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Plan to turn Laira Bridge land into £7million retail park

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A PLYMOUTH firm of architects is working on a £7million plan to turn derelict land at Laira Bridge into a retail park with a hotel.

Details of the proposed scheme are being kept largely under wraps at present, but are being worked on for an un-named developer by Plymouth’s award-winning AWW.

The former Western National site has been vacant since 1999, with other schemes proposed but never getting off the ground.

Ian Sanders, director at AWW’s Plymouth office, said: “We won a competition to design a retail-based mixed-use scheme with a hotel on site.

“We are at the pre-planning stage at the moment. We have a lot of ambition for that.”

He described the design the firm is working on as “very exciting” which would have a “sweep and curved canopy”.

The project one of several in Plymouth the firm is involved with.

It has three designs ready for the 1,000sqm site, next to the Drake Circus mall, which is currently a small park.

This land was earmarked to be the home of a 25-storey skyscraper, but the scheme “stalled” when the recession hit in 2008, with The Herald reporting that no offers were on the table.

The patch of land was this year sold as part of a £240million deal that saw Kandahar Real Estate sell the mall to British Land.

However, Mr Sanders described it as “a live scheme” and said the commissioned work, which would suit a hotel, could still be used if another developer emerged.

He said: “We are trying to see if there is any interest in a hotel in Plymouth or not.

“This is work that has already been done. At the moment we have three viable schemes for that site. We tried to pitch it with a high-end concept scheme, a more practical scheme and a low value scheme, to give a range.”

AWW also designed the new Plympton library, replacing the building that burned down in 2008.

“We are on site now,” said Mr Sanders, adding that the firm was involved in re-planning the scheme when a proposed health centre was ditched.

And AWW has also designed the proposed King Point Marina at Millbay.

Details of the plan were revealed in The Herald recently and AWW has designed a two-storey building, surrounded by timber decked terraces with access to marina pontoons.

The first floor could accommodate a restaurant or marine related businesses, with terraces commanding views over Millbay and Plymouth Sound.

AWW started as a purely Bristol-based firm, but opened a London office in 2001 and followed with one in Plymouth – which this week celebrates its fifth birthday.

Mr Sanders, a Plymothian, was keen the firm should have a presence in his home city.

“It’s got anything anyone could need,” he said. “It’s the best of all worlds.”

The Plymouth base has four architects working from it and has been responsible for handling £35million of work.

And it has maintained the work levels despite the economic downturn, so when jobs declined in Plymouth others were picked up elsewhere in the South West.

Seven of AWW’s nine directors have responsibilities for sectors such as healthcare, education or leisure, and can be drawn on for support.

But Mr Sanders explained that having a Plymouth office is crucial to picking up work in the South West.

“There’s a perception that if you are coming from outside the region you will not be able to deliver,” he said. “We were not getting our share of the work.

“But we now have a place here to seek out new work. We pride ourselves on knowing what our clients want. We are building relationships all the time.”

Kathryn Chiswell Jones, AWW’s business development manager, said the firm was keen to contribute to the “development of the city”.

She said: “It’s a stunning city with lots of scope for regeneration. Ian and his team are starting to be a part of that.”

Mr Sanders said that means working to encourage investors to develop in Plymouth.

“We are seeking to get investor clients to develop in Plymouth – there are lots of opportunities here.

“I see our role as a facilitator. We are looking at how we can help developers by seeing what they want and putting opportunities their way.”

Mr Sanders said Plymouth will take longer to recover from the economic slump because it lacks “critical mass”.

But he insists “the best years are ahead” for the firm and Plymouth.

“We are at an interesting stage in this office’s life and how we develop is particularly crucial.”

The firm, which also designed Plymouth International Business Park, works on a wide scale, from master- planning to interior design, which means working on designs from a city level, to individual buildings, down to choosing the door handles.

It uses building information modelling (BIM) a three-dimensional, real-time, modelling software to increase productivity in building design and construction.

This year the firm won the AJ100 South West Practice of the Year Award, presented by the Architect’s Journal after an employee satisfaction survey.

AWW scored the highest among all practices shortlisted for regional awards.

Two of its projects were honoured at the RICS South West 2011 Awards.

AWW won the regeneration award for the restoration and redevelopment of Regency Manor Estate into The Cornwall, a 65-bed, four-star boutique hotel.

It also won the Best Overall and Best Commercial Pool at the national swimming pool industry’s SPATA Awards.

A development in Croydon was also shortlisted by the RICS Awards London in the Regeneration and Community Benefit categories.

AWW also designed the recently opened Amy Williams Sports Centre at Hayesfield Girls’ School in Bath, and the South Bristol Community Hospital, scheduled to open next year. Recent project wins include the Stratford Island University Centre, in London, the University of Bristol’s new build student residential accommodation, and a new hangar project at RAF Brize Norton.