History and Background
Waterside is at the historic heart of Leicester. It was the centre of the Roman settlement, the location of two medieval city gates and the city's original High Street which brought travellers from the north into the heart of the town.
In the 19th and 20th centuries it underwent significant change, as the River Soar was joined by the Grand Union Canal, the Leicester to Swannington Railway, and later the Great Central Railway were built, and the area became a hub of trade and industry. The historic legacy is evident in the area's stock of Victorian warehouses, the remnants of the railway viaduct, the Roman and medieval street pattern and underlying archaeology.
The Waterside is a place of great assets and opportunities. Leicester Waterside has an established urban identity with many characterful historic structures, ranging from simple but fine examples of industrial warehouses to important listed buildings. The advantages of being close to Leicester city centre AND the waterfront create an opportunity to deliver a distinctive new urban quarter, which meets the identified need for high quality homes, in an attractive and vibrant location. The scale of opportunity and city-wide benefits afforded by the long term transformation of Waterside are reflected by the area's designation as part of Leicester's 'Strategic Regeneration Area' - the city's priority for infrastructure investment and a focus for the delivery of housing.
Perhaps as a result of its poor connectivity, Waterside has failed to naturally establish a new role following the decline of industrial uses and is characterised by high levels of vacancy and dereliction. It presents a poor approach to the city centre, and a physical and economic barrier between the centre and the adjacent neighbourhoods of Newfoundpool.
The area remains a strategically important location; it is adjacent to the city centre's Highcross centre and on three key routes into the city: the A50, A6 and A47.
The River Soar and canal network is the most significant natural feature within Leicester which brings life into the heart of the city and links the countryside to the north and the south. It links with other strategic wildlife corridors through the city which collectively provide a green network reaching throughout the built-up area.
Regeneration is already underway-the City Council is currently investing £6.5 million to refurbish the listed Friar's Mill building on Bath Lane as a business hub for small and medium enterprises. Other committed public investment includes highways improvements and safer routes for cycling and walking.
Early private sector development has delivered apartments on Bath Lane, with current permissions, applications and pre- applications discussions reflecting continuing private sector interest. Planning permission has recently been granted for a prominent site on the corner of Vaughan Way and Highcross St, opposite Highcross (shopping centre)/John Lewis. The scheme is retail led mixed-use. In addition, the City Council has been allocated £21.5 million of funding from central government via the Local Growth Fund.
The long-term aim of regeneration is to re-connect Waterside back into the wider city, transforming it into a thriving residential and mixed use community, which offers all the benefits of vibrant city life and supports the economic success of the wider city centre as a cultural and economic hub. Strengthening connections along the river and canal network, improving sustainable transport routes and providing access to Leicester's major waterfront assets such as the National Space Centre, historic parks of Castle Gardens and Abbey Park and the award-winning educational establishment of De Montfort University will be central to how Waterside develops.
The City Council is a significant land owner in the Waterside and has acquired a number of sites to help facilitate development. The City Council wishes to see the Waterside area developed in a comprehensive and co-ordinated way, albeit it recognises this maybe on a phased basis over a number of years.
The Competition Site
The competition site of Soar Island is enveloped by the River Soar on its west side and the Grand Union Canal on the east side, with Rally Park immediately across the Soar Lane River bridge to the west (with the residential terraces of the Newfoundpool area beyond) and, Waterside regeneration area proper over the Soar Lane Canal bridge to the east. Leicester City Council believes this site offers an exciting and challenging opportunity for Architects and Landscape Architects to submit proposals to realise the potential of the site as one of the first developments in the regeneration area.
Soar Island is at one of the most interesting parts of the river. It needs to include a use which creates an attractive destination that draws people to it, where they can enjoy being by the river.
The existing site is currently compartmentalised into 3 sections: section 1 (Appendix 5) (0.15 ha/0.37 acres), to the northern tip, is a largely wooded area. Section 2 (0.50ha/1.24 acres) is in private ownership and is currently leased and used by Hope Construction Materials (Concrete) as a ready-mix concrete plant. Section 3 (0.22ha/0.54 acres), which is separated from the rest of the site by the roadway, to the southern tip of the island, features green open space and a piece of artwork 'Demostaph' commissioned by the City Council - please see connectivity below for further details. The southern tip is an artificially raised mound which is created from site infill. All 3 areas should be used and considered as part of competition entries.
The Council understands from historic plans, that the site was formerly the location of a former mill and railway interchange, the Swannington Railway, also known as the Rally, West Bridge and Great Central Stations. It is highly likely therefore that contamination is present however, no further information is available as part of this competition brief. See Appendices 5-7 for further details.
The site sits within the Leicester City Council's Abbey Ward.
In terms of connectivity Soar Lane forms an important east-west pedestrian and cycling link between the A50 and Rally Park and the terraced residential streets of Newfoundpool beyond. The island is connected by 4 bridges (Appendix 5) -2 are suitable for vehicles and 2 suitable for cyclists and pedestrians.
