Langthwaite Business Park Crisis to Collaboration

RCP21 - Remaking Competitive Places for 21st Century Businesses

In 2005 Wakefield first led a consultation with occupiers of Langthwaite Grange Industrial Estate to engage them in a partnership approach to halt and turn around the estate's decline. The overall aim was "to create a vibrant setting for investment through effective and critical environmental and physical regeneration" which would tackle the problems related to crime and poor environmental quality identified by occupiers on the Estate.

Case Study produced by Mel Burton, Research Fellow of The University of Sheffield.

Location:
South Kirkby, West Yorkshire, UK

Context / Type:
Rural/urban fringe industrial estate with residential development on three sides.

Size:
57 hectares, 1375.7 acres (approximately); divided into various plot sizes.

Age of site:
First opened 1949 by Harold Wilson (Trade and Industries Secretary at that time)

Business Composition: 
Manufacturing 57%, Distribution 25%, Business Services 15%, Community Services 3%

Ownership:
Multiple private ownership. Public highways, verges and common grassed areas are owned by Wakefield Council. 

Economic and social context: 
Wakefield District suffered serious economic decline during 1980s, and more recently with the closure of the Selby coalfields. Langthwaite's surrounding communities, where most employees live, are within the 10% most deprived in the country; 3 out of the 4 local wards are the most deprived in the Wakefield District.
 

Background
Langthwaite Business Park, formally Langthwaite Grange Industrial Estate (the estate), is a large industrial estate located in South Kirkby, in the south east of Wakefield District. Opened in 1949 the site's development and environmental design was influenced by the British "Garden City" movement, which sought to bring greenery to urban settings. In the post WWII setting Langthwaite implemented an innovative high quality 'garden city' approach to industrial estate design, providing wide pathways and grass verges, tree lined roads and common grassed areas planted with shrubs. Created at a time of labour shortage and post war boom, the industrial development was expected to provide work for the women of the area as the male population was mostly employed crime_and_anti-social_behaviour_problems_208x156.jpgin local collieries. Initially the site proved successful, attracting knitting mills and underwear factories providing stable, though relatively low-paid, jobs for a predominantly female labour force.

In the 1980s West Yorkshire suffered serious economic decline following the closure of the collieries, the decline of manufacturing and particularly the decline of the textile and clothing sectors. One of the measures introduced by UK government to help the economic recovery of the worst affected areas were Enterprise Zones, where planning controls were loosened and financial subsidies offered.  Langthwaite Grange Industrial Estate was given Enterprise Zone status. An unfortunate result of this 'laissez faire' approach was disjointed development and a lack of stability, as businesses moved in the site to take advantage of subsidies then promptly left when tax advantages ended. In this period Wakefield Council, who had previously owned the whole site, sold off much of their portfolio, exacerbating the problems of ad hoc development that grew with increased multiple ownership.

In 2000 first, the Wakefield District Development Agency was set up as a public-private partnership with the strategic aim of making Wakefield District a first choice location for business, investment and relocation in Yorkshire. Despite major successes in attracting significant investment to the Wakefield district area as a whole, the south east proved less attractive to businesses. There was additional economic loss as geological problems forced the closure of Selby Coalfields in early 2004 with 650 local people losing their jobs.

The wards of South Kirkby and South Elmsall and those surrounding Langthwaite Grange include 3 out of the 4 most deprived wards in the district and are within the UK Government's 10% most deprived in the country. These wards were badly affected by the Selby decline and Langthwaite Grange, which was one of the main employment areas in the locality, became locked in an increasing spiral of decline prevalent since the early 1990s. By July 2005 27% of the units on site were unoccupied and for the 12 months between April 2004 and July 2005 8 companies left the site with 400 jobs lost.

langthwaite_derelict_2_168x126.jpgIn 2005 first led a consultation with the occupiers of Langthwaite Grange to engage them in a partnership approach to halt and turn around the estate's decline. The overall aim was "to create a vibrant setting for investment through effective and critical environmental and physical regeneration"which would tackle the problems related to crime and poor environmental quality identified by occupiers on the estate. The key benefit was to be the attraction and retention of new investment onto the Estate which it was believed would lead to increased confidence in the local area. An additional benefit from the improvements on the estate was make it "an area of environmental appreciation for the community".

