As Lancaster grows, maintaining its unique identity will become more crucial than ever, writes Gillian Harrison of Levitt Bernstein.
Lancaster packs a lot of punch for a smallish city: tucked away between Morecambe Bay and no less than four AONBs or National Parks; and with a historic centre featuring a 1,000-year-old castle, winding cobbled streets, and some truly excellent pubs, restaurants, and coffee roasters. Growing up, it felt like a fairly small place. But Lancaster is only the 31st smallest city in the UK, home to more people than Cambridge or Gloucester.
More recently, Lancaster has become synonymous in development circles with student housing. The ongoing success of Lancaster University is a huge feather in the city’s cap and has led to a renewed feeling of ambition. As an architect, I’m thrilled to see such high-quality buildings appearing on the campus, with fantastic schemes by John McAslan and Hawkins\Brown soon to be added.
With a thriving university will come greater employment opportunities and a growing economy that demands more housing choice and should demand better housing quality. Wrapping around the university campus is the proposed site for Bailrigg Garden Village, that could see 3,000 new homes built over the next decade. Lancaster needs to aim high and deliver an extension to the city that exemplifies the principles of placemaking.
I have heard discussion of leaders wanting “something like Poundbury”, a phrase that sends shivers down a contemporary architect’s spine. I implore Lancaster’s commissioners and designers to look to recent exemplar city extensions like those at Great Kneighton and Eddington in Cambridge to see what can be achieved. The focus should be on creating a new sense of place without losing the variety of quality architecture that makes our historic urban fabric so special.
Looking further afield to neighbouring Morecambe, there’s perhaps the most exciting prospect for the whole region: Eden Project North. Morecambe is the epitome of the English seaside town fallen on hard times since the arrival of package holidays.
And yet as a gateway to the Lakes and with the breath-taking Morecambe Bay, the town has always had a lot to offer. In recent years things have started to improve: Urban Splash reinstated the Midland Hotel to its former glory, the Winter Gardens are gradually and painstakingly being restored, and Placefirst’s refurbishment of terraced streets in the town’s West End has seen new demand for homes in the area.
Eden Project North would be an enormous boost; a world-class visitor attraction designed by one of our greatest living architects in a spectacular location – cementing the growing regional reputation for outstanding design.