Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is speeding up plans to bring empty buildings in the north back to life with support from some of the largest land-owners, businesses and local authorities in the region.
Just 2 months after his Northern Futures initiative highlighted the need to tackle the chronic problem of unused sites sitting empty across the region, Nick Clegg and local charities have formed a working group with Legal & General, The Co-operative Group, Network Rail, Capital and Centric, Carillion and others.
Making empty buildings available to charities, community groups, artists and entrepreneurs will help give a boost to local projects, stimulate growth in local businesses and create jobs.
The group is responding to calls to breathe new life into empty sites by arranging for local entrepreneurs, artists and community groups to use them on a temporary basis to test their ideas.
The working group, part of the Deputy Prime Minister’s Northern Futures initiative, will meet in February to consider project proposals and agree how plans can be put in place. It has already begun match-making local authorities, property companies and land-owners with community groups and business ventures desperate for space in the north.
Working closely with Local Enterprise Partnerships, the working group will pull together plans for establishing a series of flagship projects in cities across the north before April 2015. Potential sites are being discussed in Manchester, Newcastle, Hull and Liverpool, with conversations also underway in Leeds and Sheffield.
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg said:
“In just a few weeks we have seen major businesses come forward to embrace the idea of keeping our town centres alive with flourishing entrepreneurs and community projects.
“This is part of a huge revitalisation of northern cities. Through my Northern Futures initiative, we’re encouraging a stronger economy by giving start-ups a chance to grow, whilst keeping our cities buzzing from the centre to the outskirts.
“Leaving useful land in the north to languish is not only bad for business, it affects an area in so many ways. I’m pleased to be bringing landowners together to make incredible spaces available for artists, start-ups, and other entrepreneurs to restore the buildings’ purpose and appeal.”
The north has nearly twice as many hectares of vacant land and buildings than the south, with 10,130 hectares in the north compared to just 5,580 hectares in the south.
The Co-operative Group is already offering space within its portfolio for charities and community groups. In the run up to Hull’s year as City of Culture in 2017, the council will build on its experience of developing its Fruit Market area to turn unproductive and underused buildings elsewhere in the city centre area into thriving start-up and community spaces.
Capital and Centric, the award-winning property developer, and Carillion, the multinational construction company, are both considering meanwhile uses at sites in Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere. As part of the project, Network Rail will also consider proposals to use its estate around stations and bridges in the north.
The Co-operative Group has plans to make surplus space available for use by charities and community projects, sharing news of potential sites online with over 40 sites already offered UK-wide. Other companies have shown interest in supporting meanwhile use across the North. Legal & General are exploring a site that it is redeveloping as part of its major regeneration of Salford through the English Cities Fund and Capital and Centric Plc in Liverpool are developing the old Littlewoods pools building into residential and commercial space.
Geoff Player, Director of Commercial & Investment Property at The Co-operative Group, said:
“We are pleased to be involved in this initiative: offering temporary access to short-term occupation of certain surplus properties that would otherwise be vacant fits well with our Group purpose of a better way of doing business within these communities. Our Community Property Project is still in the process of being developed, and we hope to bring more buildings back in to use in the months and years ahead.”
In November, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited collaborative working space Betahaus in Berlin to see how derelict land had been redeveloped for creative industries and to learn how similar projects could be supported in the north. The initiative was inspired by a pitch at the Deputy Prime Minister’s Northern Futures Summit in Leeds in November, where Liverpool-based landscape architect Elaine Cresswell called for more ‘meanwhile use’ of vacant properties in her city.
Since the Northern Futures initiative was launched, many of the ideas arising through the consultative process have been taken forward. More than 2,000 people were engaged and 9 ideas were pitched at the Summit. TechNorth has been developed, a project to support and coordinate growth of the tech sector across Northern cities. With £2 million pounds of investment for the project, recruitment is underway for the head of the initiative. £10 million was also committed to boosting tourism in the north.