 

Site Description - The Problems

A survey of the businesses on the estate identified the top three problems requiring action as: 

  1. Security
  2. Environmental issues centred on the estate's run down appearance, fly tipping and the use of the estate by vagrants and drug users
  3. Poor quality of roads and pavements and the lack of signage and street names

 

Security
High crime levels were having an economic impact and causing concerns over personal safety amongst occupiers and their employees. Interviewees reported high crime levels and fear of crime as the key factors contributing to the negative image of the site and lack of confidence of investors. A survey undertaken in 2004 byfirstindicated that in the previous 12 months a total of 338 crimes had been committed against property and vehicles. The estimated total value of goods stolen was £108,410 and the additional combined costs of security measures were approximately £205,524 per annum. Only 101 (29.88%) of these crimes had been reported to the police, indicating that businesses had very little faith in the ability of the police and companies complained of few or no criminals being caught or convicted.

In addition to reported crimes the Project Manager highlighted other problems where derelict units were attracting people sleeping rough and abusing drugs, starting illegal burning and fly tipping.

langthwaite_derelict_227x170.jpgThe crime survey found that many of the criminals were local and were accessing the site through the fences of business premises which backed onto the railways lines and via pathways which link the estate to the surrounding housing. Although individual business premises had varying degrees of security, such as fences and CCTV, poor quality street lighting created a dark and threatening environment and also resulted in poor quality images for CCTV cameras. The latter in turn meant that CCTV systems were ineffective at the very time they were most likely to capture criminal activity. Interviewees highlighted the lack of co-ordination between businesses, police and the local authority as another factor in creating a sense of an estate that was neglected and all but forgotten about.

One of the interviewees, an employee, described her experience where multiple break-ins and vandalism had created a feeling of vulnerability and insecurity at work:

"One time we found three of them upstairs, so you'd always be thinking who might be up there. Some days all the staff would be out and there'd only be two of us in the building and we felt very vulnerable".

The interviewee highlighted how break-ins and attempted break-ins caused additional work clearing up, and that night time call outs from the police were very inconvenient as well as distressing. The company installed panic buttons, and security swipe cards at entrances as well as shutters on the windows to protect staff and property. Although the level of loss through theft was not high, the general disruption to the business along with the costs of repairs and installing security measures, and increased insurance premiums, affected the business profits.

The widespread proliferation of security fences and CCTV cameras, together with the degraded, uncared for appearance of the estate dominated by graffiti and unmanaged, undeveloped land contributed to the perception of the area as unsafe.

 

Environmental Quality and Maintenance
The original garden city approach endowed the estate with wide grass verges, trees, boundary walls, open space at the site entrance and footpaths connecting to the surrounding housing estates. When the estate was owned by the local authority it was reported to have langthwaite_pond_169x127.jpgbeen 'cared for'. However, the legacy of the Enterprise Zone period and multi-ownership of plots and premises with a constant churn of business tenants meant that establishing ownership of the common areas was difficult. Curtilages, grassed areas, shrubs and trees became overgrown and unkempt.

There was also no control over the appearance and maintenance of the individual premises. Some business were storing waste materials outdoors, and carrying out illegal burning, causing localised pollution problems as well as adding to the site's visual unattractiveness. Shrubs and fences acted as 'litter traps' and in particular the ad hoc approach to boundary fencing (different styles, colours, distances from footpath), some of which was in a state of disrepair, added to a lack of visual coherence and the run down appearance of the estate. Undeveloped plots, unoccupied buildings, overgrown vegetation and the affects of crime and vandalism such as graffiti, broken windows and fly-tipping added to the overall appearance of a run-down, declining and unsafe site.

 

Access
Due the high percentage of manufacturing (57%) and distribution (25%) companies on the estate a substantial amount of delivery vehicles, particularly trucks, visit the site. Access from the motorways is vital but is through built up residential areas, and the traffic-light controlled access at the site entrance causes traffic queues at peak times. Roads on-site are narrow and large vehicles often mounted the pavements when turning, leading to damaged verges and pavements. Overall the roads and pavements on the estate were in a poor condition. Traffic bottle necks near certain business premises, parked vehicles and lack of traffic calming measure created traffic circulation problems. Joy riders and youths on motorbikes causing nuisance was also highlighted as a problem by interviewees.

The lack of signage and street names which made it difficult for visitors to locate their businesses was also identified as a key problem by occupiers during consultations.

 

Impact of Problems
It is difficult to prove that the estate's economic decline was caused by high crime and environmental degradation, but the exit interviews with some of the managers and landlords highlighted crime and the 'unattractiveness' of the site as the key reasons for leaving. Although the report does not clearly define 'attractiveness', it can reasonably be assumed that is was a combination of factors such as visual appearance and high crime rates which made the site appear 'unattractive'.

