How regeneration is putting the UK's regional cities on the map

Many of the UK’s big regional cities are embarking on ambitious redevelopment projects turning rundown areas into vibrant, modern neighbourhoods.

March 07, 2019

A wave of redevelopment projects are transforming the UK’s regional cities, breathing new life into central and peripheral areas alike.

Up until relatively recently, a number of regional cities across the UK experienced significant depopulation, as residents moved to the suburbs seeking more space and a better quality of life. These cities, in turn, suffered a downturn in development, with many buildings becoming disused and dilapidated.

In recent years, however, the trend has rapidly reversed, with the Big 6 – Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow – seeing significant growth in city centre living. According to the Centre for Cities, the population of many regional urban centres has doubled since 2002, while the country’s population as a whole increased by just 10 percent.

This shift is both driving and being driven by large-scale regeneration projects, which are encouraging companies to move in and tap into the cities’ growing talent pools.

New projects for a new time

Birmingham’s £1.5 billion Smithfield development will transform the former wholesale market into 2,000 new homes, leisure facilities, public space and space for the Bull Ring markets. In Manchester, the former Boddington’s brewery will be turned into a mix of new apartments, offices, and public space.

Elsewhere in Leeds, derelict factories are making way for Yorkshire’s tallest skyscraper, and in Glasgow the pedestrianisation of Sauchiehall Street will transform one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares into a tree-lined avenue complete with cycle lanes.

“By combining office space with residential offerings and community areas, regeneration projects can improve the appearance, liveability, and employment opportunities of formerly undesirable urban areas,” says Vicky Heath, Associate Director of JLL’s UK Research team. This, combined with the lower cost of living, attracts skilled workers who might have otherwise opted for London.

At the same time, companies can get more for their money in the regions while retaining access to a highly skilled workforce. “In the war for talent, companies are under pressure to offer a better quality workplace. Moving to a regional city allows them to create larger, more desirable spaces at lower cost,” says Heath.

Another important factor for workers is access. As younger generations reject driving in favour of walking and public transport, businesses with well-connected workplaces close to residential areas have a competitive edge.

Outdated transport hubs are getting multi-million pound facelifts to ease commuting pressures and create a more welcoming gateway to the cities. Both Leeds and Glasgow are set to receive a boost from the overhaul of station areas, and Birmingham’s extensive Eastside regeneration project will welcome HS2 trains with a vast multi-use development.

Nurturing the future workforce

With all of the Big 6 cities boasting several universities and colleges, they have a solid talent pipeline – and as students see their cities transforming for the future, they’re more tempted to stay.

“The regions are starting to retain graduates rather than lose them to London,” explains Barrie David, Associate Director in JLL’s UK offices team. “Educational institutions can anchor redevelopments, becoming the nucleus of mixed-use innovation centres that support start-up clusters and provide opportunities for skilled workers and students.” Transforming a former no-go zone into a vibrant multifaceted campus by 2022, the University of Bristol’s Temple Quarter project will benefit the wider city.

Indeed, many of the regeneration projects underway are enabling cities to refresh their image and reposition themselves in a fast-changing, globalised world. “It’s a chance for regional markets to placemake and offer something new, creating diverse communities often with a sustainable approach,” says Heath. 

Yet they still face significant challenges in successfully revitalising urban areas, for example  building affordable housing while ensuring the redevelopment remains cost-effective. At the same time, creating a genuinely inclusive environment, which welcomes both existing and new communities, is essential for the long-term value of the area.

It comes down to collaboration and co-operation. “Successful projects need joined up thinking between a variety of public and private stakeholders to regenerate the centres of UK cities and expand these benefits to the fringes,” concludes Heath. “By fostering the support of local businesses and those investing in the area, they are ticking all the boxes at precisely the right time.”

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