Why PRD focuses on regenerative urban renewal

A group of people stand outside an office entrance with the letters PRD on the door

Our newest member works with organisations who want long-term impact from regeneration. Find out how they use data and in-depth community engagement to get under the skin of a place.

Three-quarters of PRD’s clients are public-sector organisations that come to them with varied goals. But these clients do have a couple things in common – less money but a greater desire to see impact from the money they do spend.

PRD, which has just joined Future of London, is an SME consultancy specialising in place-based strategies with a focus on sustainable local economies. They meet the expectations of clients in financially pressured times by starting with existing assets and focusing on the major challenges in a holistic way.

An example of the PRD approach is a recent project for the London Borough of Waltham Forest to support the development of a new housing strategy.

The council set up a housing commission chaired by Geeta Nanda of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing Association. PRD provided research input, including in-depth engagement with local residents, which ultimately led to them being asked to write the housing strategy for the whole borough.

The resulting document is called Good Homes as the Foundation for a Happy and Healthy Life. The title neatly sums up the purpose and intended outcomes of the strategy.

“Looking at the data and listening to residents, we could see that lack of access to housing was a public health issue as much as an economic issue,” says PRD director Chris Paddock.

PRD focuses on “regenerative” urban renewal

Although PRD stands for Partnering Regeneration Development, “regenerative” is a word that comes up several times. In a blog post called Making Regeneration Regenerative, PRD explores the nuanced differences between the two words.

“‘Regeneration’ is a bit of a catch-all concept that we’ve used for the last 20 years to talk about urban renewal,” says Chris, “Whereas ‘regenerative’ describes a much deeper process of respecting communities. It’s about being more conscious of social impact and thinking about the impact on the planet.”

PRD co-founder Martin Woodhouse continues: “At UKREiif, people talk about regeneration because lots of social house builders use that term. It feels like a more physical thing to me.

“The regenerative approach is not just about more buildings or updating buildings, but a much broader way of thinking about the function and the systems that support those communities.”

A group of people standing on a concrete bridge between two tower blocks, with the words "I love you, will you marry me" spelled out on the side of the bridge
Team PRD on a visit to Sheffield

How retrofit supports a regenerative urban renewal  

The blog argues that focusing on a building’s current use means that unnecessary demolitions can become inevitable, whereas a “regenerative” approach is more about the evolution of places rather than abrupt change.

“Retrofit goes back to the regenerative idea of how we can make better use of the things that are already there without creating additional pressures, both environmentally and socially,” says associate director Carolina Eboli, PRD’s sustainability expert.

“In our place-based work, we push for  better efficiency of existing and new buildings, thinking about their carbon footprint and opportunities for circularity. We’ve also been looking at local carbon credits. A lot of these things create the impact that you need.”

Martin and Daniel Partridge founded PRD in 2013 after they worked together on regeneration projects at UK infrastructure company, John Laing.

“The whole idea of the business was better outcomes for communities through development,” says Martin. “We felt that investment or development wasn’t serving the needs of communities.

“Dan and I worked in lots of public private partnerships. We could see first-hand the benefit of engaging with the community, rather than just pushing something through the planning system.”

Understanding how places can evolve

PRD’s roots are in property and development – Martin is a chartered surveyor – but their determination to understand communities has led to developing expertise in qualitative and quantitative research, local economies and community engagement.

“We gather data from speaking to people and market data to get under the skin of what is going on somewhere. You can drive a much better strategy for delivery through a fundamental understanding of what’s going on in a place.

“We built a team that looks at different angles,” says Martin. “For example, Carolina thinks about net zero and the circular economy. And we have people who think about the night-time economy or cultural identity of place.”

Developing meaningful social value measures

The emphasis on socio-economic benefits and gathering hard evidence combined in a recent project for London Borough of Barnet and Related Argent. They jointly commissioned a social value framework to measure the impact of the £8bn Brent Cross Town development.

“We have shown the value of doing deeper research and getting beyond the handle-turning approach to social value, where you just count a load of things,” says Chris. “We try to get away from just doing social value measurement in the way that’s defined by the market at the moment.”

Chris mentions Future of London’s recent work on social value legacy and being a “good ancestor”. Our report chimes with PRD’s emphasis on longitudinal research to assess the social impact of projects over time.

So what were the reasons for joining? PRD has previously been involved in Future of London events and reports, like Creating social value from better use of public assets in 2021, and staff have been part of the Future London Leaders mentoring programme. They also collaborate on projects with other Future of London members such as We Made That.

“We like the diversity of the membership, from across the public and private sector, and it’s a great forum to discuss the challenges and opportunities in London,” says Martin.

Why London needs collaboration more than ever

Chris also believes the need for collaboration and pan-London thinking is greater than ever, with major challenges including environmental sustainability.

“London’s had 30 years of being the sort of pre-eminent global city, and you can’t really take that for granted anymore,” he says. “You have the emergence of new economies around the world becoming more powerful, so London needs to adapt.

“It’s also increasingly unequal, so London needs to retain its competitiveness as a global city while dealing with these challenges.

“That said, there is lots of good practice in London. When we brought a group from the Netherlands to see Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, they were knocked out at how big the investment was, how quickly it’s happened and how conscious partners are of their context. So, there are reasons for being optimistic – and being optimistic is something that Future of London has always done very well.”

Find out more about PRD including insightful write-ups of some of its recent projects here.