Crime and poor environment were the issues that the Project Manager's found most often cited by the occupiers during the consultation interviews on plans to re-develop the site. One of the landlords interviewed stated that potential occupiers had said they would not come to Langthwaite Grange in the past because of the poor perception they had of the estate.

 

Improvement Process
first
was not the first organisation to attempt to regenerate the estate. Although the exact details of previous initiatives were not given by interviewees, in the reports it appears that these had been relatively uncoordinated, did not involve or gain the businesses' participation and made little impact on the problems. Whilst such efforts did not have a negative impact, they left a legacy and perception amongst the business and local communities of "broken promises, hostility and lack of credibility of public sector agencies".

There was a strong local perception that Langthwaite Grange was not seen as a priority for the local authority as it was focused on other key projects, such as developing a business park on the South Kirkby colliery site. As first was seen as being independent of the local authority it had the scope to set its own project priorities, and Langthwaite Grange was chosen due to the number of businesses based there and to its significance as a key employment zone in a particularly deprived area.

This point was stressed by first's Chief Executive Mohan de Silva:

"Many people in the local community depended on Langthwaite for employment. It was seen as essential that it 'didn't die".

In April 2004, following consultation with English Partnerships (EP), first took the lead in developing a regeneration strategy for the estate. Mohan de Silva notes "that at that time the project was such an enormous problem no-one wanted to take the lead". However, this also meant that there were no territorial or leadership issues to resolve prior to commencing the project.

A key output of the process was the creation of the Langthwaite Grange Business Association (LGBA), a limited company made up of businesses on the estate who were elected by the business peers to represent the 'voice of the estate'.

The aim of establishing the LGBA was to encourage businesses to join a formal/organisation which would contribute to the long term financial and business success of the estate. The association was also established to take over responsibility for delivering the revenue support for the investment and any further improvement proposals.

 

The Physical Improvements
The clear and simple 'vision' which first had and which was the driver for the improvements to the estate were for it to be 'safe and attractive'. Improvements were needed which would lbp_sign_200x173.jpgtackle the real problems of crime and low landscape quality which would improve the existing negative image and raise confidence in the site. Some of the first actions were to undertake site clearance to remove fly tipping and other rubbish and to address the illegal burning carried out by occupiers.

The physical improvements took the form of two interlinked packages of works:

  • An estate wide security system;
  • A coherent package of environmental improvements including boundary treatment, to footpath and roads, and
  • Improvement of signage and site clearance.

 

Security Measures
The challenge was how to make the estate safe without becoming the 'fortress' which the majority of the businesses wanted. As the langthwaite_cctv_126x168.jpgProject Manager pointed out;"Initially occupiers wanted fencing everywhere without appreciating that criminals can cut through them and that their dominating appearance was contributing to the negative image of the estate".

The experience gained by the Project Manager had demonstrated that the effective placing of lighting, fencing, footpath layout and CCTV cameras can greatly increase the effectiveness of the security measures and negate the need for fencing the whole estate boundary. Measures included arranging access to ensure users walked down well-lit paths that gave the CCTV cameras clear, illuminated views and gates to hinder people's movement through the park. Cameras and gates were placed on entrances from the surrounding housing areas where many criminals gained access. As a result of careful placement 22 cameras now cover the park effectively compared to the 89 cameras owned by businesses which, as they were trained on specific buildings, were not deterring crime.

security_sign_132x99.jpgIn addition the Project Manager insisted on the use of 'white lighting' in the new street lighting which whilst more expensive to install and maintain ensures the CCTV cameras captured clear enough images to help secure evidence for convictions. In addition speakers linked to the CCTV cameras allow the security guard in the on-site control centre to alert those acting suspiciously that they are being watched.

  

Environmental Improvements
The main challenge facing the Landscape Architect, alongside tacking years of dilapidation and misuse, was to how to re-establish a 'sense of place' or identity for the estate. Improvements had been ad hoc and each business had taken a different approach to developing their site which had lead to a lack of coherence; for example different boundary fencing style, colours and distances from the footpath. The other challenge was the limited budget; improvements had to be prioritised. To overcome these challenges a pragmatic and consistent design approach was required and phased masterplan design was developed so that priority areas could be identified and implemented first.

The main priority was to improve the access road into the estate to maximise the visual impact on visitors and employees and the majority of funding was spent on improvements to the boundaries of properties along this route.

 

Contribution from business
To secure the EP funding it was necessary for the businesses on the estate to contribute towards the costs of maintenance, security guards and Estate Managers. To facilitate this first developed a scheme which allowed businesses to pay towards these services and the contribution was subsidized (using the funding from EP) on a reducing scale over the first three years. The required minimum of 50% of businesses contributing was achieved in the first 2-3 months with over 35 businesses agreeing to pay a total of £90 000. The contribution from businesses was based on the rateable value of their property with a minimum charge for small units. This was felt to be the fairest way and if all businesses paid this would generate the finances required.


