The complexities of delivering regeneration through public-private partnerships and the importance of preparing watertight business plans were the main talking points from Place North West’s latest event.
The hybrid event on 1 July garnered 100 attendees in person with more tuning in virtually. It was sponsored by Morgan Sindall Construction, Turley, DAC Beachcroft, WSP and ClearFibre.
Hosted by Place North West reporter Dan Whelan, the first half of this event gave an overview of several schemes currently underway in the North West. Then a panel of experts touched on some of the challenges of delivering projects through public-private partnerships.
Scroll down to see photos from the event and links to slides featured in presentations.
Presentation – Rochdale Development Agency
Very often developers are reticent to take on projects involving heritage restoration as they can be tricky and costly, according to Emma Birkett, heritage director of Rochdale Development Agency.
Most of the time, the responsibility of repurposing and restoring listed buildings falls at the door of local authorities, which then have to apply for cash from Whitehall to fund the projects.
Several Government funding pots exist that can assist with this, including the Towns Fund and the Future High Streets Fund.
As well as these Government grants, borrowing is also an option open to councils. Birkett said local authorities are becoming increasingly brave on this front – keen as they are to see assets restored and incorporated into wider regeneration programmes.
However, without a strong business case, this money could be wasted. Birkett called on the public sector to assist councils in drawing up robust business plans, an “area of weakness” within the public sector.
Most important, however, is learning lessons from previous failures in the realm of heritage-led regeneration, she added. This could lower the risk profile of projects, boost social value and wring out as many long-term benefits as possible.
Panel – Meet the authorities
- Phil Mayall, development director, Muse Developments
- Kevin Riley, director, WSP
- Emma Birkett, heritage director, Rochdale Development Agency
- Roger Frith, head of strategic regeneration & development, Oldham Council
- Barry Roberts, managing director – North West, Morgan Sindall Construction
Barry Roberts talked about the redevelopment of Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter, which is one of the numerous schemes Morgan Sindall is working on across the North West. Around £150m has been invested in the Liverpool city centre regeneration scheme to date.
“It has remodelled that area of the city,” Roberts said. “The city council has been really brave and had the foresight to create the Knowledge Quarter, attracting development from outside the city and creating a place that means something.”
The panel then discussed how towns and cities are increasingly recognising and accommodating the need for active travel such as walking and cycling. But Kevin Riley said that developing the infrastructure for this can be a “tough balancing act”.
“You have to look at how to use the finite space you’ve got in town and city centres,” he noted. “We’re starting to work on a lot of schemes that are looking at car parks in a more flexible way, how car parks can be designed now so they can be changed later so they avoid some of the problems we’ve got at the moment in some town centres.”
“We’re looking at how car parks can be built in such a way that they can be turned into residential in the future,” Riley continued. “And how can we use the upper floors for things like growing food.”
However, Emma Birkett said one issue the council is facing is the public’s concern about lack of parking provision. Complaints of this nature “create challenges for the project and are difficult to manage, they take up more of one’s time than you’d want it to”, she said. “It’s hard to get the message of long-term change. Yes, we can consult, but there seem to be barriers to understand the bigger picture.”
“Businesses are interested in the short term,” Birkett continued. “Having a massive construction site for three years isn’t what they want, which makes projects more difficult to get off the ground and completed.”
Phil Mayall talked about one fundamental aspect of public-private partnerships: making it personal. He said some local authorities will say they want something like what Muse has done on a previous project elsewhere.
“This is the wrong starting point because that’s how high streets have evolved and got into trouble,” Mayall said. “They’ve moved away from the relevance of the location they’re in.”
Local authorities need to ask what makes a specific place special, he added, otherwise a scheme “will fail because it won’t be relevant and won’t be fit for the purpose of that town”.
The panel also discussed the role of office space in towns and city centres. Riley said that, despite the shift to home-working during the pandemic, workers still want to go into offices for the social environment.
“We’ve started to think about the ways we’re going to reoccupy our offices in a positive way, more flexible than maybe we were in the past,” Riley said.
“That will start to socialise town and city centres. We’ve got to work out a way of knitting offices into that experiential environment we’re trying to create in places. It’s an exciting time for offices if we seize the opportunity to change the nature of them.”
Presentation – Cityheart
The developer’s managing director Mark McNamee gave an update on the £135m regeneration of the Wigan Galleries shopping centre site.
