This article appears in the lookwest magazine distributed at MIPIM 2008, and is available for download in pdf format here.
Brent is well known for its championing of the development both of the new Wembley Stadium, and of the Opportunity Area around it. Much of the development in Brent recently has been concentrated in this location, but the Borough has big ideas about some of its less trodden pathways. While Wembley remains a strong driver in Brent’s regeneration programs, the ‘growth area strategy’ now extends to include South Kilburn, Church End, Alperton and Burnt Oak/Colindale, which offers significant opportunity for developers and investors.
Through the Arch
In the shadows of Wembley is Alperton, loosely bound by the North Circular Road in the South and Ealing Road in the North. The area is mainly housing and industrial estates, accessed from residential streets. Poor roads, parking and high traffic volumes lead to perpetual congestion – on the face of it, not an ideal development location!
Despite this, there is great potential. A number of under-utilised features could help to rejuvenate Alperton. Ealing Road offers a vibrant and unique shopping strip specialising in Asian Food, fashion and music. The stunning new Shri Sanatan Hindu temple can provide an important cultural focus for the area.
Just to the south lies Park Royal, London’s manufacturing heart. Its business and industry provides a superb source of employment. The Grand Union Canal – the UK’s longest inland waterway – is an attractive and under-utilised environmental feature, which could be the inspiration for a new community identity. It also provides a natural link to the new regeneration area focused around the North Circular Road.
A New Alperton
The opportunity is to make Alperton – “a place that puts its hidden gems at the heart of a clearly definable place”, says Andrew Donald, Head of Regeneration at Brent Council. In this new vision, Alperton is a place where community life is focused around Ealing Road and the Grand Union canal.
The Hidden Waterfront
The canal is perhaps Alperton’s greatest asset. For much of its length it is bounded by under-used and semi-derelict industrial buildings. The suburban residential properties that do line the waterway are orientated away from the canal. At the western extremity, new canal-side residential development takes advantage of the waterfront location, showing market potential for the rest.
This location is ideally suited to mixed-use development. Brent wants to open the canal to local residents by upgrading the canal side walkways. This should produce demand for cafés, which in turn would encourage greater use. The environment is well suited to new development which mixes residential spaces with accommodation for small businesses. There is also scope for more imaginative landscaping, like the introduction of marinas.
Balancing Accommodation and Employment
Much of Alperton is employment land which is currently under-utilised and often only accessible via residential streets. This leads to congestion, conflict and environmental degradation. Brent wants to provide a more distinct separation between residential and employment uses in order to improve environmental quality and alleviate traffic congestion. Light industrial applications will be concentrated within the Park Royal Industrial Estate and Northfield Industrial area, but those more friendly to residential development – such
as creative industry accommodation – will be encouraged along the waterfront areas.
There is a real opportunity to introduce residential development along much of the canal. Brent is committed to working towards the provision of the infrastructure this development would require.
The Road to Opportunity
The six lane North Circular Road slices Brent in two – dividing the suburban communities in the North from the inner-city environment found in the South. It provides a formidable barrier for local residents.
As London’s growth fuels increased traffic flow through the area – 100,000 vehicles pass through the area each day – environmental and health concerns are rising. But the presence of this wide arterial route provides significant development opportunities.
Housing and Community Profile
The presence of affluent gentrified areas show a market attraction that could be utilised to improve quality of life for all. Steps towards positive social and economic change have already been undertaken by a well-established and successful neighbourhood regeneration team, working closely with the local community.
A Place for Ambition
Imagination and ambition is required to build a new North Circular area. Market forces alone are unlikely to deliver the scale of regeneration required to make a step change. Intervention and input from public and private sector will be needed to make a distinct and sustainable impact.
Brent’s mission is to change the newly designated North Circular Regeneration Area from a drive-through to a pit-stop. Brent aims to use the area’s attractions – IKEA, the culturally significant Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, The Ace Café, Welsh Harp and Wembley Stadium. This ambitious programme seeks to transform this stretch of the North Circular Road into “the greenest highway in London” by emphasising the green building credentials of the areas adjacent to the highway. By doing this, Brent aims not just to manage environmental issues but create innovative ways to resolve them.
Rise to the Challenge
Brent’s ambitious proposal revolves around a number of projects that could, step-by-step, overcome the challenges of fragmented land ownership, low development values and poor transport links. Transport is key, and Brent are working with Transport for London to make improvements a priority, and to improve links and interchanges. Brent is also developing a radical open space policy. This aims to link communities to existing and potential new open spaces. Specifically, Brent wishes to find partners to help them realise particular developments:
• Mixed-use development scheme at Unisys/Bride Park site.
• Development redefining the Northfields Industrial Estate, linking this regeneration area into the proposed new one in Alperton.
• Transformation of the Brentfield Estate, ending the acceptability of having properties directly fronting the North Circular Road
The Wembley Example
The scale and pace of change in Wembley over the last few years has been breathtaking. With the stadium complete and the Arena refurbished, the area is being reinvigorated by performance. Wembley’s three tube and rail stations have been dramatically improved. The new White Horse Bridge and Arena Square, set an impressive blueprint for the remainder of the regeneration. There remain opportunities in Wembley with large areas still available for development in the Northern and Eastern areas.
Through this ambitious regeneration programme, Brent Council has distinguished itself through it’s ability to work in partnership with all parties and think flexibly about the extent and impact of the regeneration area. It has consistently invested resources into driving regeneration programs, focused on enhancing public transport and assisted in securing funding packages. Brent’s proactive and pragmatic approach to the Wembley Regeneration Area demonstrates how it intends to tackle the delivery of its other regeneration projects.