‘Urbanising suburbia’ – Wembley on the march

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Wembley is working hard to balance its rapid growth in terms of housing and jobs with its new appeal as a rounded place.

That was one of the key take-aways from Wembley: urbanising suburbia, an NLA On Location event held yesterday at the Hopkins-design ‘The Drum’ at Brent Civic Centre, near to the world-famous stadium.

London Borough of Brent Councillor Shama Tatler welcomed the audience, reflecting on how the area’s ambitious vision to turn ‘an industrial wasteland’ into what she called ‘the thriving metropolis we see today’ had not been without its challenges, with some of the existing communities having felt disconnected. So, the plan was to bring in wide-ranging regeneration with the council’s ‘excellent partnership’ with Quintain and resulting in not just homes but also schools, community facilities and affordable workspaces.

Head of Masterplanning and Design for Quintain, Julian Tollast, showed how this meant 3,500 residents to date since 2008 toward 20,000 on completion of the project, 1800 jobs created toward a 8640 goal, and 2,900 currently at work on construction, with 7500 new homes and a broad range of mix and tenure. ‘It’s a phenomenal rate of progress here’, said Tollast, pointing to the ‘quite dreadful’ conditions outside Wembley stadium even as recently as 1996. Quintain is overseeing a masterplanning process after many before it, ushering in its Tipi brand as a ‘long term lifestyle choice’ rather than the short term answer build to rent is sometimes seen as, and will be creating an ‘avenue of champion trees’ to line Wembley Way, to a design from Dixon Jones and Gros Max. It was also critically important to engage properly with the community, said Tollast. ‘The process of consultation through planning is consultation’, he said. ‘That’s not necessarily engagement’.

The transformation of Wembley has represented ‘a staggering amount of change’, said David Glover, Development Management Manager at the London Borough of Brent. Five growth areas will take on much of this growth, with big expectations for homes and jobs, albeit with ‘quite a job to do in terms of place’. The council has ‘planned and re-planned’, building on principles in a 2004 masterplan from Richard Rogers Partnership, a three station strategy, and its regeneration area, Opportunity Area and strategic/cultural area status. Student accommodation is another thrust, with some 5500 rooms already consented including one of the tallest modular buildings in Europe, and a new university campus on the way. All that, and new primary schools, sports and leisure premises, affordable studio space, and artists studios.

Brent’s Head of Planning, Transport and Licencing, Alice Lester said that although Wembley had always been on the national map, it had now been ‘absolutely transformed’, with a projected £328m of retail spend in 2026 almost putting it up with the Westfields of the world. While Nick Taylor, Head of North West London at the GLA said that Wembley’s embrace of PRS was something that other Opportunity Areas could do with mirroring if we are to hit some of the mayor’s housing targets, Flanagan Lawrence Architects Design Director Jason Flanagan said one of his practice’s key roles was in ‘figuring out how to stitch together’ all the masterplans for the area that had come before.

So how is Wembley ensuring it is distinctive? Lois Stonock, Artistic Director of Brent’s Borough of Culture in 2020 said this was in part by drawing on the heritage of the past, stories of the borough, and musical traditions (‘everyone in Brent knows about reggae’). ‘But we want it to do more than just highlight arts and activity’, she said. ‘We want it to be a platform for the whole community’.

The borough needed to tell ‘the story of a community that has been built on the shoulders of diversity’, and celebrations will include a free concert at the arena, street party, museum for all of Brent life, and even a new anthem for the borough.

Boxpark is already making a difference in terms of bringing life to the area, said Matthew McMillan, the company’s development director. The scheme is its third behind Shoreditch and Croydon, featuring more in the way of a leisure offer, the company recognising that events are also critical in the new retail environment and being ‘obsessive about customer experience’; it is now scouting for more sites across the country. Other speakers included Tom Legg, Head of Transport and External Operations at The Football Association, emphasising the operating challenge represented by 4 million visitors to the stadium in 2017/18, and, lastly, Nichole Herbert Wood, Chief Executive of the Second Floor Studio & Arts project working hard to provide not just space for artists, but opportunities too. ‘It’s all about content, and the stories we tell’, said Herbert Wood. ‘Come and see the stories!’.

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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NLA On Location – Wembley: urbanising suburbia


World famous for its football stadium, Wembley is no stranger to fast-paced development. The Wembley of today however, takes a more long-term, mixed-use outlook – evidenced by its role within the winning vision for an inclusive Borough of Culture in 2020.