Sustainable Development for Long-term Benefits - Inspirations from Urban Regeneration and Town Development in the UK
News / 2 Oct 2019

Between 24th August and 6th September 2019, two groups of senior directors from Agile Land and Property Development Group visited the UK and France to learn from European experiences of developing large scale settlements and high-quality services in the industry. Dr. Ying Ying Tian from China Design Centre, was invited to be the academic supervisor to help the delegates understand keys issues of the UK development and refine the learning points from China’s perspective. 

Originated from Guangdong Province, Agile Land and Property Development Group is one of the top Chinese developers, specialised in residential, resort, hospitality and commercial properties. This learning trip has drawn senior directors from key departments of Agile‘s headquarter as well as from regional branches and overseas branches from Malaysia and Vietnam. Like many other Chinese property companies, Agile’s business is being transformed from just providing housing to building livable towns together with employment opportunities. This has been reflected by considering more mixed-use development and expanded community services, bringing together neighbourhood amenities, retail clusters, offices, healthcare and education facilities, as well as supporting community interest groups and events.

Dr. Ying Ying Tian gave a talk on what to learn from the UK

Warmly welcomed by the Berkeley Group, at the first day in the UK the delegates visited four projects along the Thames River: 9 Millbank, One Blackfriars Tower, London Dock and South Quay Plaza. The delegates were impressed by the quality of design, eco-design features, comprehensive services, integration of landscape, culture and heritage into the development, site management and prefabricated construction. Most of all, it was recognised that the values added to the projects would be beneficial to all, from individuals, businesses, the society to the environment. 

Visit One Blackfriars Tower

Visit South Quay Plaza 

The delegates then moved on to visit Canary Wharf and London Olympic Park, the two prominent mixed-use regeneration projects in London, thanks to the arrangement of NLA and London Legacy Development Corporation. Started from 1980s, Canary Wharf represented the approach led by the private sectors with pump-priming funding from the central government to support the infrastructure delivery. Almost 40 years on, Canary Wharf has been transformed into a lively place with business clusters, café and restaurants, public art, culture events, enhanced public transport facilities and increased residential buildings to encourage live and work mix. The learning points are largely from the trajectory of the transformation, namely the relationship between public and private sectors and the change of planning and design discourse during the process. It is recognised that public sector’s strategy and financial support was vital for the start of such large-scale regeneration project, which attracted private sectors to participate and follow the overall strategy. While in the later stage, private sectors showed great capacities for further development, investment and management of places. This is reflected by the fact that Canary Wharf Group has great expertise to adjust economic sectors, promote ICT innovative businesses, encourage mixed-uses, managing culture programmes as well as to help the government to deliver infrastructure (the Crossrail Canary Wharf Station) in a sustainable and efficient way. 

Visit Canary Wharf

On the contrast, the regeneration of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is led by LLDC, the Mayoral Development Corporation, which is directly accountable to Londoners through the Mayor of London. The delegates found the key learning points from the Olympic Park are the long-term plan and the resilient city model in the design, delivery and management process. The 2012 London Olympic Games is only part of the process, but not the end of the project. With the strong leadership, dedicated resources and coordination capacities, LLDC was able to plan the post-Olympic Games legacy from the outset. The long-term plan has helped deliver resilient and sustainable infrastructure (transport, energy and water). Rich mixed-use bringing together university campuses, culture institutions, retail and business quarters and housing with amenities suitable for different groups of people. 

In the Building Centre, a model-talk from Peter Murray, Chairman of NLA, helped the delegates understand London’s history of growth, expansion, dispersion to satellite towns and the regeneration and intensification of the inner city. This has inspired discussions about the growth opportunities of the city-region which are relevant to the current new type of urbanisation in China. 

London Model talk by Peter Murray, Chairman of NLA

As agriculture and food system has started to be recognised as an indivisible element of building large settlements and towns, the delegates were very interested in the agri-food topic. Based on 2-year joint research and pilot projects with China Design Centre, Dr. Richard Baines, Senior Lecturer of Royal Agriculture University, presented the circular food system featured with organic farming, local food supply and distribution, food safety and nutrition for health, and food waste for energy and compost. He raised the understanding that increasing production by high technology is not the only purpose of improving agriculture in China. Only when each part of the food chain is embedded with sustainable values and methods, can the whole food system work for the agri-business, the community, the land and the planet. 

Food Economy Talk by Dr. Richard Baines

In Milton Keynes, the largest UK new town, Will Cousins from DLA and Katy Lock from TCPA introduced the planning and growth process of MK. Officers from MK council presented MK’s future, which is to be international centre of learning and innovation with outstanding green spaces and a boundary-pushing cultural scene. MK Futures 2050 Programme has been developed to enhance STEM related research and innovation, to achieve smart, shared, sustainable mobility and the overall renaissance of MK. 

Visit MK’s new neighbourhood with Will Cousins from DLA

Talk of MK Smart City and 2050 Visioning from MK City Council

Delivery Robots tested in MK

At the last day at Cambridge, the delegates had the opportunity to learn the Cambridgeshire Quality Charter from the lecture by Robin Nicholson, Chairman of the Cambridgeshire Quality Panel. The 4 ‘C’ principles were created in the charter to give guidance and quality standard for development in Cambridgeshire---- Community, Connectivity, Character and Climate Change. It became a useful tool for planners, developers, architects, planning control officers and local communities. Robin also presented how the 4‘C’ principles were introduced to South America and China. The lecture was followed by a visit to Eddington, an extended community of Cambridge which was developed by Cambridge University. The project has demonstrated implementation of exemplar and creative sustainable solutions based on the 4‘C’ principles. 

Learning sustainability in Eddington, Cambridge

At the concluding session, the delegates had reflections of the learning in the UK and France, and discussed the inspirations to their current projects. They hope to continue engaging UK and European expertise and resources, integrate long-term and sustainable strategies into all the development stages and work out approaches and models that are suitable in China’s context.

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