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Featured council: London Borough of Harrow

Thu 29th September 2016, 9:35 am

Sitematch London speaks to Harrow Council's regeneration team, led by head of regeneration and design, Tobias Goevert and divisional director of regeneration, enterprise and planning, Paul Nicholls to learn more about one of the borough's key development opportunities.

Can you provide a brief overview of Poets’ Corner and how you see it being redeveloped?

Poets’ Corner is the flagship project in Harrow’s multimillion pound regeneration programme.

The site is currently an operational office and civic centre for Harrow Council, located close to Harrow and Wealdstone Station.

We’re proposing that the 4.4 hectare site will be developed in a minimum of two phases into a residential-led, mixed-use urban quarter. The project involves demolishing all of the existing buildings and delivering 850 new homes across a range of tenures (including at least 200 build-to-rent units to be retained by the council), a new school, commercial and community space, and high quality public realm and landscaping.

A multiple award winning, multi-disciplinary design team (led by Stephen Taylor Architects) was appointed in January 2016 to create a site masterplan and detailed designs for phase one.

What is the history of the site?

In 1934 Harrow Urban District Council was formed when Harrow-on-the-Hill Urban District and Wealdstone Urban District were brought together with part of Hendon Rural District.

The new council inherited the offices of its predecessors at Peel Road, Wealdstone and at Harrow-on-the-Hill; although these were far from sufficient for the new, larger council. During these early years it was not uncommon for council meetings to be held in the restaurant of the Odeon Cinema in Wealdstone. The new local authority needed new offices, a council chamber and committee rooms.

Eventually (after the war intervened), in 1950, the council chose a site at Poets’ Corner, from a shortlist, as the most suitable place for their new civic centre. They approached Middlesex County Council to secure its allocation in the County Plan as an area for “comprehensive redevelopment for civic centre and housing purposes”.

Mr Brandon-Jones was chosen to design the new civic centre by the council from a list of architects compiled at the recommendation of the borough architect and the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. His first design proposal, developed in 1959, failed to win the community’s support and triggered a petition calling for an open architectural competition.

The council therefore launched a new competition in 1964. Assessors included Sir Basil Spence, Sir Hugh Casson and Professor A. Douglas Jones. By the close of the competition in 1964 the council had received 68 entries. In a unanimous decision the assessors awarded the first prize to a design by Mr. Eric G Broughton.

Eric Broughton’s design consisted of a group of six separate buildings set well back from Station Road; the intervening space was to be used for car parking. The original design included an enclosed car park decked with a public piazza that was sadly never delivered despite warnings from the jury not to create a ‘windswept concrete desert’. The new civic centre site was to be developed in two phases. Phase one included the departmental offices, civic suite, library, staff canteen, and caretaker’s quarters. Phase two – comprising a large assembly hall, a small hall, an experimental theatre and ancillary facilities was never implemented.

Departments took up occupation in November 1972 and the new civic centre was officially opened on 6 May 1973.

How will the site be brought to market, and what are the timelines?

The current delivery approach is based on the ‘great estates’ model: the council retains freehold, controls and designs the masterplan, achieves planning permission for the entire site, directly delivers phase one and provides serviced plots to be sold to third party developers who will develop the remainder of the site as per a design code locked in at planning and through any development agreement.

Specifically, the council delivers and funds phase one by appointing a contractor, either via a framework or OJEU process. The council will separately appoint third party developer(s) to deliver phase two, via an OJEU process, to deliver all remaining plots. Contractor procurement is likely to begin in the new year.

How does this site sit within the council’s wider regeneration strategy?

The existing civic centre was developed in the 1970s and is no longer fit for purpose; major repairs are required to the building and services. There is therefore a need for the council to refurbish or relocate.

The Heart of Harrow Area Action Plan identifies the comprehensive redevelopment of the current civic centre site as a key initiative in the regeneration of the borough. Building a new civic centre unlocks this site for that purpose.

The council intends to leverage its role as landowner, acting as client and developer to transform the site into an exemplar compact urban quarter with more than 800 new high quality homes (including private for sale, affordable and council owned private residential homes with the potential for custom build) and create a new school; community facilities; and new retail, work and commercial space to increase local economic growth and create jobs. The aim is to create over 500 jobs as well as supporting young people into apprenticeships and jobs, supporting adult community learners and helping unemployed residents back into work.

To learn more about this site, meet Harrow Council at Sitematch London by booking your place today. 

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