In an era of post-recession cuts and austerity, local authorities are switching onto the benefits of making their vast property holdings work harder. When rationalised efficiently, these can produce important revenue streams to support under-pressure services.
With around two-thirds of publically-owned assets in England held by local authorities, councils across the country could potentially be sat on millions of pounds worth of land and property.
Blackpool Council is one of a number of local government organisations that has chosen to rationalise its asset base. However, unlike its fellow counterparts, the authority has also bucked the trend by including its new energy-efficient headquarters at the heart of a large regeneration programme.
Delivered in partnership with national developer and leading name in urban regeneration, Muse Developments (part of Morgan Sindall Group Plc), the Talbot Gateway Central Business District (CBD) optimises outcomes for inward investment and business growth, as well as public sector cost management.
The brief was to accommodate the council’s need for space while creating a sustainable office environment that would provide flexibility for agile working and form part of an operational cost reduction programme. It also set out to offer a viable commercial infrastructure that would attract new business to the town and increase footfall in the seaside resort.
Establishing a new business district was always going to be challenging, but one of the key factors that enabled the project to be such a success was the effective collaboration between public and private sector organisations.
Blackpool Council had a clear vision for the Talbot Gateway scheme and working hand-in-hand with the developer enabled the formation of a strategic business case and viability analysis, which fed through to the design team and delivery stage.
Spanning one million sq ft, the mixed-use redevelopment was masterplanned by RTKL with Phase 1 being built by Eric Wright Construction, Shepherd Construction, Tolent Construction and Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering.
At its heart lies Number One Bickerstaffe Square, a new, multi-award winning, 126,000ft² office building that enabled the local authority to rationalise seven properties into one and includes 25,200ft² of Grade A office space to let, all through the capital generated by the disposal of said redundant property assets.
The rationalisation programme has enabled the local authority to centralise its back office functions to one location. With overhead reductions at the heart of its business case, Number One Bickerstaffe Square is a BREEAM Excellent and EPC A-rated building. Named the most energy efficient new building in the UK in the Energy Awards 2014 and the BCO’s Best Corporate Workplace in the North, the five-storey offices will significantly reduce the local authority’s overheads thanks to a range of energy-saving measures, including 128m2 of photo-voltaics, LED lighting, brise soleil, rain water harvesting and extensive bicycle parking.
Genuine commercial sustainability was another necessity in the scheme’s success. Ground floor retail units and available office space on the first floor will provide a steady rental income for the council, whist attracting quality tenants from the local area and beyond.
Early engagement has significant potential to improve efficiency and effectiveness, particularly during projects of this nature. Not only did the office scheme require flexibility and scalability, but these core factors remained paramount throughout the entire masterplan.
The development is also home to a 120,000ft² Sainsbury’s store and a refurbished 648 space multi-storey car park. Open since July 2014, the Sainsbury’s store, which has created almost 300 jobs for Blackpool, was one of the largest to launch that year.
Blackpool has attracted significant investment over recent years, with the £100m seafront development giving a timely boost to its tourist economy. The seaside town has undoubtedly earned its reputation as one of Britain’s most iconic holiday resorts after clocking up a whopping 17 million visitors in 2014, but reinventing its image after years of mixed fortunes into a quality business district was a much more difficult feat. But that’s exactly what the 25-acre site located just north of Blackpool town centre is achieving.
Regeneration is not about the quick fix but requires a sound business case to ensure the attraction of quality investors and occupiers. The current state of the economy makes “now” the ideal time for change.
Funding also remains a key prompt for kick-starting regeneration, which is why more local authorities are seeking self-funded development initiatives, with a particular focus on infrastructure improvements. These innovative and creative approaches towards consolidating local authority assets are needed to minimise costs and maximise income.
Number One Bickerstaffe Square may now be complete and occupied but it forms just the first chapter of the Talbot Gateway story. Additional office, leisure and retail schemes are in the pipeline for future development, which will see Muse’s continued close liaison with Blackpool Council to ensure the regeneration project delivers its core mission of sustainability and ultimately the revival of one of Blackpool’s key gateways in the heart of the much-loved resort into a thriving commercial district.