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No Clean Slate – shaping the place that’s already there

‘Always meanwhile’, ‘test and learn’, ‘warmability’, and ‘room for messiness’ – just a few of the buzz words from our No Clean Slate panel discussion at UKREiiF.


The upbeat session explored how we can find the balance between regeneration and protecting the character of the places we work and live in. This issue was set up against the context of a world where doing more with less is increasingly important, and the special opportunity of resolving this at the neighbourhood scale.

Partner & Urban Design sector lead Darryl Chen entertainingly chaired an expert panel comprising: Samantha Veal (Igloo Regeneration); Laura Percy, (Landsec U + I); Emma Hatch(Places for London); Matt Sampson, (The Crown Estate), and Alex Hearn, (Bristol City Council).

Matt Sampson started off defining the ingredients of a great development site. For the Crown Estate, a great site has the opportunity to meet a genuine local and preferably national need and for Matt personally the opportunity to ‘have a bit of fun’ where “it excites you and the team to deliver something really interesting – what the Quality of Life Foundation might call the ‘wonder of a place’ – as well as letting a site evolve over time, to leave room for messiness.”

It’s about having the opportunity to connect and engage with communities so that they are very much at the heart of what we are doing.

Alex Hearn concurred on impacts for people and their experience of place: “In a world where nobody really needs to go into town any more, you’ve got to persuade them that they want to, and then that will lead to a great development.”

Laura Percy said that it’s no longer enough to think about just creating value for shareholders: “It’s about working with nature and for the planet as well. That’s why we put in a six and a half acre park first at Mayfield, opened up the river, and brought biodiversity and nature back to the site. And now we’re going to see the development of the homes and the offices, places for people to play, to live, to come and bring their kids to in a part of the city that was long forgotten, derelict, had been empty for 40 years”

Sampson says that the Crown Estate are trying to bring forward new development models through a ‘test and learn’ process, with three residential pilot projects.

‘We’re trying to challenge the norms and question what really achieves quality and financial success. We want to learn with others, and prove the concept that investing in quality, investing in character, investing in place does really generate this placemaking premium.”

Turning to the character of a site and whose version of history and character you choose to preserve, Alex Hearn said that Bristol is a bold, brash, messy, anarchic place which has a clear set of priorities.

To me, it’s less important to preserve a defunct 1940s department store than solve our crippling housing shortage and look after the 1600 families living in temporary accommodation.

Talk turned to how to deal with local stakeholder and community fatigue for any site where projects have failed to materialise, and the importance of engaging with new people, to not just preserve existing character but to create quality character of the future.

Laura Percy recounted using gaming tools to engage with a new audience in Lewisham: “Our designers decided to embed the masterplan for Lewisham into [the game platform] Fortnite as a way of engaging. We had a 98% positive response and met 20,000 people over the weekend that just came to just engage in a completely different way which led to a completely different conversation.”

Emma Hatch championed the principle of ‘always meanwhile’ while working with existing assets, to get people in as much as possible to build trust and rapport – a concept of ‘warmability’: “We typically work in joint ventures and have joint venture boards. Through our engagement programmes with schools, we invited some of the local kids to shadow a board to provide challenges and ideas. Some of the suggestions they came up with were much better than those of the commercial agents – they really resonated. What other ways can you hear different voices?”



The panel proved the point that knotty, complicated sites often yield extraordinary results because of the constraints placed on them, their inherent character, and the ambitions of forward-looking clients and their communities.

Respecting what’s survived on a site shouldn’t result in creating static monuments to a particular version of history. We ought to be making rich ‘future context’ that creates a continuity between what is to come and what has been. Often it’s about seeing opportunities out of legacy structures, infrastructure, site geometries, and social histories. It challenges current development models, but the sooner the better to shift mindsets from ‘minimising the abnormals’ to ‘maximising the novel’.

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