Our towns and cities hold the key to unlocking economic growth post-Covid-19 and helping people and businesses to thrive again.
But if we are to build back better, we need to see bold action from the public and private sectors, investing in the transformation of the UK’s town centres and creating opportunities for local people.
Over the last 10 months, we have all watched how local communities have been changing as a result of the pandemic – from homeworking to the huge impact on hospitality businesses and the further rise of online shopping.
What people want and need from their urban centres will continue to shift, and town centres must respond to these new challenges. Otherwise, rigid and outdated spaces will stifle economic recovery and there will be no clear or quick path out of the crisis.
In the three decades that Mace has been developing and building new and affordable housing in London and the regions, I have never seen a more urgent need for new homes, spaces and places to improve the lives of millions of people than there is today.
I see a critical need for towns to deliver regeneration that creates more sustainable places and offers more jobs and opportunities for local residents.
This is why in Stevenage, we are very proud to have received the council’s planning approval in recent weeks to change the town centre with a landmark regeneration project (pictured).
We call this transformational plan SG1 and it will bring new homes and commercial, retail and community spaces to a town that – like the rest of the UK – is working hard to recover from the most severe economic crisis it has seen in a generation.
We’ve been talking a great deal about shovel-ready projects as part of the country’s recovery plans. I believe it is more important for us to focus on ‘shovel-worthy’ developments – projects that can demonstrate from the outset how they are improving people’s lives today and in 10 years’ time. In a truly shovel-worthy project, the ‘how we build’ is as important as ‘what we build’.
As both a developer and contractor, we believe that ‘building better’ is the key to a sustainable future. Using modern methods of construction, new homes and places can now be delivered faster and more efficiently in a less carbon-intensive way.
Stevenage should serve as a blueprint for town centre regeneration for the future – greener, faster, digitally connected and with social value placed at the heart of the investment proposal from design through to delivery and whole life performance.
Our plans in Stevenage will deliver developments centred around new green settings. We are creating a town centre public park and adding a landscaped Garden Square at its heart. All this will contribute to the health, wellbeing and attractiveness of the town for living, working and visiting.
It is now clear that we may never return to ‘normal’, and our town centres and cities must recognise that. We must begin planning for a different future. People in communities across the UK will need to feel safe to return to shopping, socialising, walking, travelling to and from and spending their time in their town centre.
We may never return to ‘normal’ and our town centres and cities must recognise that
That means that local government, developers and investors must be brave and be prepared to think differently and work together to create outcomes that benefit everyone. Unlocking growth in the UK and levelling up our towns is critical to our long-term success as a country.
Town centres can be enablers of this future prosperity. The investment, design and development decisions made today will set the trajectory for a decade of recovery.
I hope – and believe – that our plans to transform Stevenage will see a change in the way we deliver town centre regeneration across the country.
Mark Reynolds is group chief executive of Mace