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Rising from coal's ashes

Regional spotlight The changing face of the East Midlands has thrown up diverse challenges for the agency behind regeneration in the region.Ian Lawrence reports.

A need for infrastructure improvements underpins the thinking behind the East Midlands Development Agency's (EMDA) plans for the region.

East Midlands is the fourth largest region in England, covering the counties of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland.

And its central location means better transport links are vital to attract employers to the region.

EMDA has a £142M expenditure budget for 2005-6, and has identified areas requiring regeneration investment. Director of regeneration and development Alison Simpson explains:

'Transport infrastructure is creaking around the M1. The fact that we are geographically well placed exacerbates the problem.' She highlights widening of the motorway and the dualling of the A453 close to East Midlands Airport as priorities.

While the region is well served by the north-south M1 and A1, better east-west routes would help development of the airport.

Simpson says a parkway station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, adjacent to the A453, would 'lift pressure' on the road.

Establishing a Skylink bus service from Nottingham to the airport is another improvement on the agenda.

Further south, planned growth around Corby as part of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's plans for Milton Keynes and the South Midlands throws up an anomaly.

Corby suffers from poor rail access, something that needs urgent attention given that the town's population is forecast to double over the next 25 years.

EMDA partnerships director Ian Lodder says: 'To make a sustainable community you have to look at the infrastructure that's provided for it.

'We want to get the growth in Corby that encourages people to work closer to where they live.' Lodder is upbeat about the region's progress on transport projects, saying: 'Things are starting to happen.

'We are seeing the beginnings of ideas that have been mooted for some time.' He entifies the opening of the Mansfi eld & Ashfi eld Regeneration Route as a good example. The £30M road runs through north Nottinghamshire, improving east-west links between the M1 and A1 and representing the single biggest regeneration project for the county council.

However, pressure points remain, Lodder adds, particularly on the eastern side of the region around the A17 in Lincolnshire.

But anyone arriving in Lincoln can already see the fruits of regenerative labours. Lodder singles out the once neglected Brayford Pools site in the city, which has been transformed into a functioning marina.

He observes: 'When you look at our cities, they have a river focus. People like the feel of being near to water. These are all now becoming focuses for regeneration.

'We want our towns to be living, sustainable communities and the waterway provides a stimulus for a lot of that. It's about recognising that we need the resources for future generations.' Since the days of massive employment in the coal industry are over, new uses are being sought for the land.

According to Simpson, there were 40,000 coal miners in the region 25 years ago - a figure which has plummeted to 1,500.

Heavy remediation work is under way at the former coking works at the Avenue in Derbyshire, while results are already evident elsewhere.

Sherwood Energy Village in Nottinghamshire has seen the transformation of an abandoned colliery into a mixed use development boasting housing, job opportunities and leisure facilities.

Lodder draws attention to the use of renewable energy sources on the former coalfield site, which now has the UK's largest system of sustainable urban drainage.

Ongoing work at Shirebrook in Derbyshire will see a total of £24M invested to make 52ha of land available for new housing and industrial development. When the site is fully operational, many more people will be employed than were at the peak of its use as a pit.

And EMDA itself is in the vanguard when it comes to reclaiming brownfield sites. The agency's Nottingham HQ sits on the site of Boots' former pharmaceutical works.

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