I’ve had an active role in the regeneration of a former munitions manufacturing site near Glasgow since 1999, when the site owners BAE Systems decided to end manufacturing at the site. The site is one of the largest brownfield sites in the UK, extending to a massive 900 hectares (2,300 acres). Put another way, it measures about about 3 miles from north to south. The munitions operation employed up to 20,000 people at its peak in the mid 20th century.
The focus of this webpage is the exhibition and website that was commissioned by BAE Systems and Redrow in 2006 to accompany the submission of their outline planning application for the regeneration of the site, developed with colleagues at Cass Associates. The proposals in that application included approximately doubling the size of the existing village over 20 years, providing new houses and jobs, together with remediation of the site and the creation of a Community Woodland Park over the majority of the site. (You can find out more about the proposals from the project website.)
The clients were keen to provide the local community with as much information as possible on their proposals, so that residents could make informed responses to the Council about the outline planning application. This was no easy task: an outline planning application for 2,300 new homes, a business park, a community woodland park and remediation of a former munitions factory is, as you can imagine, pretty complicated. All sorts of technical submissions were required to accompany the planning application – Environment Statement for the EIA, Flood Risk Assessment, Masterplan Statement, Transport Assessment, Foul Drainage Strategy, Public Consultation Statement, Community Woodland Park Management Plan… you can see a full list on the Council’s website.
One thing was clear to us. Our key goal had to be simplicity – distilling out the key messages, and ensuring that they were communicated effectively to local residents who had widely varying levels of knowledge and expertise. At the same time, we wanted people to understand that the proposals represented a responsible approach to the challenge of regenerating a site in the absence of any financial subsidy from the government.
The decision was taken to arrange a combination of a 2 day drop-in exhibition in a busy community venue, manned throughout by senior project staff (both clients and consultants) who would be on hand to answer questions and discuss issues. This was accompanied by the launch of a website containing all the display information from the exhibition, the aim being to provide a permanent online archive. The exhibition and website were extensively advertised through door-to-door leafleting, local press adverts and posters in local shops and community facilities.
(I should explain that this was a feedback event – consultation events had already been held the previous year to gain community input to the masterplanning process.)
Balance and choice
The sheer scale of the proposals meant that the regeneration had the potential to deliver many benefits for the local community – from greater housing choice to new jobs, a new health centre and new recreational facilities. One of our key challenges in preparing the exhibition and website was conveying the message that there would be a finite limit to these benefits, as ultimately the development had to balance and be viable. We decided that there was no point in disguising that simple reality: it was better that people understand this reality, so that they could make informed choices about what benefits they would like to see in their local community.
This approach reflects the very latest government guidance: Urban Design Compendium 2, produced by English Partnerships and CABE states ‘When a community gains a better understanding of the options that are realistically available, it can be constructive in shaping proposals.’
So both the exhibition and website were quite clear that BAE Systems and Redrow wanted to remediate the site so that it could be used for other purposes. The central principle was to use income from development to pay for remediating land affected by contamination. But this must be financially viable, otherwise remediation of the site cannot take place. The income from development also has to pay for new infrastructure like new roads, bridges, sewers and power supplies, increasing school capacity, open space for the local community and many other things. The more costs there are, the more income is needed. (These sentences are taken directly from the exhibition boards.)
We believed it was fundamental that everybody understood that basic premise. Without stating such clarity of purpose, confusion would have been inevitable. It is surprising how often that happens.
The exhibition and website
The exhibition was bustling with people. Equally significant was how long those attending spent at the exhibition, absorbing information and discussing the pros and cons of the proposals with project staff and with each other. Obviously there was controversy: it would be unnatural for there not to be controversy with proposals for change on this scale. For me, the important thing was the level of interest and debate fostered by the exhibition – that was its real purpose.
Since that exhibition in May 2006, further detailed planning applications have been submitted. A further staffed exhibition was held in September 2006 to coincide with the submission of the three largest applications; this has been retained as an un-staffed exhibition at the project site. All of the exhibitions are available to view on the dedicated website, which continues to attract a steady stream of visitors.
None of the planning applications, outline or detailed, have yet been determined: when this happens, it is likely that we will enter a new phase of publicity and information.
You can see the display material from each exhibition at BAE Systems’ and Redrow’s project website. The main exhibition referred to, relating to the outline planning application, can be downloaded as a PDF here.