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Warning on the risk of failure in flagship brownfield regeneration projects

Friday 31 March 2006

The Government and property developers are being warned that high profile brownfield redevelopment projects in the Thames Gateway and Greater Manchester are failing to create sustainable communities.

The warning comes from Professor Tim Dixon of the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD) at Oxford Brookes University. Professor Dixon is leading a research programme in 'flagship' brownfield regeneration projects including Barking Riverside in Thames Gateway and New Islington, Manchester.

Professor Dixon says:

Despite the evidence of a number of successful schemes on some sites in Thames Gateway and Greater Manchester, our research shows there is a danger that we are creating transient communities, where residents commute long distances to work, and may end up only staying in the area for a short period.

'There is clear evidence that lack of infrastructure such as transport, schools and health facilities may hinder successful redevelopment and there is an overemphasis on flats at the expense of family-friendly housing.'

In the Thames Gateway, the researchers say, major housing schemes currently in the pipeline have not yet been fully supported by a commitment to provide the new infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, utilities and community facilities that they will need to be truly sustainable. In both areas, they conclude, there is a clear need for government and related agencies to make sure that infrastructure is in place before development goes ahead, if they are to be successful.

They further concluded that there is an overemphasis on building flats in both areas. In Greater Manchester they say, there is a danger that regeneration areas become victims of their own success with local people priced out of the market because the drive to higher densities means 'apartment living' dominates, and there is not enough affordable housing. This means that families may continue to be forced out to the suburbs from the city centre, which local councils are trying to regenerate.

On governance, the researchers identified excessive bureaucracy and failings in the planning system. There is, they argue, a need for simplified and streamlined governance in the Thames Gateway, with clearer designation of responsibilities at national, regional and local levels. Although this is less of a problem in Greater Manchester, less complex decision-making is also needed there. Without such streamlining a lack of 'joining up' at national, regional and sub-regional level will continue to create tensions.

The research also examined environmental issues including land contamination and the construction and design of the buildings. Innovative solutions such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP), they argue, could play a real role in helping develop new energy systems, but policy and regulation need to be streamlined to encourage their development and use, alongside emphasising the benefits of CHP, energy saving and sustainable construction for the residents.

Says Professor Dixon:

'It's clear that the projects developers are engaging with today are complex, have long lifecycles, and involve peoples' homes, jobs and future lives. The research suggests that the most successful schemes balance economic, environmental and social impacts. The challenge will be to incorporate innovative and sustainable products and designs throughout the brownfield lifecycle from cleanup through to development and construction if they are to provide truly sustainable communities.'

This research, which is the latest output from the two and a half year EPSRC-funded programme based at OISD, focuses on six case study sites, including Barking Riverside in Thames Gateway, and New Islington, Manchester. Some 54 face-to-face, structured interviews were carried out with key stakeholders in the two areas, including developers, regeneration specialists, community groups and local authorities The full report, 'The Role of the UK Development Industry in Brownfield Regeneration' (Volume 3) is available from the OISD website www.brookes.ac.uk/schools/oisd

ENDS

For more information contact: Dave Penney, Public Relations, Oxford Brookes University, 01865 484453

Notes to editors:

Oxford Brookes University is a leading modern university with a reputation for innovation, high quality education and research and strong links to industry. It currently has just over 18,000 students, including those who are UK-based open/distance learners, on UK franchised courses or part-time.

The Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD) - one of two new flagship Research Institutes for Oxford Brookes University - was established in July 2004. It provides the framework for a new approach and new impetus to research activities and aims to raise the profile of sustainable development research, by developing concepts, informing policy making, contributing to enhanced stakeholder participation, and developing innovative approaches. OISD has a commitment to turning sustainable development ideas into reality. The focus is primarily, but not solely, on the built environment, and on the multiple dimensions of sustainable development (social, economic, environmental and governance) and on the synergies between them. Making a contribution to sustainable communities and quality of life is an important objective for OISD and for all its research groups.

The research is part of a larger funded programme of research undertaken by the SUBR:IM (Sustainable Urban Brownfield Regeneration: Integrated Management) consortium. Finding solutions to the problems of developing brownfield land is the goal of SUBR:IM. Funded by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Science Research Council) under its Sustainable Urban Environments initiative, SUBR:IM is a four-year programme, which draws together ten major academic and research institutions in a programme designed to improve the quality of urban environments. The SUBR:IM website is at www.subrim.org.uk. The Consortium aims to develop technical solutions and tools for restoring brownfield land in urban areas, whilst at the same time increasing the knowledge base of all stakeholders involved in such development. This includes investors, developers, planning bodies and local authorities, but also the general public and engineers who work with such problems. The research at OISD, Oxford Brookes University is funded by EPSRC under grant number GR/S148809/01) with further support from RICS Research Foundation.

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