I’m not for an instant suggesting that Northern Europe is the only place with cool new interesting regeneration developments that consider sustainability. But I would have been struggling to convince CIBSE that I needed a bursary to visit Salford Quays as it’s only a mile from my house. It was written about recently in the guardian at www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/aug/07/move-to-central-salford-salford-quays. In an article which would have been better titled ‘Let’s NOT move to...’, it describes it as “ballooning with apartment towers in anticipation of the BBC's arrival next year at the gruesomely named MediaCityUK ... an Alphaville of steel, glass, lobbies and "hubs”’
I was relieved to note that most of the comments came from people who do like Salford Quays and remember it for the hole it used to be a couple of decades ago. I’m not saying it’s perfect in any way but what I am saying is that it is a LOT better in every regard than it was. It also shows the development of development in that the first buildings to go up were mostly offices and then retail and now with Media City we’re now seeing real mixed use development where people can live and work without long commutes, with a provision of public spaces. There’s a Salford University building to tie in their media courses with the new BBC (if any of them condescend to move up North to work – I understand it’s not a popular move). New tram stops have been built improving connection to the city centre and the waterfront of the Manchester ship canal is now a car-free promenade lined with trees. Sailing clubs use the water and they even allow open air swimming there (although I haven’t been tempted as yet). It’s great to cycle round too.
The really interesting thing about Media City from my point of view is that it was a pilot study for BREEAM Communities. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) was designed to assess buildings for overall sustainability (energy, water, ecology, waste, transport and so on). It comes under some flak for being a ‘box ticking exercise’ and sometimes that is what it becomes when people don’t use it properly but I’ve been working with it for a few years now and you know what? It works. It’s making design teams automatically consider a lot of things that would never have been included before on even the most mainstream of buildings. It’s making engineers and architects, planners and ecologists aware of each other’s roles and concerns which in turn leads to more integrated design (otherwise known as the left arm knowling what the right one is doing).
The Communities scheme takes it a step further and looks at entire developments at master planning stage. As with the individual building schemes energy is heavily weighted and Media City has a tri-generation plant which provides electricity, heating and cooling. Canal water is drawn from the ship canal for cooling and cleaned before being put back (so give it a year or so and I might try the swimming). Heat is delivered around site via a heat main and this has saved on plant space in the individual buildings. The central plant is located in the carpark (where everyone has to leave their cars before they walk around the pedestrianised site) and although gas was chosen as the most suitable fuel for now sufficient space has been provided for a future shift to biomass or biogas (or small scale nuclear fusion plant – who knows what is around the corner?). Services have been planned for the future and sized appropriately so that they don’t have to be dug-up when a new phase is built because, amazingly, that’s what usually happens.
So this evening I’m going to visit MediaCityUK to talk to the community there and find out if it is, as the guardian claims, all “people-less streets, loft apartments and mochafrappelatteccinos.”