Great Estates, place-making and the future of the High Street
19 Feb 2018
At a recent NLA panel we discussed how the "Great Estates” can support future growth in London. This is an interesting subject for many reasons, not least because the estates tend to have a reputation for a conservative and cautious approach to development. Historically their growth has shaped swathes of central London, and not surprisingly today many are conservation areas. But what sets them apart form many other investors and developers is the notion of stewardship. Not only do they take the long term view, but they look at the impact of a development in the context of the wider estate.
The Pavilion Road element of our scheme for The Cadogan Estate demonstrates this very well. The new development is commercially founded on the high-end fashion retail of Sloane Street and the Grade A office space above. The original 1960’s buildings had a car park and loading bay to the rear of the site turning Pavilion Road into a service street. By looking at the wider picture with the Estate, we were able share an existing service yard to the south. This unlocked the transformation of Pavilion Road into a local shopping street with restaurants, a gym and food retailers.
Cadogan recognised that this was an opportunity to provide the sort of shops that the locals wanted and needed. Indeed they asked their tenants to suggest the types retailer they would like to see. This sort of consultative development can only happen if the building owner takes the view that getting the right mix is more important than maximising revenue, and this is where the estates are uniquely placed.
As a result there is a terrace of small shops that includes a greengrocer, a butcher, a baker, a cheesemonger and a vintner, as well as a vegan café and a Granger & Co restaurant. The disused garages on the other side of the street are now being converted to bolster the offer with more carefully selected food retailers. Importantly Cadogan recognised that whilst “curating” the retail offer is paramount, the environment that it sits in is just as important. A landscaping scheme has transformed Pavilion Road into a pedestrian friendly street with many benefits to the local area and this was done without closing the street, but by changing its perceived status. As a result the primary school on the corner of Pavilion Road is safer as traffic is minimised, and there is a new public space that forms the centrepiece of our design, a verdant courtyard that offers a quiet alternative to the bustle of Sloane Square.
This approach is relevant in the wider context of London. The plight of high street retailing in the digital age is well documented, for many years we have seen traditional shops replaced with estate agents and charity shops and more recently with coffee shops and restaurants. In order for retailers to survive and compete with the on line giants they have recognised that they must re-evaluate themselves and reposition their offer. Consequently our shopping streets need re imagining, and this is where landowners, local authorities and other stakeholders in the public realm can make a difference.
These stakeholders need to understand and move with the cultural shift that has occurred in western democracies. Society is more fluid; from homes to cars and even clothes we are becoming renters not owners. “Possessions” are being replaced by “experiences”. For retailing to survive it has to be about more than just selling, it is as much about lifestyle as anything else.
It is against the background of this shifting context that we can learn a lot from the work of the “Great Estates”, by planning for the future and seeing development in its wider local context, we can create a better, more humane city. By understanding that building users and residential tenants are not just a source of income, landlords can create an environment where they can flourish and grow to serve the local community. As Pavilion Road demonstrates spatial design and public realm can enable this transformation.