Evidence of Success
Several 'measures of success' have been attributed to the project, some of these are measurable, others not. The summary below lists the key indicators of success given by those involved in the project. The pragmatic measure of success given by one of the occupiers and member of the LGBA was that,'we (LGBA) have done what we set out to do', in that the funding was secured and the planned improvements implemented. Certainly, there are tangible signs of success: 

  • litestructures_224x168.jpg20 new businesses bringing over 200 new jobs,
  • 70% reduction in crime over 12 months (August 2005-August 2006),
  • Business Association of occupiers set up to manage and to continue to improve the estate into the future, with companies contributing over £90,000 in fees.
  • Positive publicity about the estate,
  • Improved site image and increased confidence in the site among existing and potential occupiers.
  • Improved feeling of personal safety and improved quality of life.
  • 12M private sector funding injected since December 2005.
  • Improved confidence in the future of Langthwaite has significantly increased the number of resident companies investing in expansion of buildings.

 

New Businesses and Jobs
The most striking success following the improvements to the estate has been a reversal of the decline in occupancy. As of February 2007 20 new business had located to the site bringing the total number of jobs on the site to 1,414 jobs.  Along with existing occupiers expanding or improving their plots this has brought more than £12 million investment to the estate. The majority of the new businesses have been in manufacturing and storage/distribution which fits the existing profile of the estate.

Although new investment is important Mohan de Silva said success was also about strengthening the roots of existing companies; "The real success will be if companies want to remain there, jobs will always ebb and flow".

There is some anecdotal evidence that the improvements have been successful in this respect. The Project Manager stated that many of the international businesses that were considering moving their office premises to other business parks are now happy to stay.

She also reported an increase in demand for business premises in the area:

"There was a time when nobody wanted to come to the South Kirkby area and have their office on Langthwaite. Now it has an excellent reputation and businesses want to come here. It is in the top ten of places enquired about thanks to the changes. Landlords once let their units go to ruin because it wasn't worth keeping them in a useable condition, but now they have returned and cleared up the units so that they can be let once again".

Although there has been no specific marketing of the estate it appears that the positive publicity the project has received has contributed greatly to the changed perception of potential investors.  

 

Crime
Since the improvements the incidents of reported crime on the estate have reduced by 70% (over a twelve month period). As well as having an economic impact through reducing the financial burden of crime (no figures available), the Project Manager stated that people feel safer now. One of the occupiers commented that they felt able to 'answer the door as you know it's on camera'. The Project Manager also reported that the security measures had reduced the use from youths on motorbikes and criminals but not the responsible members of the community who use the park as an access route between their homes and the shops.  This was echoed by the occupier who said the nuisance problem of youths on quad bikes and in cars has stopped since the cameras were installed.

 

Image and Confidence
All interviewees agreed that the image of the site had improved and that this was particularly important for businesses who receive visitors. The Project Manager stated that businesses are now happier to have visitors and because of the physical transformation people feel as if they are now on a 'business park' rather than an industrial estate; and that changing the name to Langthwaite Business Park has completed this transformation.

One of the occupiers stated the image of the site has started to match their businesses image (software development). Previously visitors to the estate had remarked that "I didn't think you would be on here, it's not like the kind of place you would expect to have an office". Now she feels the site is "somewhere…..it's more like the kind of place more successful businesses would be and this projects an image of our business. Visitors have noticed and remarked positively on the changes".backstage_223x128.jpg

New signage has improved the legibility of the estate making it easier for visitors to find their destination and has contributed to the more positive image. The improvements have been credited by the interviewees with bringing a 'feel good' factor to the site which has had a knock on effect in the wider area. The Project Manager felt that people's expectations had been lifted and confidence had been restored.

On a personal level one occupier said she felt happier coming to work, "driving onto the estate looks and feels nicer". Her colleagues had also made positive comments about the improvements which she interpreted as an increased pride in their place of work. Mohan de Silva described the site's transformation as having a positive ripple effect into the local community, a good news story helping to raise confidence and bringing pride in the area. It could be measured by citizens' confidence in opening shops in the nearby streets.

One of the main outcomes of this partnership development has been the founding of the LGBA which will continue to manage the estate after the initial project has been completed. How the LGBA develops and continues to generate income to support this ongoing management will be a long term measure of the project's success.  It is intended ultimately that they become 'self sufficient'.