A look ahead to UKREiiF

Regenerating towns and cities continues to be a priority - and something that will certainly be top of the agenda at UKREiiF in May. National head of land and development, David Atkinson, discusses the upcoming conference and considers some of its key themes.

Urban regeneration has long been a hot topic as we consider how best to utilise our towns and city centres, and policies, such as Levelling Up, have brought it into sharp focus. Our urban centres offer significant potential – but how we use these spaces has changed, especially post-pandemic. UKREiiF offers the perfect platform for the public and private sectors to come together to unlock the potential of these places.

At last year's event, we started conversations with Torbay Council, which has since seen us appointed, in partnership with Milligan, to support the regeneration of five sites over the next decade, via Pagabo’s developer-led framework. This is a fitting example of how conversations at UKREiiF can open the door to long-term partnerships via recognised frameworks.

Partnership and collaboration key to delivering change

At a time when many public sector bodies are facing financial challenges, collaboration and partnership is more important than ever. We must all think more creatively about placemaking and utilisation of spaces within our towns and cities to ensure they offer vibrant places for people to live, work and spend time. This can take many forms; for example, bringing a mix of residential tenures into urban areas to help them thrive, whilst also broadening diversity in an area’s population.

Exploring diverse ways to make use of vacant spaces within cities for public sector use whilst driving growth is becoming critical. Within the NHS there is a shift towards community diagnostic and treatment centres, which could potentially be housed in spaces left vacant by large department stores – or we might consider how colleges could make use of vacant urban spaces to support local businesses. It is about thinking differently and challenging the status quo when needed.

Our Development Solutions team at Willmott Dixon is at the forefront of delivering regeneration schemes. Gedling Borough Council in Nottinghamshire has been granted £150,000 from the One Public Estate programme to support the development of a plan to regenerate Arnold town centre. We are working closely with them to determine economic viability, deliverability, and future sustainability. We look forward to being able to explain this and similar projects at UKREiiF this year.

Transforming a former House of Fraser store into a mixed-use scheme: a case study

Elsewhere we are working with Surrey Heath Borough Council to transform the former House of Fraser unit in Camberley into a mixed-use scheme offering retail and office space. In doing so we have prevented this key commercial property from lying empty and provided uses that support a vibrant town centre. Our team have been involved from the early stages, exploring funding options and supporting design and planning.

Unlocking regeneration opportunities

We understand that there has been a shift in priority for local authorities when it comes to regeneration, calling for more creative thinking and support to accelerate change. Development regeneration models, which enable the public sector to retain control and deliver best value, have seen a shift from selling land to the highest bidder. Now there is a more futuristic view of placemaking, with long-term stewardship, that supports communities and infrastructure at the same time.

Our team is supporting councils and authorities in better utilising their assets and considering innovative ways to rationalise estates where needed – while delivering against key sustainability targets including net-zero carbon.

UKREiiF is a fantastic platform for the industry to come together to explore how the public and private sector can work together to unlock regeneration within our towns and cities. I’m looking forward to seeing what conversations will start at this year’s event.

To find out more about how our team can support you, please get in touch here.