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BEST PRACTICE - BUILDING A COMMUNITY

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Turning a wasteland into a place people want to live in is tough but that's what's been done in Darlington, says An...
Turning a wasteland into a place people want to live in is tough but that's what's been done in Darlington, says Ana Paula Nacif

WINNERS West Park Partnership

AWARD Sustainable Communities Award

CATEGORY Constructing Sustainable Communities

SPONSOR NabarroNathanson

Transforming an area of industrial dereliction into a place people want to be is not a project to be taken lightly.

But over the past four years, that is exactly what the West Park Partnership in Darlington has been doing. The winner of the Constructing Sustainable Communities Award has proved that hard work and vision can go a long way.

The West Park Village - which is being built on a former chemical site - is a development that has several interdependent communities including mixed-tenure residential neighbourhoods, a mental health hospital, a

school, a village of community facilities and a 13-hectare wildlife park.

The main partners are Darlington BC, local developer Bussey & Armstrong and County Durham & Darlington Priority Services NHS Trust. They believe that building a sustainable local economy will enhance Darlington's appeal to investors as well as residents.

Over a 10-year period, starting in 2002, the factory site and the white ramparts of the old waste tip are being transformed into a sustainable community of 700 mixed-tenure homes (5% will be low cost and 5% for rent through registered social landlords), a new primary school, the hospital, a community village of shops, surgery, pub, childcare facilities and a new home for a local rugby club.

The park, hospital and school are up and running, with about 200 homes already built. Bussey & Armstrong director Tony Cooper says community involvement will be key to West Park Village's success over the next few years.

'We are setting up a community from scratch and to make it work we need everybody to get involved,' he explains.

'Everyone who moves there will pay a levy of£50 towards the maintenance of the West Park land. The money will go through a charitable trust and the community will have regular meetings. The intention is to get people on board and involved in the project.'

With the pace of transformation picking up speed, looking back is not an option. 'Over the past few years, we have completely transformed one of the top 10 eyesores in the north east into a nice area,' says Mr Cooper.

'People don't even remember what the place was like before. And to do that you need a bit of vision. These things take time, but the results are worth it if you are prepared to put the effort in.'

'Sustainability' is the project's motto. The park, for example, is designed to conserve biodiversity and provides a habitat for rare species. It also has an informal recreation area and is the hub of the poetry and sculpture that is in evidence throughout the development.

Peter Roberts, service development manager at Darlington BC, says the cultural and artistic side of the development makes it unique.

Throughout the hospital, for example, there are sculptures and the windows contain stained glass with lines of poetry. These installations are part of a comprehensive retelling of Darlington's story.

Similar installations can be also found at the new school, while every street name plate carries two lines of poetry that relate chapters of local history chronologically through the development.

According to Mr Roberts, the original motivation for the council was to deal with the last remaining bit of industrial dereliction, but that soon proved to be just the beginning of a larger enterprise.

'With Tony Cooper's vision, it became clear that the whole project had a huge potential to contribute to the bigger picture in terms of economic development. This is a long-term project that will help Darlington be a place where people want to invest and which will add real value to the local community.'

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