London’s largest redevelopment projects inspire a wide range of views, many of them impolite. King’s Cross Central has long been the exception. Though not without its tensions over the roughly 20 years since it first started taking shape, the ongoing transformation of 67 acres of former railway lands to the north of King’s Cross station is frequently praised as a model for how to get regeneration – to use that contested term – right. And now someone has quantified what “right” in this case means.
A report by development consultants Regeneris provides, in its words, “an assessment of the economic and social footprint of the King’s Cross development to date” along with guidance for how the site’s principal developer, Argent, can take “a robust and consistent approach to tracking impact in the future”.
Entitled The Economic and Social Story of King’s Cross, it states that Argent, site owner the King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership and others involved in the task have “delivered strongly” against the aims set out in a 2001 mission document called Principles for a Human City, put together by Argent and endorsed by Camden Council and English Heritage (now Historic England).
Ten principles were listed, including setting “a robust urban framework”, creating “a vibrant mix of uses”, committing to “long-term success” and promising to “harness the values of heritage”. Argent said that these signalled its intention to construct “a lasting new place for people, one that can can continue to support successfully their changing patterns of social and economic behaviour”.
The Regeneris assessment, which was commissioned by Argent, says that being guided by these values has helped the developer to “shape an overall ‘sense of place’ at King’s Cross and provided the conditions to optimise long term social impact”, leading to over seven million people visiting every year and almost all the commercial space being taken by a range of occupants, from multi-national businesses to arts and culture organisations.
The “public realm” – the bits the public is free to hang around in, like Granary Square – is praised as accessible and engaging, in the widest sense. “On-site initiatives promoting volunteering, youth groups, local employability programmes” and so on have “helped embed the development in the local context,” says the report. In other words, this renewed piece of King’s Cross has striven to build connections with the existing social fabric. Making sure that the place has felt alive from the start has also encouraged businesses and others to move in.
All this is described as key to Argent’s reputation for going about regeneration in a different way from other developers. The “Argent Approach” is described as being focused on the art of “placemaking”, with “the delivery of a strong amenity, cultural and education offer in the early phases” a higher priority in relation to “the delivery of commercial and residential space and returns” than is usual.
However, the report also says that there are areas where more information needs to be gathered if, in particular, the social value of the project is to be evaluated properly into the future. Regeneris says this particularly relates to previously unemployed people securing work on the site (whether in construction or for one of the commercial tenants), participation in arts and leisure, and benefits flowing from such as environmental improvements and the provision of “affordable” housing.
On that last issue, there have been claims and counter-claims about whether Argent has been delivering what it promised. Overall, though, the King’s Cross scheme has not attracted the reproach directed at, say, the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea scheme, which includes what is left of Battersea Power Station, and the largely becalmed Earls Court project, which I have been rude about for years. There’s plenty to be learned from the Regeneris report. You can download it via here.