By Thomas Homes on 24/10/2016

Virtually everyone agrees that more public space – and well-designed public space – is a good thing. The World Health Organisation summed it up earlier this year: “Smart design and investment in sustainable public spaces can help increase levels of physical activity and reduce traffic injuries, and urban air pollution including greenhouse gas emissions, both protecting public health and mitigating climate change.”

In the UK, there’s been a perception that public spaces are under threat, but a report by Ken Worpole and Katherine Knox for Joseph Rowntree Foundation comes to a different conclusion: “Contrary to conventional assumptions, public space in neighbourhoods, towns and cities is not in decline but is instead expanding.”

In truth, much of the new public space in our towns and cities is being created by property developers. The redevelopment of King’s Cross in London was heralded as introducing 20 new streets and ten new public squares. Almost anywhere there has been new development of any size in London over the last decade – London Bridge, Stratford, Paddington – there has been public space to match.

It’s not just in London, of course. For example, in Swindon, opening up the award winning Old Railway Quarter is at the heart of the redevelopment plans by Thomas Homes, creating a whole new public realm in what was the derelict Brunel Railway Works. This includes two new roads, Fire Fly Avenue and Evening Star Lane, as well as two exceptional public spaces, Chain Court and Heritage Plaza. This helps bring new life to what is fast becoming one of regions most exciting areas, with the National Trust headquarters and Swindon Designer Outlet centre being interesting neighbours.

It’s all a far cry from the redevelopment of the 1980’s and earlier, when gated estates were the watchwords. Today, the move towards ‘privately owned public spaces’ - POPS for short – seems unstoppable. Most importantly, opening up to the public and integrating with the surrounding community captures something of the contemporary spirit. Developers such as Thomas Homes now see a benefit in delivering homes that are not walled off from their environs, but provide ready access to public transport, cycle routes and other distinct egalitarian amenities.

And the argument in favour of privately owned public spaces is that they are properly managed in a way that the publicly owned ones haven’t always been. For most of us, most of the time, it will be of little consequence who actually owns a public space – the important thing is that it’s there in enjoy.

Apartments are available for sale in Olympus House at Old Railway Quarter from £150,000, and the sales centre and show apartment is open Thursday to Monday 10am to 4pm telephone (01793) 497974.

Watch This Space: Public Space at Old Railway Quarter header image