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Events have a nasty habit of unravelling the best-laid plans. Anyone who still thinks property development is the yellow brick road to regeneration is probably still looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

That isn’t to say construction has ceased to have value. Our towns and cities still need well-designed buildings and renewed centres. But those who are pinning their faith on development to usher in an urban renaissance may be disappointed.

The returns from commercial property investment anywhere in the coming years may be meagre. Some investors will want to jump ship before more property funds close their doors in line with Scottish Widows, Friends Provident and Scottish Equitable.

This gives regeneration practitioners a chance to consider the values that drive their work, the objectives they wish to achieve and the best methods to use – and what better opportunity as many of them congregate in Liverpool for next week’s British Urban Regeneration Association conference?

For the last decade the sun has shone from the most unlikely orifices of the development industry, and history will show that some of its alliances have been less than holy.

There are landmark buildings which attract admiration, but there have also been too many bog-standard developments built to questionable design standards with scant reference to sustainability.

Some developers will batten down the hatches, retreat from regeneration and seek opportunities in less challenging markets.

To those that do, good riddance. Those who stay the course have an opportunity to rethink the value of their work.

Developments like Canary Wharf stand testament to the shortcomings of property-focused ‘regeneration’: they may succeed on their own terms but are alien to their surroundings and exclude local people. They may be admired, but will never be loved.

Conversely, when local people have invested time, energy and emotional intelligence in the physical fabric of their communities, there is a chance that it will be cared for.

Such buildings generate history and meaning, and this is where we should focus our investment – not on structures that are little more than white goods on a grand scale.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine


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