On 22nd July, Future of London’s Communities in Transition field trip series visited Barking town centre, to hear about the role of civic institutions in supporting regeneration.
Starting at the Barking Enterprise Centre, David Harley, Group Manager, Economic Development and Sustainable Communities at LB Barking & Dagenham, outlined the borough’s strategy to provide housing and improve the town centre (see presentation below).
Housing delivery is a key part of the council’s 2014-18 town centre strategy. Barking & Dagenham’s rate of population growth is the second highest in London, and the council is looking to provide significant amounts of new housing and social infrastructure to support this.
The William Street Quarter, completed in 2014, is an award-winning development of council-built housing. A mixture of maisonettes, denser central blocks, and a residential tower, the scheme provides a mix of tenures across 240 homes. Christian Moore, architect at AHMM, discussed some of the scheme’s design features, including shared surface landscaping and courtyard gardens for the two central blocks.
Jennie Coombs, Regeneration Manager at LBBD, explained how the scheme was funded through an innovative sale-and-leaseback special purpose vehicle with an institutional investor: the housing is owned by Long Harbour and leased back to the council in return for a guaranteed rental income. The council manages the properties, and will assume ownership once the agreement ends.
In 2015, Barking town centre was awarded Housing Zone status. The borough will receive £42m funding to provide up to 6,000 homes. As part of this push, the council hopes to increase the amount of private rented sector homes in the town centre; the institutional PRS development at London Road will be the first of these.
Role of civic institutions
Another important strand of Barking’s town centre strategy is to support cultural activity in the town centre. Civic institutions have provided the focus here, and the public square outside the town hall – designed by muf architecture – is framed by public art (for example, the acclaimed Barking folly) and hosts regular events, including cinema, dance, and the recent Barking Folk Festival.
Investment in the town centre’s civic spaces extends to a new library, technical skills academy, and leisure centre (with a children’s play area designed by Turner prize-nominee Marvin Gaye Chetwynd).
Investment in cultural activities not only contributes to placemaking, but also plays an economic role, encouraging people to spend time in the town centre, especially in evenings. Similarly, locating civic buildings in the town centre gives a boost to the local economy as people spend more time in the area.
Complementing the council’s focus on supporting cultural activity is the Ice House Quarter development by the River Roding. Steve Drury, Development Director at Rooff Property, and Carole Pluckrose, Artistic Director at The Boathouse CIC arts venue, spoke about providing spaces and studios for arts organisations and creative businesses in the context of rising property values.
While property values are lower in Barking than in nearby Stratford, ever-rising prices present a challenge to providing affordable workspace for artists and creative professionals. The Boathouse is looking at ways to cross-subsidise affordable studio space by also targeting SMEs and providing office space, as well organising entertainment to bring in people from new housing developments nearby.
With housing numbers in Barking town centre set to increase by around 6,000 between 2011-25 – and with 11,000 new homes in nearby Barking Riverside – there is a strong need to provide social infrastructure to support this growth. By investing in centrally-located civic institutions and ‘soft’ cultural programmes, the council is encouraging new residents to spend time in the local area and support the local economy.
David Harley’s presentation: