy their leisure time here.
This will require attractive homes, schools, access to healthcare, entertainment, events and managed open spaces utilising existing redundant buildings and spaces wherever possible.
Kirklees’ vision recently set out in “The Huddersfield Blueprint” is a laudable initial step to help bring this about, but an individual test residential development project is needed as a joint venture between the Local Authority and an experienced and innovative private development partner to kick start this.
Vision, incentives, master plans, planning policy and funding alone are not enough.
Everything that is needed to entice people and families in will need to be established and provided as part of this test project, with the site location and development type being chosen specifically to cater for all of these, otherwise it will fail.
Inspiration needs be taken from recent sustainable developments that Citu have undertaken in Kelham Island, Sheffield and Leeds, and Urban Splash in Manchester, Leeds and Bradford to provide homes that purchasers have queued around the block to purchase creating areas which therefore thrive.
The Post Office and Sorting Office site identified in the blueprint may provide an opportunity for this, but not just by converting it to standard apartments.
High quality and sustainable architecture must be a positive part of this, by lifting the spirits, lowering the carbon impact of development and enhancing the end-users enjoyment of the buildings, spaces and services they provide. Huddersfield has an opportunity to exploit the great potential it has in these respects to benefit from this.
The town still has an excellent reputation globally for tailoring, and perhaps this can also be built further upon with a fashion quarter similar to the Victoria Quarter in Leeds or a festival, building on the success of the food and literature festivals that have been so successful in recent years.
It is imperative that a vision for innovative and world class architecture that was present when The Media Centre was first mooted is always at the forefront of all stakeholders’ minds, from start to finish.
Joint investment and partnership is key and that can only come from backing the right development partners and the right project to ensure high quality diverse residential (not just apartments) together with the very best supporting uses and excellent design detail are delivered.
This could the magic key which unlocks the door of new growth in Huddersfield in otherwise potentially very challenging times ahead.
Victoria Tower, Castle Hill picture by Vinny Tyrell
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