National Cycle Route 6 runs along the towpath from the city centre on the west bank of the waterway, cuts across the island over the Soar River Bridge and Soar Canal Bridge, onto Soar Lane heading over to the A6 before picking up the waterway route again and heading to Loughborough (see Appendix 9 for details).
The towpath follows the route of the canal, and whilst accessible is in some need of upgrade particularly to the northern tip of the Island.
Whilst traffic is prevented from proceeding into Rally Park, in the opposite direction Soar Lane leads to the A50-one of the city's key arterial routes.
Soar Island lies at a strategic crossroads of green space, surrounded by the waters of the River Soar to the west, Grand Union Canal to the east and directly adjacent to the Rally Park. The island is also located between two weirs- Evan's Weir to the south and Hitchcock's Weir to the north. The combination of slow flowing waters of the river and canal, deep pools and fast flowing weirs provide an ideal combination to support urban wildlife.
Development requires a special approach with a design that enhances the contribution Soar Island makes to the biodiversity of the area. It should seek to maintain the integrity and connectivity of ecology on the island whilst providing opportunities to enhance biodiversity, open space and visual amenity in particular to the northern tip, southern end and the periphery. High quality designs should consider innovative techniques which are capable of providing multiple benefits such as connectivity, additional habitat resource, sustainable drainage and improved water quality and visual amenity.
Please refer to Leicester City Council's Senior Nature Conservation Officer's site report at Appendix 14 for further details.
There is no known flood risk to the island, and there are no known flood defence works planned which may change this as part of Leicester City Council's and the Environment Agency's ongoing work. It is suggested however, that the topography on the eastern edge of the island is maintained.
Soar Island is a unique and special place. Its setting between the River Soar and Grand Union Canal provides a very prominent central location within the waterside area surrounded by buildings and structures which make a positive townscape contribution. Currently, the south end and the east side are publicly accessible affording views, interaction with the waterside and cycle and pedestrian connections. Also crossing it is a busy main route into the city centre for pedestrians and cyclists. Both of these elements will look to be enhanced in the future development of the Waterside and Soar Island.
Soar Island will terminate key views from Bath Lane and Soar Lane whilst providing opportunities itself to view the river and in the long term views across the new waterside neighbourhood towards the city centre and Cathedral. As Soar Island is identified as a 'gateway site', development will need to be of high quality and enhance Soar Island's status as a local landmark. However, to retain views across Soar Island we are proposing development of up to 3 storeys.
Soar Island has the opportunity to provide a use or number of uses that offers a destination in its own right. To make a significant contribution to the townscape with a high quality design response which takes the needs of wildlife into consideration. To bring this area to life and provide the residents of Leicester, in particular the Waterside and surrounding neighbourhoods, an opportunity to enjoy all that it has to offer.
Perceived site constraints and opportunities (in no particular order):
Listed buildings & structures in the immediate area:
- Soar Lane Canal Bridge-Grade II listed
- Evans Weir-Locally Listed.
- Soar Lane River Bridge-Locally Listed
- Bases to former Swannington railway line bridge-Locally Listed
The southern tip of the island includes an existing site-specific public artwork, 'Demostaph' by Alberto Duman. This work was installed during 2005 as part of the Cultural Mapping project that marked entrances, significant sites and routes through Leicester and that respond to the physical and cultural character of the area in which they are located.
Responses can integrate this artwork or require decommissioning or relocation. However, due consideration will need to be given to the implications of any impact on this artwork through site development, either through changes to the wider setting of the artwork or impact on the site at which it is installed.
The Waterside area forms an important part of the city's Strategic Regeneration Zone, a priority for investment and regeneration identified in Leicester Local Plan, which will deliver approximately 11,850 new homes by 2026. The Leicester Core Strategy 2014 states 'The Strategic Regeneration Area will be the focus of major housing development and physical change to provide the impetus for economic, environmental and social investment and provide benefits for existing communities'.
A consultation draft Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) has been developed for the Waterside area concurrently to this architectural competition, which sets-out a spatial plan and vision for change and investment over the next 10-15 years. Much of the information in this brief has been taken from this document. A copy of the consultation draft SPD is attached as Appendix 1 as further detail to guide entrants to Leicester City Council's vision for the Waterside.
Leicester Waterside's Vision
A thriving urban quarter offering a unique and vibrant place to live, and space for local businesses to flourish. A place that reconnects Leicester to its waterfront, bringing opportunities for Leicester, green connections and wildlife. A place where people feel safe and comfortable to walk and cycle through, and to the city centre. A place where the streets and homes are built to high standards of design and sustainability. A confident place which values its history while embracing the future.– An excerpt from the draft SPD
In meeting the vision the Waterside seeks to deliver
Applicants are asked to take into account the first 3 of these aims and respond to them in their submissions. Submissions will be judged against meeting these criteria, amongst others. See competition conditions for further details.