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When masterplanning isn’t the whole story

Harry Smith of Heriot Watt University threw a little cold water yesterday on the exciting proposals for water-sensitive designs for the Royal Docks at Ecobuild yesterday.

Harry Smith of Heriot Watt University threw a little cold water yesterday on the exciting proposals for water-sensitive designs for the Royal Docks at Ecobuild yesterday. 

While the designs, entrants in a competition run by the Landscape Institute, were theoretical, there is also some very real work going on in London’s abandoned backyard, and this may have been Smith’s real target. 

The point he made is that masterplanning isn’t enough, and to demonstrate this he showed a bleak but not untypical image of Leith docks in Edinburgh which has, he said, benefitted (if that is the word) from numerous masterplans. The problem was not with the thinking but the vehicle of execution. Edinburgh expected the private sector to take the lead, and it did so in fits and starts, resulting, as the market turned down, in a few big buildings marooned in a sea of nothing.

Smith contrasted this with images of Hafen City in Hamburg which, over the same period of around 15 years, has been transformed into a vibrant and still developing place. The difference, said Smith, was in the ownership, with the city owning the land in an arms length organisation and driving and shaping development. In other words, the market was not king. Heresy to the British faith in free markets, and in somebody else picking up the bill, but possibly a salutary lesson for the Royal Docks. 

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