Wednesday, 24 April 2013

In the Archives: Alternative Livingston Town Centres

Livingston was, largely, a town planned from scratch. There were a few villages, but there was nothing that you might call a town centre with shops, services, leisure facilities and the rest.  Clearly, quite a lot of what defines a town is this centre.  One of the more interesting challenges for those first town planners, who decided what Livingston was going to be like, was how to design a town centre that meant had character. It must have been quite an exciting challenge to design something so monumental from nothing. However, it was a challenge that soon ground on beyond endurance for most, the planning stages lasting over six years, and the shopping centre at the heart of the town centre not opening until 1977 – some 15 years after ideas were first put forward.
Early design concepts for Livingston town centre. c.1965.
 It was a task complicated by the designation of Livingston town centre as a regional centre – there had to be a massive shopping centre incorporated into any plans for the new town. Unsurprisingly this shopping centre, known today simply as The Centre, has come to dominate the town.
The evolution of plans for Livingston’s town centre can be traced in the archive. There are some quite interesting alternatives to the final scheme which I want to look at here. Today, Livingston’s town centre is found south of the River Almond in on a site that is contained in a rectangular grid of roads, just off the A889. It is quite a simple, utilitarian design that gets the job done.

Initial plans for the town centre were more ambitious. Plans to build the town centre on both sides of the River Almond were quite far advanced. The town centre was to be linked across the river by a series of bridges and was to include a number of river side squares and shops – there was also to be completely segregated pedestrian zones. This scheme was thwarted by the extra deep glacial silts surrounding the River Almond – these silts required deeper than average foundations, which made what was quite a nice sounding idea too expensive.  On a more fortunate note, the town centre was originally planned to incorporate high rise residential flats, these were dropped at a late date and there are no high rise dwellings at all in Livingston, having been developed a little after these fell out of architectural favour.
A second idea was to damn the River Almond to create two artificial lochs, which could be used at the heart of a park and to create space for boating and fishing etc. This was too expensive as well.

A plan from when artificial lochs were still envisaged (c.1966)

A final nail in the lid of any kind of imaginative town centre design came in 1971. The Livingston Development Corporation had wanted to fund the building of the town centre itself. This would have allowed the town to be built in phases across a number of sites over a number of years.  In 1971 the Scottish Development Department decided that the shopping mall had to be funded by a private company. This meant that the plans for various phases and sites had to be altered, to allow the private developer a single site for the new shopping mall. In the end, despite 6 years of planning,  the shopping centre project was sent out to tender in 1972. Ravenseft Properties won the bid with a plan that would create one of the largest indoor centres in the UK. The shopping centre was also to include Scotland's largest superstore. Almondvale Shopping Centre was opened in the autumn of 1977, with 320,000 sq ft of retail space available. This was subsequently known as Phase I.

 As early as 1979 plans were explored to expand the shop
A model of the 'regional centre' when its planning had become more concrete

ping centre in Almondvale Phase II, but difficulties in funding, and proposed rival 'mega' shopping centres in Bathgate and at Gyle in the suburbs of Edinburgh, delayed the expansion of the shopping centre until the 1990s. Ravenseft, renamed Land Securities, and owners of Phase I, agreed to fund Phase II developments by Amec and the Safeway group. Phase II was opened on the 17th August 1996 and contained three department stores and an additional 41 shop units. The Centre continued to develop after the dissolution of the Corporation. Phase III was completed in 2008. As of 2012 retail space at The Centre is now over 1 million sq ft and dominates Livingston's town centre.

Livingston town centre under construction, 1970s

Phase 1 of Livingston Regional Centre complete, c.1977

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