The need for a coherent and current masterplan
Last time we looked at the potential benefits for the town if our redundant buildings were reused to create a sustainable city for living. The reuse of these buildings would provide accommodation for this new life, though this is only one aspect of what affects the quality and experience of the built environment of our city. Unless we begin to explore the totality of the built environment in a coherent manner the city won’t be any more appealing to those young families seeking a home.
Newry’s streets are littered with everything from poor quality pavement, an abundance of unnecessary signposts, telephone cabinets and an insane amount of roads and car parks. Of course cities require a significant amount of infrastructure to function, the trick of successful cities is the systems and procedures they have in place to ensure that necessary infrastructural pieces do not dominate and ruin the qualities of the public spaces in which they sit. Cities that have successfully managed to incorporate all the necessary service pieces into their fabric, have one thing in common; a coherent and current masterplan, overseen by a body of professionals responsible for the implementation of this plan into all works proposed for the city, This ensures that everything from street lights to bridges sing from the same hymn sheet and reinforce the overall goals and vision for the city.
Newry’s masterplan is from 2011, this in fairness did make some good suggestions which would of been beneficial to the town and its function, unfortunately most of these suggestions have not been taken on board when large public projects are being considered, for example the theatre expansion at the town hall was to be procured via an international design competition to ensure a high quality of design to create the first new public building for decades which we can be proud of, this was not the case. This year an agreement was made to pursue a new masterplan, though this needs to be a live document, something updated regularly so it acts as a reference guide for decision makers, planners and anyone wishing to build in the city. A high level role to oversee this document and the implementation of these guidelines in all our city projects is needed for this to be successful and helpful in the creation of a liveable city.
The beautiful cities many of us travel to for their fantastic street scapes and public squares are a result of the process outlined above, most of them have a city architect or architects department to guide and advise on all works in the city and perhaps more importantly to use their experience to create a vision for the cities future. Many places in the Republic of Ireland have successful Architects Departments, which have lead to award winning public spaces and housing projects, notable among these is the work done by Simon Wall in Westport, Giulia Vallone in Cork, Rupert Maddock in Waterford and the multiple Dublin councils departments. Of particular interest to Newry is Mr Maddock’s floor barrier scheme along the river suir, a transparent barrier allowing appreciation of the water course without resorting to heavy handed concrete walls - something the DFI should bear in mind when undertaking the next set of flood prevention works. Changes to the typical approach like this is just one example of the benefit of having someone to oversee and advise all the works that take place in a city.
European cities, particularly those in Belgium and the Netherlands have a similar system, but go one step further with the introduction of a design review panel for all projects which meet certain goals in terms of scale, budget or type. Essentially this is a board of professionals who offer critique and advice to the design teams of projects prior to planning stage to ensure they meet the agreed goals for the city as outlined in the continually updated masterplan - a similar system is in place in most London council areas, in fact many years ago CABE (the Commission for Architecture & Built Environment) ran design reviews for larger projects across the UK, including Northern Ireland. Through the use of these panels the council could begin to hold all projects to a higher standard and begin to combat the substitution of lower quality materials and design in a post approval effort to reduce cost to the detriment of the city as a whole. This would be one method the council could begin to hold anyone to account when developing the city, private developers, roads services, water board, electrical suppliers any of these bodies who place items in our city would now have to do so with due care and attention. Of course this requires a thoughtful masterplan acting as a design guide which has buy in from those at the top.