Regeneration of London Road
In 2006, the Regency Society expressed strong objections to the planned development of the New England Quarter, the brownfield site between the station and London Road, for mixed-use including housing, offices and a major off-street supermarket. It was critical of the lack of public space, of the blank streetscapes, of the failure to improve the functioning of the station as a transport hub and of the likely negative impact on the viability of London Road. The area was already in decline. Any large scheme needed to ensure uplift to the whole area.
The success or otherwise of the New England Quarter aside, nine years later there is an uplift.
The London Road area was first developed as a middle-class residential area in the early 19the century, becoming a busy high street by the 1930s with the arrival of large retailers such as the Co-op, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s. As these retailers moved out In the mid 1980’s, the area began a gradual decline.
The London Road Central masterplan (SPD 2009) provides the latest guidance upon which development is proceeding. Key within the plan is the intention to improve east-west access, linking Hanover to North Laine and the station and thereby improving the public realm with more legible streetscapes and quality gathering places. Two of nine listed buildings/parks in the area, plus the historic Open Market, have recently undergone redevelopment and are already making a positive difference to the area.
Old Co-operative department store
Retaining the 1930s façade of the original building has enabled a successful change of use of this large space for student accommodation. The monumental facade is a local landmark and maintains the strength and coherence of London Road that otherwise suffers from visual clutter. Behind this and along Baker Street, 351 bed spaces for students have been created, in buildings of two to six stories.
The streets that surround the site are different from each other in scale, use and materials. The resulting design has managed to retain the mass of the original building without compromising local residents. Continuous retail frontage along London Road and Baker Street maintains the existing streetscape while reduced mass to the northeast provides more light and space to homes on London Terrace. A small corner of the site fronts Kingsbury Road to the east.
The design of the corner of London Road and Baker Street seamlessly connects two dissimilar streets. The proportions of the original façade are reflected in the window proportions of the upper floors along Baker Street, while the walls change from the classicism of stone to the town vernacular of white render. The stepped-back top storey of the new build softens the visual impact of the mass on the adjacent buildings to the south. Entry into the student area of the site is from Baker Street. The new student population is a catalyst for regeneration, with old shops and cafés spruced up and new ones opening. The large retail units further increase foot traffic and trade.
The Open Market
Brighton’s Open Market began in the 1880’s when barrow boys began selling fruit and vegetables in Oxford Street. As a result of the "battle of Oxford Street" in the 1920s, the barrow boys and stallholders were given permission to trade in the Rose Walk of the Level. The present site, in Marshall’s Row, began its evolution in 1926, with various highs and lows.
The new covered market has entrances on London and Ditchling Roads connected by a double height central space for temporary stalls and community activities. There are 45 permanent market stalls around the central square and 12 small workshops at first floor level, overlooking the central square. Bordering the market to the south, 87 affordable housing units have been built on both sides of Francis Street, enhancing a lane that had seemed a forgotten alleyway.
The Level forms part of the Valley Gardens Conservation Area. Once open grassland at the convergence of the streams running down the valleys of Lewes Road and London Road, it has evolved to become one of Brighton’s major parks.
Formally laid out by A H Wilds and the local botanist/landscape gardener Henry Philips, the Level was the only recreation area in Brighton, hosting cricket from the mid 18th century until 1822 and a celebration of the coronation of George IV by the roasting of two bullocks at a public dinner. Elm avenues were planted along the outer pathway in 1844 but most were destroyed by the storm of 1987 and have now been replaced by mixed species. The original playground was designed by Bertie Hubbard MacLaren in 1927 as Brighton was finally recognising, from models in the north, the importance to health of having more public open space than just the seafront.
Recent capital works aimed to restore MacLaren's 1920s design for the southern half of the park, while improving its facilities and making it more suitable for contemporary park users. The original symmetrical layout of the paths and beds near the south entrance has been reinstated and the full footprint of the original boating pond, now a water feature for children, retained. The two original Pavilion shelters have been restored as space for community activities.
Original bridges, columns and pergolas give definition to the water feature and an entrance from the Rose Walk, past a new café with indoor and outdoor seating. The south triangle of the upper lawn is now a popular skate park. The remaining upper lawns are grassed and the outer edges newly landscaped.
Developments in progress
Work is under way to repair the tower of St Peter’s Church and to transform the area around Ann Street and Providence Place Gardens (the small park opposite St Bartholomew’s Church) into a lively public space. Completion of this and the new entrance to the rear of the station will achieve the intended east-west pedestrian corridor.
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