CIC Yorkshire & Humber Chair
Architect, Pearce Bottomley Architects
Sustainable communities are places where people want to live and work because they meet diverse needs, are sensitive to the environment, safe and inclusive. The construction industry plays a huge part in building these communities, providing homes, infrastructure, jobs and social institutions. Whether the Bronze Age stone circles or modern stadia, construction is intrinsic to the creation of community and there is no better place to explore this than Yorkshire, where evidence dates back to the prehistoric.
As the location of the Grand Depart, Yorkshire is building a new type of community for the region, one that combines sport, tourism and media. By following the cycling route map – a new sort of neighbourhood plan – we can explore the type of communities Yorkshire had – and has – to offer from Roman roads to modern arenas and ask what we can learn from the past to build the communities of the future.
The new Leeds Arena is the face of the modern construction industry and a reflection of the need of communities to gather for a shared interest, be it gladiatorial combat or a Bruce Springsteen concert. As the first purpose-built arena with a fan-shaped design and “the best acoustic experience of any large arena venue in the country”, it created technical challenges for the construction team. But this is not the only ‘new’ arena in the area. 2011 saw the discovery of a significant Roman Amphitheatre in Aldbrough, which also demonstrates cutting edge construction skills.
Central to the development of communities in the region was the building of monasteries in Yorkshire. Architecturally, the buildings pushed boundaries; economically and politically, these institutions were the power houses of the country. Fountains Abbey in Ripon was the largest and richest of the Northern abbeys, with an influence that extended to the rest of the country and as far as Norway. It was occasionally at the forefront of international affairs, whilst closer to home, thousands of people relied on the abbey for work, food, trade and shelter, as well as spirituality. Today it is a World Heritage site and the impact on tourism is clear but are there lessons here in constructing sustainable communities?
The Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII to form the estates of the gentry had a profound and permanent effect on the Yorkshire landscape. Their stewardship of the land continues to define the character of much of rural Yorkshire and rural business. Bolton Abbey, is a prime example of how once redundant traditional buildings that are no longer suitable for mainstream farming can be given a new lease of life within the community.
Religion was also key to the development of the Rowntree Company established by Joseph Rowntree in 1862. By the time it was acquired by Nestlé in 1988 it was the fourth largest confectionery manufacturer in the world. The company was founded on Quaker principles and Rowntree was deeply interested in improving the quality of life of his employees. In creating the model village of New Earswick, in York, Rowntree stated that he did “not want to establish communities bearing the stamp of charity but rather of rightly ordered and self governing communities". The Rowntree Trust continues to build today along the same principles, demonstrating that the need for well-designed communities is as relevant today as it was then.
But what about Yorkshire’s urban communities that have experienced the highs of the Industrial Revolution and the lows of the modern economy? Hebden Bridge flourished during the Industrial revolution, being a central part of the wool industry that came to define much of the West Riding. By the late 20th century however, the small mill town was looking like a northern backwater. The fact that the railway survived the 1960s axe, reinforced the relationship the town has with the larger metropolises of Manchester and Leeds, allowing it to become a vibrant suburb with a distinct sense of independence. The reinvention of Hebden Bridge fits nicely into the aims of the ‘Northern Way’ initiative before the demise of the LDAs. How can other parts of the UK replicate Hebden Bridge's success? And should the ‘Northern Way’ be rebuilt?
Likewise, Sheffield is a lesson on how a city can be reborn. Having established itself as the ‘City of Steel’ in the 18th and 19th centuries, the 1980s saw its dramatic fall as an industrial powerhouse, with the loss of over 50,000 jobs. Yet Sheffield is now leading the way in its regeneration by engaging with the city in innovative and creative ways, facilitating diverse employment and taking advantage of two top class universities. This thinking, which combined exemplary architecture and landscape design that was thoroughly endorsed by the Council, has resulted in Sheffield’s GVA increasing by 60% since 1997, standing at £9.2 billion in 2007, with steady growth averaging around 5% annually. So are there ways we can learn from Sheffield?
‘Le Grand Tour de Yorkshire’ is the subject of the CIC Yorkshire and Humber Conference which takes place at the National Railway Museum in York on 25 June 2014.
Contributor: Stefanie chairs CIC's Yorkshire and Humber regional committee and is an Architect at Pearce Bottomley Architects in Leeds.