At the heart of any complex regeneration masterplan is one simple concern: its people. How best can a newly-designed place serve them? In the case of Bradford city's signature project, the vision was clear. It would bring the city together by opening it up. The centre would become home to a new City Park, a multi-functional space for theatre, music, markets and festivals. Their most ambitious plan? To create a vast, interactive mirror pool, the largest urban water feature in the UK.
The project was first envisioned in 2003. Four years of project consultation and development followed to turn City Park into a viable plan – one which would boost the local economy and enhance community relations.
This was a joint project between the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Bradford Centre Regeneration and Yorkshire Forward. Arcadis was responsible for Development and Project Management of the new City Park, as well as delivering Cost and Strategic Regeneration Consultancy to ensure the scheme could proceed as planned.
In 2009, despite the economic downturn, funding from the Council, Yorkshire Forward and the Regional Transport Board enabled the iconic City Park scheme to be delivered. Even in such a challenging economic climate, the project set out to deliver ambitious transformational goals. The investment in high quality materials ensured that it stood the test of time. This was imperative to its long-term impact, and the benefits that it continues to deliver to this day: increased land values, new jobs and prosperity.
Key to securing the £25m needed to make this project a reality was a robust business case that enabled the cocktail of funding and stakeholder support to come together. This required a clear demonstration of deliverability, as well as outlining the expected benefits and impact it would have, even in challenging economic times.
Project partners built their own confidence in the business case through robust ‘lessons learned’ activity. This included examining comparable projects and identifying their key ingredients for success. This also helped to provide evidence to feed into the business case, demonstrating that the benefits targeted were realistic and the economic value forecast could be created.
A focus on community engagement was important to securing the investment needed and maintain wider stakeholder support. Public support was increased from 50% to 70% through a focused campaign designed to articulate the wider benefits of the project.
Wider stakeholder engagement was also critical, and it was necessary to ensure that as the project developed, it remained aligned to the varied aspirations of the numerous key stakeholders and funders.
A multi-award-winning success
With 107 choreographed fountains – some of which 'throw' balls of water at each other - a thunderous jet that reaches up to 30 metres, laser lights, mist and a path that allows pedestrians to 'walk on water', the iconic mirror pool is without a doubt City Park's glittering showpiece. The success of the project as a whole is reflected not only in the millions of visitors it receives, but also in the number of awards it has garnered.
This huge public space has opened up the city, its communities and businesses, to new possibilities, new experiences and new investment. It brings pride and joy, and has been the catalyst for the continued regeneration of Bradford.
Lessons learned for public realm investment in a post-COVID world
Public realm has always played a key role in the creation of place and ultimately increases in value over time. This was true as the country recovered from a more ‘normal’ economic shock in 2009, and will be further reinforced as we see the increasing extent to which people value public spaces in today’s post-COVID world.
Ambition is good, and transformative projects can be investible and successful at any time in the economic cycle. Delivering projects such as this, with robust control of costs and clarity of the benefits they will deliver, will be more important than ever as funding is focused on the recovery and reinvention of high streets and town centres post-COVID.
When backed by a robust evidence base, there is no reason that fundable business cases should not be developed for public realm investment. With an increased focus on public realm and its value to society expected in the future, this should be easier than it has been historically, as long as both the economic and social value is properly quantified.
Aligning stakeholders at the start is important, but being aware of the need to keep them engaged and supportive throughout the project delivery - and having a plan to do so - is critical. This includes both the wider community and the key stakeholders and funders and should focus on an open and transparent approach, which includes positioning public realm interventions and improvements in the context of wider regeneration.