Jun 24 2008 By Andrew Cowen
Published in the Birmingham Post
These are interesting times to be working in the building development business. With the green agenda at the heart of society, sustainability is driving all new projects.
Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in the urban regeneration field and, in Birmingham, it’s big news.
City living is a well-established concept and the idea has come a long way since its early days around the canal basin.
New legislation states that homes must be carbon zero by the year 2016, although some forward-thinking companies are well ahead of that deadline.
The key-word is sustainability, although this concept is huge and works on many levels. It’s a holistic approach to development but, being in such a competitive industry, it also has to be, first and formost, profitable.
To achieve this, developers must incorporate many aspects from the very inception of a project and careful planning is vital if targets are to be met.
Steven Byrne is chief executive of MCD Developments, one of the leading companies operating in the urban regeneration field.
MCD is behind some of the Midlands’ most striking projects, including Brindley House, Derwent Foundry and Water Street in Birmingham, and Earlsdon Park in Coventry.
The company also is spearheading the rebirth of Essex County Cricket Ground in Chelmsford.
Steven admits there’s no easy definition of sustainability as, by its very nature, it’s a site-specific concept, although certain principles are common with all projects.
“It’s always the first consideration when you start a project,” he says.
“There are things we always take into account when tackling sustainability. Any project must be judged in terms of its longevity and the affects on the local community, for example.
“We always look at the life cycle of a building and its impact on a wider level, internationally and globally. This means thinking about where you source your materials, making sure they can be replenished locally so that the distance they are transported is as small as possible.
“We consider longevity and whether the building is fit for purpose for its life-cycle. Maintenance and repair are also vital.
“There is no quick fix and, in this business, you really do reap what you sow.”
For MCD who specialise in big schemes, this means thinking big. For example, work is now underway on the £110 million redevelopment of the former City College Site at the Butts in Coventry.
The finished article will provide 500 apartments, commercial space, leisure facilities and cafe bars.
How sensitive approach to regeneration brings benefits for whole townFrom page 35
In a major coup for Coventry, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will relocate from London to move into the development, creating 500 new jobs.
This is a perfect example of sustainability on a human scale.
The former college building dates back to 1935. In order to further nest the development in its location, MCD is also restoring the 650-seat art deco Butts Theatre and creating a piazza around it.
The project has been awarded a Breeam excellent rating of 78 per cent. This qualification marks a building on several green criteria, including energy efficiency and accessibility by public transport.
“Everything we do is bespoke and we always push our own boundaries in order to innovate,” explains Mr Byrne.
Another MCD project is the redevelopment of Riverside Square in Bedford, a typically ambitious scheme that bears all the trademarks of the company.
Like many of MCD’s developments, Riverside Square is close to water but also in the heart of the town centre.
It will include 149 residential apartments and 25,000 sq ft of retail space on the ground floor.
A pedestrian bridge will improve access to the town centre, a benefit for the whole of Bedford. It’s also just five-minute walk from the main railway station.
“This is an iconic potentially multi-award-winning project and shows how sensitive regeneration can bring benefits for the whole town,” says Mr Byrne.
“For me, it represents Bedford’s battle against Milton Keynes.”
Mr Byrne is a strong believer in the concept of city living but he’s adamant that a development has to be done properly in order to achieve.
“Like anywhere else, there has to be a sense of community,” he explains.
“You have neighbours and these have to be a consideration. City living will work as long as people want to live in a close community.
“This does not necessarily mean only suitable for the young – many of our buyers are retired. It means you have to be there rather than in a rural idyll.
“It’s not for everybody and probably suits young people better.”
Of course, the concept of city living is not a new one. As the old back-to-backs in Birmingham prove, many used to live and work in the city.
“What happened in many areas is that the bombing of our cities in the Second World War destroyed so much and when it came to rebuilding we didn’t put the residential element back in,” explains Mr Byrne.
“That’s changing now but there’s still a lot of work to be done. The infrastructure needs to be enhanced with things like street markets, pharmacies and starter units of good quality.
“One of the most important things we do and something that is not always easy to get right, is to create a community where there wasn’t previously one.
“As long as you get that right, you are creating sustainability.
“If you create a sense of belonging, you create a sense of pride and that is contagious. You can do all the analysis you want, but if you don’t achieve this, you’ve failed.”