With high streets around the country struggling to adjust to the internet shopping boom, planning an entirely new one for the shoppers of 2030 is a task full of uncertainty.
But as more of us look for cheaper goods and convenience online, so we crave the physical and social interaction which surfing the web denies.
Sir Terry Farrell is certain that in the future, being able to meet and spend quality time with people will be higher on everyone's list of priorities, and that town centres will have to adapt.
And in conjuring a master plan for Earls Court – a 77-acre plot which is in line for comprehensive redevelopment over 20 years – the veteran architect will be counting on dozens of his colleagues to turn his vision into a reality.
The blueprint for the 7,500 home Capco project was revealed last week, and includes at its heart a modern high street where the Earls Court Exhibition Centre currently stands.
Sir Terry describes the 21 st Century high street as being full of 'flexible spaces which can change more rapidly'.
"A lot of shopping will become online, but people will want to go and look at things before they go online," he said. "When they do that they'll also be meeting friends and going for a coffee or having a drink.
"People used to watch football matches on TV at home, now they all go and watch TV together – that coming together is going to be part of the role of the high street.
"You might find a library or a school, and there will be a small hotel with a clubhouse for local residents. It's more of a cultural and social street, more like Marylebone High Street and all under one ownership, so it is possible to 'curate' it."
The shopping thoroughfare will be watched over by the Met Police, who occupy the whole of the 31-storey Empress State Building at the centre of the development, its height setting a precedent for some of the surrounding towers.
The landmark police headquarters will stand at the crossroads of another key new road, the Broadway, which will be planned to look like Sloane Street in Kensington and Chelsea – residential buildings similar to those at Sloane Square in the south, and more Knightsbridge-like high rise buildings and commerce at the north end.
Also running north to south will be the Lost River Park, a five acre strip of green space winding through the development that follows the route of an ancient tributary of the Thames, and which will be dotted with ponds and water features.
Sir Terry believes that to ensure a degree of spontaneity in design, many architects should be involved, and he has a light touch when it comes to setting rules.
There are already 10 different practices working on the project, with regular informal meetings allowing for a free exchange of ideas.
"My view of London is that once you've got the streets and the squares and the layouts right, it's very robust," said Sir Terry. "If you look at any London street there are modern buildings, Art Deco ones, and the vast majority are probably Victorian. London's squares are often surrounded by buildings which are completely different, but they all work together.
"The only way you can create that variety is to get a group of architects who really enjoy collaborating and rubbing against one another, and give them a light set of rules."
Sir Terry pulled off the successful regeneration of the Quayside area in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, transforming it into a popular new cultural quarter, and hopes to have similar success here by creating four urban villages – West Brompton, West Kensington, Earls Court and North End - which reflect the 'grain and character' of west London, albeit at a higher density.
"We're not trying to build an island like Canary Wharf. We're part of the carpet that continues beyond our site," he said.
"The concept of four villages grew from the idea that urban villages are key to place-making in London. There are 600-odd high streets in London, and well over half of the people in outer London live within 400 metres of one."
Work cannot start until after Earls Court hosts the Olympic volleyball contest next year, after which time the exhibition centre will take around 18 months to knock down.
Each part of the scheme must also gain planning permission from either Hammersmith and Fulham or Kensington and Chelsea Councils, although both administrations have given te plans their firm backing.
The first new homes would be built on the Seagrave Road car park in West Brompton between 2015 and 2018, with work on the next section, Earls Court Village, running from 2012 to 2019.
The rest of the scheme would then follow, with the final part – the new office blocks, hotels and high-rise blocks next to the A4 at West Kensington – pencilled in for between 2023 and 2032.
THE BATTLE FOR WEST KEN AND GIBBS GREEN
Perhaps the most contentious element of the Earls Court master plan is the likely inclusion of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates off North End Road, where around 750 homes could be demolished.
Tenants and leaseholders have been promised new homes in the development and will get to keep their neighbours, but some oppose the loss of the estates and are trying to wrestle control of the land from Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
The developers now plan to build the first new blocks of flats on the Seagrave Road car park in West Brompton, in the hope that seeing the finished homes will persuade more anxious residents into moving there.
Up to 1,000 homes will be built in Seagrave Road, one quarter of which will be social housing, and around 500 more homes for social rent will be built in the other 'urban villages'.
A council spokesman said the authority has set three rules for judging whether the Earls Court is working and should be given approval – most important is whether it benefits people living there now, then whether it benefits the wider community, and after that, the borough as a whole.
"You'll get a brand new home, pretty much in the same area in which you're living, and you'll only have to move once," said the spokesman. "We'll be leaving neighbours together so we're not breaking up communities.
"The idea of a brand new home is a strong one, considering that the estates are in a reasonable condition now, but in 10 or 20 years' time, that might not be the case."
If leaseholders decide to sell up they will be offered the market value of their home plus 10 per cent, and those who want to buy in the new development will be given a 10 per cent discount.
"We want to make sure they've got every opportunity to stay in the area," said the spokesman.
The plans have divided estate residents, with around 25 volunteering to take part in a steering group independent of the two TRAs.
Sally Taylor, chair of the West Kensington Tenants and Residents' Association, accused the council in February of selecting a 'small working party of hand-picked residents', and said all those she had spoken to remained opposed to the idea of having to move home.
But West Kensington neighbour Sarah Lennon said: "Estate residents do not all oppose this new scheme. A large number of us are in favour of the benefits it would give us and future generations. The estate is run down and in dire need of regeneration to bring it up to standard. It is very unlikely that we would get another opportunity like this again to substantially improve our area."
VIEW FROM THE ESTATES
SUSAN AMANDA AUSTIN, 36, UNEMPLOYED, of CHURCHWARDS HOUSE, WEST KENSINGTON: "I am on the ground floor and live right next to the emergency door, so the noise starts at 6.30am - if I knew I’d get peace, I'd move. I like this flat because of the community, that’s the nice thing about living in this block, quite a lot of us talk to each other."
VICTOR MULI, 34, an ENGINEER, of CHURCHWARDS HOUSE, WEST KENSINGTON: "Yes, I would move if it had a garden because I have got two kids. I need more space, the flat I have is comfortable and it has a lot of storage, the only thing is not having a garden."
THERESA ST JOHN, 54, UNEMPLOYED, of CHURCHWARDS HOUSE, WEST KENSINGTON: "You know the places they are building are going to be smaller. I know the square footage here is bigger. The new houses aren’t going to be as substantial so I'd be reluctant to move."
ANNA HARVEY, 50, a JOURNALIST of TREBOVIR ROAD, EARLS COURT: "From my point of view the heavy machinery and dust will affect us, and the noise. But I am not against the project in any way. I am impressed because it has been thought-through and it has taken into account the skyline."
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