Interview: Paul Nichols at Harrow Council
Mon 2nd February 2015, 9:29 am
Harrow Council's director of regeneration and planning, Paul Nichols, spoke exclusively to Sitematch about the development ambitions for the borough and taking inspiration from elsewhere
Which projects are you most proud of being involved in?
Driving Harrow’s regeneration programme. There are major untapped placemaking opportunities with the capacity to transform the borough, tackle the current housing need crisis and reinvigorate our social and commercial infrastructure.
What three developments or enhancements would most benefit Harrow?
Some of the main regeneration opportunities are on council land, with the biggest of all being the current Civic Centre site: four and a half hectares of prime development land in the heart of Harrow. That’s why we are prioritising a civic centre relocation to one of our underutilised town centre car parks.
Then there’s Hyde Housing’s SOM scheme by Harrow on the Hill station. This will provide a high quality extension to our town centre and demonstrate the capacity to deliver excellent tall buildings in Harrow.
Finally, we are developing a comprehensive approach to upgrading our streets and spaces in the heart of Harrow, providing new public squares and more spacious, high-quality pedestrian connections.
Which three developments outside Harrow do you most admire and why?
They are all in Copenhagen – its world-beating cycling infrastructure, its reclamation of the waterfront at Nordhavn, its "cloudburst" strategy to tackle flood risk at city scale, its comprehensive citywide district heating network and its strategic commitment to becoming the eco metropolis of the world – and the first carbon neutral city by 2025.
What was your first impression of Harrow when you started out working there?
A borough that has been punching below its weight, with a need to spread the word about its successes and regeneration opportunities.
What things have surprised you about working in the borough?
The strength and drive of the political leadership, which is determined to deliver high quality and affordable new housing and commercial growth, at pace, over the next four years and beyond. And the very close delivery partnerships with the GLA and a number of major developers including Land Securities, Hyde, Berkeley Homes and Redrow, which will be crucial to achieving this ambition.
Which three people have inspired you the most – either at work or in your personal life?
The late Sir Peter Hall, for bringing an inspirational intellectual energy and drive to the planning and regeneration professions.
Godwin Cassar, the quiet but tough Maltese architect/planner who led the mission to take on powerful local interests and create a planning and environmental management system for the Maltese Islands, stemming a huge tide of low-grade development and environmental degradation.
And finally Brad Roynon, the great chief executive who initiated and personally led the regeneration of Southampton city centre – the development successes continue to ripple out years after his retirement.
If you could visit any country in the world, where would you go and why?
I’ve traveled and worked internationally for a large chunk of my career, but never visited Latin America and would begin a tour there with Brazil and Argentina, because the region is so globally significant in economic and development terms and a hugely challenging environment for urban planners.
Which book, film, piece of music or sporting occasion has had the biggest influence on your life and why?
Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks – a perfect fusion of Celtic soul, blues and jazz and I’ve been chasing that ideal in my own music making for at least three decades. I play sax, guitar and piano and play in a sax quartet, as well as a soul band. I also play classical piano and acoustic folk and blues on the guitar.
What is your biggest professional achievement?
So far, the integration of urban design, high density city centre housing, commercial and retail planning, urban realm enhancement, city-scale flood risk protection and transport planning within the Southampton City Centre masterplan and subsequent Area Action Plan.