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Do regeneration projects need to consider their cultural responsibilities?

In the last few months, Property Investor Today has run a series on London’s largest regeneration projects, many of which include new cultural spaces such as art galleries and cinemas.

But Legal & General, a major player in the burgeoning Build to Rent sector, has now called for cultural venues – and in particular live music venues – to be factored in when regeneration schemes are being designed.

The new report, carried out by Sound Diplomacy and commissioned by Legal & General, urges planning reforms to encourage architects, property developers and local planners to consider their cultural responsibilities and build more mixed-use schemes like the amenity-led scheme in Granary Square, King’s Cross, which offers frequent events and has been successful in ‘creating a strong community culture’.

Culture vulture hotbeds likely to appeal to investors

The authors of the report, Sound Diplomacy – a consultancy which has advised the mayors of London, New York and Barcelona on cultural policy and the night-time economy – believe that mapping out music businesses, creating more mixed-use developments and undertaking more meaningful community engagement could help architects and planners create thriving cultural destinations as well as reverse the massive decline of music venues. (Although live music contributes £1 billion to the economy, over a third of UK music venues have closed since 2008).

Legal & General, which has invested more than £22 billion in direct investments such as homes, urban regeneration, clean energy and small business finance and says it will continue to invest billions into improving our future cities, argues that the time is right to start a conversation about how we value less tangible treasures such as music and culture and their impact on communities.

It’s certainly the case that investors are far more likely to invest in an area that is popular, well-visited and in-demand among students and young professionals, and cultural and music venues play a big part in increasing a town or city’s appeal.

According to charity group Music Venue Trust, iconic gig venues like The Harley in Sheffield, The Maze in Nottingham, the Victoria Inn in Derby and Soho’s The Borderline, where the likes of Blondie and Oasis have played, have all closed their doors this year. 

“It’s easy to think about investment in terms of pounds and pence, but when you look at any city across the world, places will either thrive or not depending on the cultural or sporting legacies that underpin them,” John Cummins, managing director of Future Cities, Legal & General Capital, said.

“We of course need jobs and great housing, but we also need places to enjoy your life. It is all of these things together that will make our future cities better.”

Do regeneration projects need to consider their cultural responsibilities?

What does the report suggest?

The report, titled ‘This Must Be The Place’, warns that music and culture are currently not high priorities when planning decisions are made, potentially eroding the cultural fabric and heritage of UK cities.

The report says this narrow thinking isn’t just reducing live music, but also the potential for study, recreation and community uses - all of which can help educate communities and reduce crime.

It proposed a number of key recommendations to foster culture across the built environment, providing a long-term plan for redeveloping UK cities. This includes mapping the cultural offering of a neighbourhood, surveying the number of artists’ workspaces, LGTBQ+ venues, nightclubs, and rehearsal studios amongst other cultural facilities, as well as creating an interactive map in a similar vein to the GLA Cultural Infrastructure Map.

It also suggested community outreach programmes – inviting local artists to consult with designers and developers during planning to inform development and avoid future issues of NIMBYism. In 2016, for example, the Greater London Authority created the role of Night Czar to ensure the Mayor’s plan for London as a 24-hour city is achieved and to protect the city’s venues by connecting different local groups together to support their areas.

Since then, Manchester has followed suit with the role of Night Mayor, while Bristol has created a night-time forum of local businesses and residents to work towards the same goal. 

As mentioned above, the report also encouraged further mixed-use developments, arguing that using these spaces to provide music venues and community space could increase footfall to high streets and help small businesses navigate the high costs of business rates.

And, additionally, it called for future tax levies to be used to fund development. By understanding the ‘economic value cultural developments can have on a community’, the report suggests engaging with local authorities and businesses to approve a tax on all cultural events to support a future funding model.

Lastly, the report argued that user experience should be prioritised over commerciality. With the current generation more experience-focused, the report insists that it is essential that all developments think more holistically about their cultural impact and ensure a long-term strategy for town development.

A positive impact

Supporting local music and culture venues can have wide-ranging benefits, from encouraging diversity and helping to alleviate symptoms of dementia to creating strong community ties for isolated older people.

It can also help to boost economies, tourism and the building of lasting infrastructure that will support development fit for the future and foster strong communities, the report found, with initiatives like the Mayor’s Vision for London promoting culture and leisure for all ages and interests by protecting pubs, music venues and LGBT+ venues.

For its part, Legal & General’s Future Cities drive has been and continues to encourage cultural mapping throughout the planning and development phases of their schemes. This includes their recent development, The Lexicon in Bracknell, and also the office-led Bath Quays North.

At The Lexicon, Legal & General invested £200 million into the development of a retail and leisure space, with the aim of establishing a strong music culture in the town.

Shain Shapiro, founder of Sound Diplomacy, said it’s really positive that major institutions are now taking such a proactive role in wanting to shape the musical and cultural footprint of our cities.

“Responsible investors recognise that ‘build and they will come’ no longer works and that to create a real sense of place, fundamentals like music, art and education need to be considered at an early stage.” 

He added: “Places across Britain - from Glasgow to Bristol and Manchester to Chelmsford - have rich music histories and we have to ensure that the cultural value of communities is preserved and that investment and support isn’t solely focused on London.”

Do regeneration projects need to consider their cultural responsibilities?

Chris Oglesby, chief executive of Bruntwood, argues that buildings are naturally creative platforms ‘but by integrating music and culture across the master-planning and development process we can create more diverse, interesting and user-centric places’. 

He added: “Take the Oxford Road Corridor in the heart of Manchester where galleries, museums, theatres and cultural destinations sit alongside a cluster of innovation-based businesses and new homes in an environment that supports congregation, community and cohesion creating a real sense of place.”  

Mike Emmerich, founding director of Metro Dynamics, also commented: “Our cities were forged in the era of Mozart and this music is an important part of our cultural heritage, something we need to remember and sustain as our urban renaissance matures.”

Tateo Nakajima, director of culture and venues at planning firm Arup, added: “Without culture, we risk losing our sense of place and identity. This study brings forth thinking that is critically needed in order to make our communities vibrant and healthy.”

Last week, housing minister Esther McVey unveiled plans to send a crack team of planning specialists across the country to help councils struggling to get regeneration and housing schemes approved.

The Legal & General report, meanwhile, follows on from a speech recently made by the global head of Lendlease, the Australian-based property and infrastructure business, calling for the regeneration of major cities to leave a positive legacy.

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