A 19 hectare brownfield site in the heart of West London, and a client with ambitious aspirations for an exemplar development: this kind of opportunity doesn’t come up very often.
This study for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in Kensal did indeed have lofty ambitions. The brief was to assess the feasibility of delivering radical and transformational development on this site lying astride the main Great Western railway line at Ladbroke Grove. With commendable vision, the Borough had spotted the potential not only to create an exemplar ecological development – ideally zero carbon – but also for a connected and vibrant urban hub with a transformational impact spreading well beyond the site boundaries, helping to regenerate the whole of the north of the Borough. But achieving such a transformation would rely on a radically different approach from simply letting the property market take its course – even when the economy regains strength.
Kevin Murray Associates (the team I was part of) won the commission in the teeth of strong competition, backed by an impeccable team of urban designers (Willie Miller Urban Design), transport engineers (Alan Baxter Associates), sustainability engineers (Battle McCarthy), property market consultants (Colliers CRE) and cost consultants (Gardiner and Theobald). The aim if this multi-disciplinary team was to ensure that we could intelligently and accurately consider the site from all perspectives – urban design, sustainability, costs and returns – to give the client considered advice on development potential.
a collaborative approach
Rather than impose our own development ideas on the client, we chose to run the project collaboratively, seeking out the aspirations of the various public and private stakeholders. Our intention was to work with these key stakeholders – public sector officials, Councillors and key landowners – to develop and test different development scenarios. Using collaborative workshop techniques, we generated a series of different development scenarios from 1,200 residential units and 7,000sq.m of commercial floorspace right up to a big institutional user with half a million square metres of floorspace built across the railway. There were eight scenarios in all, each positing different levels and types of development.
We then tested and further developed these scenarios, not least to identify the risks attached to each scenario. These risk included:
Property market and costs/returns
Placemaking and liveability
Local infrastructure and carrying capacity
Delivery of a Crossrail station
Our work identified three key decision areas which need to be considered to secure the more ambitious proposals of the area becoming a major destination (that is, the level of development anticipated in the more ambitious scenarios):
The long term strategic aspiration for the role of the location – whether to play a wider socioeconomic role in West London and beyond, or focus on the more immediate neighbourhoods at the Borough scale.
Whether there is a prospect of securing a Crossrail station in the medium term, which is closely linked to the first decision area, but not necessarily resolved immediately.
Whether the various landowners are willing to act in concert with the Council to promote the more ambitious development options.
We also identified a number of other associated factors. None of these are insignificant challenges, and each requires boldness and commitment:
Securing the optimum solution in terms of the different scenarios’ environmental sustainability.
Achieving wider regeneration benefits beyond the immediate locality.
Ensuring that the carrying capacity of the local area (particularly infrastructure and facilities) can accommodate the quantum of development associated with each scenario.
Producing an economically viable approach that contributes to the public realm and well-being.
Ensuring that placemaking and liveability are of the highest order, particularly for the more intensively developed scenarios.
The outcomes of the study were two-fold. Firstly, our recommendation – which you can read in our final overview report below – that there is scope in the long term to proceed with a medium level scenarios, subject to further feasibility testing and discussion with stakeholders.
The second outcome of the work is less obvious, but no less significant. The collaborative approach should, ultimately, prove just as significant in building the support and consensus amongst stakeholders that is so necessary for the project to take off.