David Simmonds Consultancy Limited

Rochester Riverside, Barriers to Regeneration: A Case Study

The text below comprises the summary from the Report from "Rochester Riverside, Barriers to Regeneration: A Case Study". This study was carried out for British Urban Regeneration Association in Autumn 2003.


This case study has been prepared in response to an invitation from the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) to revisit the issues and problems affecting the regeneration of Rochester Riverside, Medway, a brownfield site mentioned in the 1999 Urban Task Force report because of the exemplary use of compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers. The case study was based on a concentrated and focussed programme of work to identify the issues and (where applicable) the solutions to them, and to report on the more general implications for policy, project management and legislation.

Rochester Riverside is a long, narrow brownfield site of approximately 30 hectares located on the eastern edge of Rochester City Centre between the London-Chatham-Dover railway line and the River Medway. The redevelopment of the site has been a longstanding objective, dating back to at least the early 1990?s under the former Rochester upon Medway City Council and more recently The Unitary Medway Council, which was formed after the amalgamation of Gillingham and Rochester in 1998. Clearly, plans to regenerate Rochester Riverside have been underway a long time and the site is still undeveloped, but the site is a very difficult one owing to the complexity and multiplicity of ownership and difficult site preparation issues including industrial contamination, flood risk and wildlife protection constraints, as well as major essential infrastructure needs, and market issues. On top of this, there was the influence of the local government restructuring in 1998, which may have slowed momentum that had been built up with respect to the project. Accordingly, there is a perspective that the length of the process to date, which has included efforts to identify a development partner, to determine the nature of a viable scheme and to secure public funding to assist in the site remediation, has not been particularly excessive.

However; the narrative reported in this case study also contains a number of different perspectives and points-of-view about issues that have affected the timetable. While some of these findings build on and complement those of other studies that have been undertaken, other findings are more original and new, primarily on account of the inclusive research methodology that was employed. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that, according to some of the interviewees, the failure to come to terms with a private development partner was seen as an embarrassment for Medway Council, and that there were also some suggestions that the local authority lacked the skills to negotiate effectively. Clearly, the Rochester Riverside experience has been difficult for those private development companies directly involved, and the time and money that they spent may well have only served to educate the local council about the financial viability of the site. Related to this is that there is a 'confidence-gap' when private developers and local authority officers sit down to negotiate.

Rochester Riverside has also been difficult for those business people involved in land acquisition programmes due to a perceived unfairness of compensation which does not adequately account for ?disturbance? elements related to their business operations. Still another perspective is the perception that institutional barriers, perhaps related to 'turf-protection' within public agencies and government, may have prohibited the implementation of an effective partnership arrangement at an earlier stage in the narrative.

However, there is also a general concurrence among all the interviewees that Rochester Riverside is a very ambitious project, involving a large and difficult waterfront site with serious questions about commercial risk. As such, the reader should also be minded that much of the criticism in the Rochester Riverside narrative may only be possible with the benefit of hindsight, although there are lessons to be learned. In this regard, the case study develops recommendations for future project management, organisational structure, planning and land assembly, and media relations.

A comprehensive approach to project management with a long-term view needs to be implemented at the outset. First and foremost, fundamentals need to be determined by undertaking thorough development appraisals and robust financial modelling by a special team of professional advisers, in order to understand what can actually be achieved in terms of delivering the end product, and so inform the preparation of master development planning and any procurement process. There should also be sufficient 'pump-priming' finances available to both assemble the site and to undertake site preparatory work once the site is acquired.

The costs of land assembly and site preparation can be recovered from the proceeds of sale, passing those uncertainties to a developer results in excessive land value reductions. With respect to land assembly, CPOs are a useful vehicle for delivering an assembled site; however, a comprehensive approach is necessary and the process should also not be used as a reason to play down costs to disrupted property owners. Site preparation works can be unpredictable and onerous but, if the acquiring authority can undertake the remediation works, the sale of the prepared sites should be straightforward and potentially lucrative.

Unfortunately, there is presently no effective source of funding assistance for land assembly or site preparation other than direct development by the public sector, but there are different models of how this can be organised. One alternative is a National Regeneration Company, staffed by property development experts, which would focus on brownfield sites that have failed in the market because of risk issues, but which have the potential to meet strategic objectives while yielding capital returns in the long-term.

While the costs and processes involved with land assembly, environmental remediation and new infrastructure are the major barriers to redevelopment, another issue is the responsiveness of the development planning process. In particular, there is a need for flexible planning policies that carefully balance the ideals of mixed use redevelopment and planning obligations with scheme viability. Site specific planning briefs and/or master plans are useful planning tools provided that their allocations are realistic and viable.

Another issue with the redevelopment of large, difficult brownfield sites, such as Rochester Riverside, is media management. In such cases regeneration is about recovery in difficult situations and there is a need to pay attention to information management so that public and political expectations are not unduly raised.



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