The scheme was approved in January 2019 after the council acquired the Galleries in 2018 as a redevelopment opportunity. “The requirements of the scheme could be summed up in one word: repurposing,” McNamee said.
The council wants to get people back to the town centre by focusing on retail and leisure and ensuring it’s a nice location to live in, he added. Inspiration will be drawn from other local towns that are successfully becoming alternatives to their nearest city.
There are numerous priorities for the scheme, according to McNamee. “Wigan has a centuries-old market charter and we’re going to build on it. It isn’t fit for purpose; we want to diversify and build on that history.
“Leisure will probably be a key component of the scheme,” he added, listing some of the features including a multi-screen cinema complex, mini golf, and a bowling alley.
The scheme will offer retailers soft rents and short-term leases to help make it affordable – but it will be approaching retail differently.
“Retail has been a huge investment opportunity over the last 50 years – that’s no longer going to be the case, so we’re going to focus on small, local retailers,” he said. “This isn’t an investment opportunity, but to draw people in and spend money locally.”
Panel – Partnering up
- Mark McNamee, managing director, Cityheart
- Darren Jones, development director, Nikal
- Richard Laming, senior director, Turley
- Alan Evans, director of regeneration and place at Wigan Council
Mark McNamee started off with his advice for winning public sector contracts. “Having balance sheet strength is really important to the public sector,” he said. “Although, I’m not sure why because the risk in development is with construction.”
Also, he added, you have to have someone on your team who has experience of working with the public sector.
Alan Evans disagreed with councils’ current emphasis on delivery partners’ track records. “We’ve got a regeneration framework ourselves now, so it’s not so much about [developers coming forward with] big ideas – it’s having developers come forward that can play a part in that framework,” he said.
Darren Jones has experience working in both the public and private sectors and said this is invaluable. “It’s very important that you’ve got people on your team who understand both the public and private sectors,” he said. “You need to understand political will: will you be able to start and finish a project if there’s a change in politics?”
But it’s not just the people, it’s the values they hold, according to Richard Laming.
“A few years ago, some things, like social value and commitment to sustainability, could be seen as a tick box exercise, that’s just not the case anymore,” Laming said. “The public sector has duties and responsibilities in relation to those social goods so it’s essential you demonstrate that through your bidding.”
The panel then discussed competitive dialogue. McNamee said there is room for improvement with procurement. The amount of personnel and finance needed to bid on competitive dialogue will put people off, he said.
“We need to think more in terms of a partnering route. Competitive dialogue is not something we take on lightly on schemes,” McNamee said. “The first person that local authorities should procure is the developer because the local authority will then get the expertise of the private sector partner to help with design and planning, and work as partnership right from day one.”
Evans agreed it can be a drawn-out process, but, he said, few local authorities are choosing to go down the competitive dialogue route because it is also too expensive for them.
Panellists also spoke about some of the individual projects they’re working on. Laming shared some of the challenges of Turley’s contract to support Southport Town Deal Board’s £50m submission for a transformation plan.
“We got the contract a couple of days before the first lockdown,” Laming said. “We needed to speak to stakeholders and engage them, we were thinking: ‘How on earth do we engage people using only these virtual tools? How do we ensure all voices and business stakeholders in the town heard?'”
“But we got a fantastic response to the consultations,” he continued. “We drew local people into the process of wanting to use that space in the future.”
“The town hasn’t kept up the pace of development over the last 20, 30 years, but it still manages to attract nine million visitors a year. Our funding case to the Government was ‘we’ve got the raw ingredients and the market to success’, and that helped us unlock £37.5m of funding.”
Jones updated the audience on redevelopment projects in Blackpool. “One issue Blackpool has is that it’s the most visited seaside town in the UK and has more rooms to stay in than the Algarve – but when you go looking around you realise why: it’s full of lots of relatively poor B&Bs.”
Nikal was looking for somewhere to develop a family indoor entertainment centre somewhere in the UK, and realised that, while Blackpool has a lot of tourism based around leisure, it’s mostly outdoors.
“We’ve bought the site from the council but agreed with them on what we’re going to do,” Jones said. “The site had been semi-derelict for over 50 years.”
Because the car park was worth more than the overall site, the first part of the scheme will be to create a multistorey car park. The entire 17-acre project in Blackpool Central is scheduled to complete in the second quarter of 2029.
The presentation slides can be accessed below:
The next Place North West event is in-person on 6 August: Manchester Summer Social. Tickets are currently on sale.
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