Pat Lewis, Assistant Director for Regeneration at Stevenage Borough Council, shares his perspective on the true value of urban regeneration today and upcoming plans for Stevenage.
Stevenage occupies a unique place in British social history. As the first of the post-war New Towns, in 1946 it set down the blueprint for modern urban living in the UK. It was built to be a utopia, a place where normal people could have great lives.
The opportunity is emerging to reimagine Stevenage in a modern setting against the initial vision of a place where “a new type of citizen, a healthy, self-respecting person with a sense of beauty, culture and civic pride” would be created.
The ambitious regeneration programme has the potential to once again place Stevenage at the heart of modern urban development in the UK and beyond.
This offers a real opportunity to reinvigorate the town and will provide a catalyst to produce significant benefits, far beyond physical regeneration, for all living, working, visiting or investing in the town.
As a place to do business Stevenage contains some of the greatest companies in the world, and most people probably don’t even know it! It is home to the headquarters of huge multinationals; GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) produces life-saving drugs that are distributed across all continents, and Airbus are responsible for building a quarter of the world’s satellites, and the Mars Rover. Stevenage truly is an innovative, progressive, and ambitious place that is already helping businesses to change the world.
Like other places, the town itself does need some uplifting. Its buildings look a little tired, and many shops appear unloved. Furthermore, the town centre isn’t attracting the evening economy it once did, which makes the environs feel uninviting at night; although in reality this is far from the case. Stevenage Town’s high street is by no means broken, but the ambition is for Stevenage to be the exciting destination town it once was, and we are committed to regenerating it back to its former glory and making it even better.
Much of our vision is for the restoration of most of the original town centre to its 1960s ‘cool’. We are planning many new buildings, whilst ensuring there won’t be any unsightly juxtaposition between the old and new, and our design approach incorporates and pays homage to our original 1960s architecture.
We want the town to reclaim its status of days gone by. Stevenage Town of the 1950s embraced modernism and became a place where the arts and culture flourished, and to which famous artists and sculptors flocked. Back in the 1960s, The Rolling Stones played in Stevenage and a Henry Moore sculpture was commissioned for the town. Stevenage was the place where people could live great lives, and we have that same vision for today’s and tomorrow’s citizens.
Our key role as a local authority is to kick start the regeneration journey based on active place-making objectives. The clear social justice objectives of the early post-war New Town planners underpin our urban planning for tomorrow’s Stevenage.
We are planning an initial programme of at least ten years for the first major phases, with potential to continue work for a further ten years. It will be crucial for us to work together with private sector developers and embed a range of schemes, so we generate public interest and excitement early on and establish momentum.
We are already working on restoring our main town square to its former Mondrian-inspired glory. The authority has also been renewing the public realm in three other of the town’s squares.
In May of this year, we appointed Mace as the developer of SG1, a 6.8 hectare site in the centre of the town. They will create over 1,200 homes, 50,000 square feet of leisure facilities, and 100,000 square feet of office space. Part of the approach is to create an evening economy around a new garden square with a public sector hub, which incorporates: health services, the voluntary sector and a library.
Part of the main retail street, Queensway, is to be revitalized through a £50m investment, which includes restoration of the main shopping street, with new retail, a gym, offices, and over 100 homes. The aim for this is to start on-site in January 2019.
We know from experience, that when the private sector gets on board and recognises the full potential regeneration has to offer, it will drive it forward, helping us to work to secure our broader social and economic aims.
For us at Stevenage Borough Council, the time is right – we recognise that transforming Stevenage Town will deliver a range of social benefits and real economic opportunity for the local residents and businesses. Elsewhere in Stevenage we have built new council properties, which includes 162 council homes across the borough, with upward of 300 additional homes planned over the next three years.
We want Stevenage and its town to be an exciting place to live, work, relax, and socialise; a place where people think about their future, are genuinely proud of the town and feel part of its fabric and identity.
You can download a presentation exploring Stevenage Borough Council's regeneration scheme by clicking here.