Natascha McIntyre Hall from Portsmouth City Council on people-first development, car-free cities and using council powers for good. Interview by Christine Murray
“I don’t want the same old solutions that have been tried everywhere else just to be stuck together in a slightly differently order,” says Natascha McIntyre Hall, assistant director of strategic developments at Portsmouth City Council.
We are talking about McIntyre Hall’s vision for Tipner West in Portsmouth, which transforms the 140-acre post-industrial peninsular, home to a Ministry of Defence firing range, into a 4,000-home, car-free neighbourhood with one million square feet of “marine employment”.
“That piece of land, if we had a flood, would be underwater,” says McIntyre Hall, in an interview for The Developer podcast.
“The remediation that’s required [for flood mitigation] means we need to increase the density to make it viable – and that presents us with a fantastic opportunity to look at this project from a different point of view.”
McIntyre Hall joined Portsmouth City Council just over a year ago from the private sector, attracted by the opportunity to tackle major regeneration projects and make a social impact.
“When the recession hit, project management never really recovered. It became a lot about the financials, paperwork and the process, and significantly less about protecting the vision and driving what regeneration could be.”
“I want to use my powers for good. I love regeneration,” McIntyre Hall adds. “Councils own land, and they have the ability to make decisions that are not purely financial, and for me, that’s a good fit.”
“I get to focus on purpose,” she continues.
Since joining, her development department has grown from six staff to 22 and is working on nine projects across the city.
Their remit is to create 18,000 homes over the next 20 years, while also seeking solutions to major issues facing Portsmouth such as traffic and air pollution, changing trends in employment in the maritime industry, and climate change flood defences (thousands of Portsmouth homes are uninsurable or require specialist flood insurance).
“We’ve got some awesome statistics,” says McIntyre Hall, citing nine million visitors to the city per year, the 41,000 commuters coming to Portsmouth every day to work, and the fact that some 60% of the UK’s bananas come through Portsmouth’s thriving port.
“We learned from our Brexit contingency measures the volume and importance of our port traffic. There’s a statistic that says the shops run out of food on the Channel Islands in about two days after no deliveries from Portsmouth.”
“I want to use my powers for good. I love regeneration”
But a lot of the visitors who come to the city, whether by ferry or train, are just passing through, and fail to take in a number of Portsmouth’s attractions, which include the Mary Rose, the historic dockyard area and the D-Day Museum, as well as lesser known attractions, including the boutiques of Southsea and The Hotwalls, Portsmouth’s art hub.
“How do we expand that dwell time? How do we get people to stay a little bit longer?”
Another challenge is the port’s traffic volume and its air pollution: “There will always be heavy moving vehicles, but we need the port, otherwise Portsmouth would be a dead end.”
One of Portsmouth’s key challenges is that it is an island city. “We have three roads on and three roads off,” says McIntyre Hall. “We have very, very limited space on which to deliver homes. We need to go up or out, and Tipner does both.”
The proposal for Tipner West, drawn up by Gensler, uses the flood remediation work to create a vast podium car park, with the excavated land pushed out and built up for flood resilience, and a mixed-use pedestrian and cycling-only community built on top with a 2km waterside park around its edge.
“The podium becomes the managed centre. Logistics all come into the podium, with resident parking and an Amazon drop-off point below ground,” says McIntyre Hall.
The result is what she describes as a people-first, kerb-free development with “health and well-being at the heart of our thinking”. The only vehicles will be transport links and emergency services, and vans when people move house.
“[As an island] we need to go up or out, and Tipner does both”
“Across the country, when you live in an apartment block, you come out on the curtilage of a road or car park,” says McIntyre Hall. “You’re going out onto a narrow pavement, carrying bags, or with a double buggy – negotiating that can become quite tricky.”
“What if your apartment was rooted in public realm?” asks McIntyre Hall. “We have this opportunity to eliminate kerbs.”
“We’re hoping not only to create a pleasant environment, but to make the community more visible… If I’m visible, I know what events are happening and I can actually interact with my environment and my community.
“It’s about happiness and joy and connection.”
McIntyre sees community as essential to creating a sustainable development where people want to live: “We can build a load of stuff, but if people don’t interact, then all we’re building are cases to put their lives inside.”
McIntyre Hall also cites the growing importance of community consultation: “It used to be a tick-box exercise, but it can’t be that any more. If we have a strong sense of purpose we can tell people what we’re doing with authenticity.
“If what we’re trying to do is… deliver 20% profit, that’s not going to be an easy story.”
Fulfilling her vision means seeking innovation wherever it can be found, and McIntyre Hall says she has looked to Europe at things like Malmo’s waste disposal system and attended conferences in the search for new ideas. “There are so many questions,” she says.
“The way that we build has to be more environmentally conscious. It’s not a disposable environment any more.
“It’s really important that we think about these things correctly. It’s a big responsibility. That’s what drives me. That’s why I’m here, and that’s what I believe I have a real opportunity to influence.”
Natascha McIntyre Hall is speaking at this year’s Festival of Place, happening on 7 July 2020 – go to www.festivalofplace.co.uk for updates on tickets and speakers.
Listen to the podcast by clicking on the link above and sign up to The Developer Weekly to be updated when new episodes go online.