Most large masterplans in the UK have not delivered: only public sector can deliver places rather than products...

Urban design masterplans have been treated in terms of delivering products, not places, says Kelvin Campbell of Urban Initiatives, London, writing in the latest issue of the ICE’s Urban Design and Planning journal. A back-to-basics approach – based on smaller, more viable plots – is required, he suggests.

Read the briefing paper online

Campbell writes: ‘The old delivery models are broken’ according to Sir Bob Kerslake of the UK Homes and Communities Agency. But are these models dead or just sleeping? Some would be inclined to blame the current recession for breaking the models. ‘It will all get better,’ they say, ‘when confidence returns.’ Others would say the models were broken long before the recession. Did society really get it right before or was it just flogging a dead horse? Like many recently failed UK high-street chains, they would say that the recession did not kill the business, it merely buried it. So is this a time to reflect and change approaches or is a paradigm shift upon us, whether welcome or not?

Einstein’s famous quote – ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again… expecting different results’ – seems real now. Most large masterplans in the UK have not delivered. Despite urban design being at the forefront of the current agenda in recent decades, the number of successful implantations can probably be counted on one hand.

The reason is simple – an attempt has been made to replace the role of the public sector with the private sector. The private sector can deliver successful product but struggles to deliver successful places. That can only be the role of those who have a long-term view of a place. Horizons are too far for the private sector unless they are operating as a ‘quasi-estate’.

The public sector is expecting the private sector to deliver projects that are too big, too intertwined and often too self-centred – the ‘single saviour’ approach. This will get the public sector off the hook and solve all the problems of a place. Wrong. Otherwise, why would projects like Elephant and Castle in London still be struggling after all these years, kept alive on the defibrillator of hope and expectation?

Only the public sector can deliver a project of this scale by becoming the development ‘parceller’, much like the development corporations did in earlier years, opening up opportunities to a wider group of players.

Related stories