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The Regeneration Game: How Walker Sime is helping Local Authorities transform

Upperbanks

‘Levelling up’ is the agenda, but when that agenda involves construction, someone has to deliver it. Across the North West, Manchester-based multi-disciplinary construction company Walker Sime is creating “places that work”, while making life easier for busy local authorities.

It started in 2019 with quantity surveying (QS) support for Upperbanks, a residential development with associated public realm that delivered 242 build-to-rent apartments and a 146-bed Hampton by Hilton hotel for Rochdale Borough Council/ Rochdale Development Agency. Walker Sime had built its reputation in the private sector, working with clients including Muse, Peel Holdings and BAE Systems. Public sector regeneration was relatively new territory, but one successful project led to another.

Project management (PM) of the junction 19 link road of the M62 improved Rochdale’s local infrastructure. PM of the town’s Advanced Machinery & Productivity Institute (AMPI) ensured Rochdale could continue to play a vital role in the future productivity, security, and prosperity of the UK manufacturing industry. Reviews of other potential residential schemes across the Rochdale borough will help with the shortage of housing crisis and enable the exploration of net zero carbon solutions which could contribute to reductions in the cost of living.

One local authority became two, as Bolton Council sought Walker Sime’s QS and commercial management (CM) expertise on securing town investment plan (TIP) funding for the renovation and refurbishment of Bolton Market, Bolton Library and Bolton Wellsprings.

Today, six of the ten GMCA (Greater Manchester Combined Authority) councils are Walker Sime clients, together with a further three local authorities from Merseyside and Yorkshire.

“You’re proud to be part of transforming places you know so well”

Carolann Watson, Associate Director, understands why local authorities have looked to Walker Sime for help. “Local authorities have been under pressure in terms of spending and service delivery for many years due to austerity measures imposed by Government. As a result, councils have had to reduce service offerings and downsize staff resources which have led to a reduction of in-house technical competency” she says. “Delivering large scale projects now requires input from construction professionals, brought in through established framework arrangements, to assist delivery teams in understanding what needs to be done and help them stay on track.”

“Ensuring value for money is key for any local authority,” adds Carolann. “Often, we’ll be brought in to help a local council with one aspect of a project—we might be asked to help with governance, processes and operating efficiency, for example. Yet because we’re passionate about building effective, trusted relationships we find things just seem to grow organically. We may then help them secure funding, develop project budgets, advise on risk and exposure, ensure they have all the information they need for contract selection and tendering, or monitor delivery on site.”

Carolann believes Walker Sime’s local connections are a big part of the business’ success. “Rochdale is my hometown,” she says. “Duncan Firth [Walker Sime MD] is also a Rochdale lad. You find these local connections right the way through the business. You’re proud to be part of transforming places you know so well and local authorities see that, especially with the importance they place on social value and environmental policies. If we have to put an extra shift in to get a task across the line, we will, and our clients’ see our commitment in that way too.”

Bolton Library

Level best levelling up

Curtis McCluskey, Walker Sime Marketing Coordinator, knows regeneration and ‘levelling up’ are about more than building something new.

“Regeneration has to mean something for local people.,” he says. “They need to understand how it will benefit them, whether that’s in terms of jobs, education, accessibility or well-being. They need to see how regeneration will improve their business prospects and/or bring life to their town. So the challenge isn’t just about creating a space that integrates with the way people live and work; it’s about engaging them about the possibilities, about helping them see the value in what we do, so they can feel as excited about it as we are.”

“Social value is a major part of every technical submission we make, and there are two parts to that,” adds Carolann. “There’s the social value of the space we create and the benefits to local communities, and there are the social elements of the way we work, from recycling and sustainable construction to apprenticeships, the supply chain we use and the local people we employ.

“We make it easy for councils to choose to work with us because we bring all of that, and of course we’ll also bring the right skills to the right project and deliver the right value, irrespective of scale. After handling such a wide range of urban regeneration projects over the past few years, we really can tackle anything.”

Places that work

“Ten or so years ago, funding for regeneration and development was very limited,” Carolann explains. “Now, because of increased opportunities for funding made available through different streams, local authorities have a real opportunity to develop their towns in the way they want. That creates its own challenges and pressures because, in my experience, councils need to satisfy numerous financial, political and community drivers and they’re not always quite aligned. I’ve been part of a number of public consultation exercises where you’re reminded of the things that really matter to people – not just ‘building a new shiny building’. It brings home the importance of considering different views and opinions and communicating with relevant stakeholders in the process. You want to bring them with you on the journey to achieving the vision to satisfy everyone.

“A lot of private developers want to put their stamp on an area but it is so important that we don’t, because it can dilute the community feel or the dynamics of a place. Walker Sime believes in the importance of creating places that work, places for people.”

Currently top of Walker Sime’s regeneration agenda is the redevelopment of Birkenhead, including the Woodside Gyratory, Dock Branch Park, Wirral Waters and a flagship public space at Hamilton Square, which includes the train station, ferry terminal, and expands into central Birkenhead and the surrounding areas.

Proposed Dock Branch Park, Birkenhead

“It’s a massive regeneration programme,” says Carolann, “but having personally worked on the first stage of the Dock Branch Park project, I know how amazing it’s going to be”. Our QS, PM, CM and quantity surveying infrastructure services are helping to create an area people will want to be part of. It’s going to spark and rejuvenate the entire region. That’s what regeneration’s all about isn’t it?”

For more information on Walker Sime’s Public Sector offering, please contact Carolann Watson (CWatson@walkersime.co.uk)