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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK
Realising one man's capital idea
By Jessica Dacey
BBC News South West

A model of new developments on Plymouth's waterfront
Mr Mackay said the waterfront is Plymouth's "unique selling point"
London, Paris, Rome - and now Plymouth.

It is the dream of one architect that Plymouth should be ranked among Europe's top cities.

David Mackay was commissioned in 2003 to design a grand vision for the Devon city's landscape.

The Barcelona-based architect described its seaside and countryside setting as "one of the most enviable locations of any city in the world".

A Vision for Plymouth was drawn out in 2003 by Mr Mackay's architecture firm MBM, which was behind renovations of port areas in Barcelona, Aix-en-Provence and Cardiff.

The result was a plan to focus on Plymouth's "unique selling point" - the waterfront - while building on its post-war layout.

In hundreds of cities there are similar cases where they have been in the doldrums for a while and they begin to think maybe there is a way out of it
Rob Cowan, Urban Design Group
Renowned 1940s planner Patrick Abercrombie had separated commerce, transport and shopping areas in his blueprint for the city's current system.

Years later people were left with a vast shopping area set inside a triangle of major roads.

Its waterfront was underdeveloped, with the exception of the historic Barbican quarter which somehow survived the Blitz.

Mr Mackay argued that other waterside cities had used their setting and architecture to establish their credibility on a world stage, with Genoa and Liverpool being named European cities of culture.

"Plymouth has turned its back on history and it could be said that in the process it has lost the human scale of connection between its heart and limbs. Our vision seeks to correct this fundamental constraint."

He said it needed to "fulfil its place within the European cities of equal size" as part of planners' 20 year vision.

David Mackay
Mr Mackay said Plymouth is a natural centre for employment
The key was the reinforcement of its waterfront.

An "arc" of redevelopment was designed fanning from the Sound, complete with a regenerated Millbay district to the west and the Barbican to the east. The two were linked by the Hoe promenade and an improved pedestrianised walkway link to the city centre.

Mr Mackay's vision also suggested creating a transport hub by moving the bus station next to an enlarged railway station.

Plans for the new Drake Circus shopping centre were also integrated into the vision and coupled with a suggestion to replace existing long blocks of shops with interesting corridors of smaller boutiques.

Along the Hoe, underground lighting would create a safer feel to the promenade.

The vision also proposed building piers to bring more activity to the Sound.

On either side, Millbay and Sutton Harbour would see radical regeneration of business and homes, creating a "mini-Manhattan" complete with 18-storey buildings.

We have developers queuing up to develop Plymouth
Peter Ford, Plymouth Design Panel

While not all of Mr Mackay's ideas may be taken up, the council has backed the general idea of reinforcing the waterfront.

The designs will continue to be used as a vision for local planning policy until 2021, and ideas tested in the market to decide which are deliverable projects.

Peter Ford, of the Plymouth Design Panel that advises the council on planning, said the Mackay vision provided a general framework for action but the city would need to continue to respond to change.

"In 20 years time, we may need another vision. I don't think it ever ends.

"We have developers queuing up to develop Plymouth. What we have to make sure is that it is not growth for growth's sake."

'Continuous process'

Rob Cowan, director of the Urban Design Group campaign organisation, said the changes were in line with many other cities and towns across the country all trying to make sense of their identity in the new economy.

"We are now entering a new era. In hundreds of cities there are similar cases where they have been in the doldrums for a while and they begin to think maybe there is a way out of it.

"But it is a continuous process. It depends on what's happening economically and socially."

To make it work, they need a common vision and flexible plans in the face of economic change, he said.

Three years on, Mr Mackay said the vision is making slow but steady progress.

"Now I think it is important at the moment not to lose the pride of the city which has been gained over the last few years. With more confidence it should attract more investment.

"It really is a capital of a peninsula. It is a natural centre that could generate employment and culture."


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