Future watch – March

Norman Hayden hears the case for more urban extensions put by LK2’s Tom Drew.

All across the country there is a struggle going on to access facilities which support health, well-being, community and leisure. Developments in our industry have been rapid and it is vital that experts in the architectural sector keep a keen eye on them.

Already this year there have been a number of things affecting deprived areas, marking it a positive start to 2016.

To begin with, the Government has set out its objectives for a range of sectors – including education, housing and services. This is clear from the housing estate scheme and the recently-published Sporting Future strategy. It aims to create better access to high-quality open spaces for communities throughout the UK, helping to fight the obesity epidemic and other health issues facing the country.

One of the ways local councils and businesses can address this problem is through enhancing sport and recreation facilities, so creating modern communities as part of sustainable urban extensions.

At LK2, we believe that urban extensions are the future of modern living and town planning. Urban extensions, creating sustainable sports and leisure solutions, can benefit everyone – from local sporting institutions to governing bodies.

The LK2 team have been working on schemes – such as the Stamford Sports Centre and Islington Football Pavilion – to pioneer urban extensions. Our work involves support, guidance and advice to developers and local authorities to create sustainable, efficient and rationalised developments.

But, you might ask, how can you ensure a development meets the needs of local people and will support the Government’s objectives for the future of the region? One way is to cite official findings such as the 2015 Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) – the latest report on relative deprivation in England – which generates statistics from ages, groups, schools, housing, health and services in deprived areas.

At LK2, we build on our knowledge of the retail, residential, education and sports sectors, and go the extra mile as we aim to transform communities, encourage participation in sport and create accessible ways for people to become involved. We dedicate a great deal of time, thought and experience as to how things can be arranged to suit all parties. For example, by producing a feasibility study or developmental appraisal to determine a project’s viability, we look to enhance the proposals.

A key factor affecting wider community development is the emphasis on house building. At the beginning of this year, the Government commissioned the building of up to 13,000 homes on public land, but this only represents a tiny proportion of the million houses wanted by 2020. So, this year, a £1.2 billion fund is being launched to help developers prepare under-used brownfield land for housing to fast-track the creation of at least 30,000 starter homes by 2020.

However, with this focus on house building, many firms, developers and planners often give little thought to community provisions, in particular sports facilities, which many would say should be higher up the agenda to tackle poor health and other long-term government goals.

This is often due to a lack of understanding of the community’s needs and how significant benefits can be achieved. This sometimes results in a tendency to incorporate the bare minimum of facilities into a development – whether it is grass football pitches or a leisure centre, for example – which are seldom enough to alleviate deprivation and have an impact on falling participation rates.

As we have seen with our projects, planning permission will not be granted for new developments until appropriate agencies have considered the need to provide essential social and community facilities. Therefore, local planning authorities should involve all sections of the community in the development of local plans and planning decisions.

Where appropriate the necessary land or floor space required for social and community schemes should be reserved, or a financial contribution sought towards the provision of such facilities nearby.

The creation of urban extensions and facilities will inevitably increase local growth, through creating jobs and supporting businesses. Social and community facilities are an essential ingredient of local life – after all, they make an important contribution to community life.

It is vital for new developments to provide facilities which meet present and future needs. For example, the creation of childcare facilities in connection with a major employment development or community sports facilities as part of a large housing site. The requirement for facilities will change in relation to the size and nature of the development and the existing pattern of facilities in the area.

To support sports and recreation facilities on these schemes, we work alongside sporting organisations – such as, the Football Association, Football Foundation and Sport England – on a local and national level. Working with them is crucial to strengthening the proposed developments, but due to intricate and challenging planning policies, it can be a complex and difficult procedure.

Planning policies should be based on robust and up-to-date assessments of the needs for open space, sports and recreation facilities and opportunities for new provision. In analysing local

strategies or creating a sports scoping study, LK2 feels it plays a vital role with developers and planners.

This relationship with national governing bodies and funding agencies is central when leveraging grant aid and

other investment for a facility as part of a project’s business planning element. In addition, our asset transfer expertise can enhance the ownership arrangements of a site to deliver a more sustainable future through a proven management structure to satisfy funding bodies.

Creating urban extensions can provide facilities which seek to rectify existing local deficiencies. However, in some instances, proposed housing schemes may be exacerbating issues, too.

A local artificial football pitch might already be operating at capacity before new houses are located nearby, but the new development, sometimes through Section 106 agreements, can contribute to meet the anticipated increase in demand by installing a similar facility or enhancing the existing one.

It is important for experts to identify and determine the current specific needs and quantitative or qualitative deficits or surpluses of open space, sports and recreational facilities, in any given local area. Information gained from these assessments is used to determine what open space, sports and recreational provision would be required.

This knowledge, combined with our working relationship with national governing bodies for sport and other relevant agencies, means that LK2 confidently advise on the expected requirements in terms of sports facilities as part of an urban extension.

Working in conjunction with our architectural team, LK2 provides high quality designs and proposed layouts of potential facilities, and their synergy with the surrounding environment to be used in presentations, public consultations and sometimes even eventual plans.

As stated, the Government’s objectives are clear: to increase access to high-quality recreation spaces and opportunities for sport and physical activity can make an important contribution to the health and wellbeing of communities. It can go some way to fighting the obesity epidemic and other health issues faced in this country.

We see urban extensions on all scales as the future of modern architecture and central to improving facilities and building communities, as they can resolve issues for sport, leisure, housing and education. Ultimately, these schemes can generate a positive change in communities and rekindle a sense of pride and excitement.

Tom Drew is Sports Development Manager at LK2 Sport and Leisure Ltd – lk2.co.uk