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Bracknell at 70: Lessons from a newly-regenerated New Town

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This case study is part of the Department of Real Estate and Planning, Henley Business School and University’s commitment to supporting the local region, in addition to their more widely applied policy and practice research programmes. Bracknell is one of the major centres of population and employment in Berkshire (UK) and has recently celebrated its 70th anniversary as one of the UK’s post-war New Towns, one of the most significant national planning policy programmes of the 20th century.

The New Towns have matured and many now require major regeneration. The research studies the process that led to the comprehensive demolition and renewal of Bracknell’s town centre, and evaluates the scheme’s outcomes. The assessment is a major partnership between Henley academics and the local authority and includes Bracknell Forest Council’s former regeneration lead and now Lecturer, Victor Nicholls as co-investigator, along with Associate Professor Emma Street.

The research highlights the lessons that can be drawn for others looking to deliver regeneration in the context of a wide-ranging, thematic review of the New Towns programme. The need for regeneration is not limited to Bracknell, given the relatively narrow time frame within which the New Towns were delivered, and the similarity of the issues facing town centres, especially given the changing shape of retailing and challenges of satisfying housing demand and supply.

The report concludes that the creation and communication of a shared vision is essential, based on a combination of local priorities, realism and commercial pragmatism. Keeping the community and other stakeholders informed of progress is essential, as is the flexibility to respond to the changes that are bound to occur over the long period necessary to plan a major regeneration.

This detailed investigation of a major New Town regeneration has been disseminated widely and used by a large number of stakeholders. The original stakeholders were Legal and General, Schroders, and Bracknell Forest Council, and the research has also been shared with every other New Town in the UK. In addition, it has been disseminated across the academic community, central and local government, professional associations and the development industry through the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the New Towns, the CBI, the Institute for Government, the American Planning Association, the International New Towns Institute, and the professional institutions of architects (RIBA), town planners (RTPI) and surveyors (RICS) as well as the Thames Valley Property Forum.

Ongoing research is focusing on evaluating the performance of the Bracknell scheme post-completion and identifying which performance measures are needed to help stakeholders assess town centre ‘success’. The knowledge gained will provide evidence to inform new regeneration schemes and help underpin the development of thriving town centres in the future and given the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.