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Abbey Quarter – Collaboration between public and private key to unlocking town centre living

Abbey Quarter is a significant brownfield residential development located in the heart of Paisley, one of Scotland’s largest towns. The project, valued at approximately £12.2 million, was spearheaded by Renfrewshire Council in partnership with lead developer Park Lane (Scotland) Limited. This collaborative effort was essential to addressing and overcoming the challenges typically associated with town centre residential developments, particularly on brownfield sites.

The development site previously housed Arnott’s department store, which ceased operations in 2004. Subsequent attempts to redevelop the site stalled for several years, primarily due to a viability gap that hindered private residential development. Renfrewshire Council addressed this challenge by forming a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) with Park Lane (Scotland) Limited, leveraging land holdings and financial support to facilitate a public-private investment programme aimed at rejuvenating the town centre with new housing.

The project was showcased as part of the Town Centre Living and Investment Roadshow series in Paisley, as an example of attracting and enabling town centre living investment from the private sector. 

The LLP developed a comprehensive four-phase masterplan to ensure the site’s redevelopment aligned with shared aspirations for regeneration and town centre living. This plan evolved to focus primarily on residential use, shifting from an earlier mixed-use approach.

The project was jointly funded by Renfrewshire Council, Park Lane (Scotland) Limited, and the Scottish Government’s Strategic Housing Investment Programme (SHIP). This blend of public and private investment narrowed the viability gap and facilitated phased development, making the project financially feasible.

The masterplan was executed in four phases from 2011 to 2023, resulting in the creation of 141 residential apartments and 330 sqm of ground floor commercial space. This phased approach allowed for continuous evaluation and adjustment, ensuring the project’s alignment with market conditions and community needs.

Key takeaways:

  1. Public-Private Partnerships are Crucial

The Abbey Quarter project underscored the vital role of public sector investment in addressing viability issues in brownfield town centre sites. Without Renfrewshire Council’s financial support and strategic partnership, the initial private-led phases would not have been sustainable.

  1. Mixed Development Models Enhance Viability

Incorporating a mix of housing types and tenures, including social housing and mid-market rent, can serve as a catalyst for broader town centre regeneration. This approach not only meets local housing needs but also stimulates economic activity and community engagement.

  1. Consistent Leadership and Vision

The project’s success hinged on consistent leadership and a clear, long-term regeneration vision. This involved substantial land assembly and a masterplan that provided clarity and confidence to investors and the community, facilitating a smoother development process.

  1. Importance of Early-Stage Infrastructure Investment

Securing funding for key infrastructure at an early stage is crucial. For Abbey Quarter, early investments in access roads and utility provisions laid a strong foundation for subsequent phases, enhancing project feasibility and attractiveness.

  1. Single Ownership Streamlines Development

Sites under single ownership, like the Abbey Quarter, simplify decision-making and reduce barriers to development. Projects with multiple ownerships are often more complex and challenging to execute efficiently.

The Abbey Quarter project serves as a model for successful town centre living (TCL) developments, illustrating the importance of public-private partnerships, strategic funding, phased planning, and consistent vision. These elements collectively address viability gaps and support sustainable urban regeneration. The insights gained from this project are valuable for similar developments across Scotland, offering a roadmap for overcoming common challenges and fostering vibrant, livable town centres.