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A first round victory in the regeneration game

July 18 2005

With the first stage of the Castleford Project completed, its now possible to get an idea of exactly how the first TV-led regeneration campaign will transform a former mining town. Although the Project themselves are not dealing in stages, the completion within two months of 3 major play schemes in the town and its environs provides an opportunity to assess the scale and quality of the approach. The village green at New Fryston is a superb piece of place making by Martha Schwartz laid out in front of a row of mineworking cottages.
It is an impressive piece of designs, which hugs the road. With a contract value of around £300K, New Fryston must currently benefit from the largest per capita spending on public realm in the whole of the UK. It is no surprise to learn that English Partnerships have earmarked an adjacent greenfield site for housing development. Indeed the projects boast is that although they have brought together £7m of initial funding, a further £200 million has been pledged.
Another play area at Ferry Fryston in the suburbs of Castleford – is a splendid reworking of an adventure playground in an urban context. It is however very big. A recent book by Pauline Gallacher that outlines the varying fates of the Five Spaces made during Glasgow City of Design 1999 makes clear, maintenance of public realm is of equal significance to design quality. “We have had our problems with joined up government at Wakefield District Council, but as they are one of the authors of the project and they are relatively small, we have had pledges of ownership for the maintenance work by the Council,” said Carmel O’ Toole, a spokesperson for the Project.
There is however a second stage in the offing and its where the scheme gets more contentious. Channel 4 are at pains to distance themselves from any master-plan for a new north-south axis which will link a new market area on the main street through an upgrade of a ridiculous underpass which feeds 30,000 a week through a gap of 2m wide in and out of the town centre, on down a renovated Hagar Street, which Edinburgh House are expanding their Carlton Lanes shopping centre into, down to the river and the new bridge designed by McDowell+Benedetti.
It’s a bold, bright vision but it takes an age to get anyone to admit this was master-planned. “All of these projects existed on paper before we arrived. We are merely bringing them together. We are merely bringing these separate projects - the urgent need for a new underpass and the market - together” says David Barrie, originally the Executive Producer of the Castleford Project. Barrie who is a TV producer with a background in design projects admits however that a core team did draw up a masterplan for the centre.
He says however that the original team has taken a back seat since ownership of the project was taken on by the council. He also says that Talkback the production company filming the process are kept at arms length from the Project team. “I have no idea what they are filming,” he says and laughs. Betty from the Castleford Riverside Community Group is eager to see the new bridge arrive virtually on her doorstep. “We take our hands in our life every time we cross that bridge,” she says. Malcolm was the force behind the Cutsyke mini-farm and garden, which predated the nearby playground. He reckons they “should’ve given me £2 million and I’ve done the whole thing for them. There are people that owe me favours from my days in demolition.”

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