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Nick Clegg: Plans to bring empty buildings back to life in the North

Nick Clegg spoke about finding temporary uses for vacant buildings in Northern cities after seeing the Betahaus project in Berlin.

The Deputy Prime Minister wants to see abandoned buildings brought ‘back to life’ in a renewed effort to tackle a chronic problem where vast sites in Northern cities become empty and unused for so long that whole areas can become blighted.

Instead of leaving properties empty, ranging from disused cinemas and post offices to old schools and market halls, the Deputy Prime Minister wants to help match-make entrepreneurs and community groups with local authorities and land-owners to find temporary uses for vacant buildings and land rather than let these sites go to waste.

The so-called ‘meanwhile use’ of buildings is under-used in the North and could provide invaluable space for a wide range of local people to set up a business, open a shop or put on an event. This process can quickly transform empty shells into dynamic hubs for business start ups or centres for the arts and creative industries. It can have a knock on effect and revitalise city centres drawing in talent and investment from far and wide.

On a visit to Berlin today to a project called Betahaus, the Deputy Prime Minister saw how a successful collaborative working space in the heart of the creative district has been set up using derelict land and property. He wants to see how the UK can mirror its success in the North.

Audio: listen to Nick Clegg speaking at Betahaus about emulating their success in Northern cities.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg said:

Leaving useful land in the North to languish is not only bad for business, it can hamper the success of an area in so many ways. Which is why I want to see empty buildings brought back to life and back in business.

We need to understand what stands in the way of some of the most incredible space in the country being used, and make things more flexible so that we can fill these buildings with artists, start-ups and other entrepreneurs to restore the buildings’ purpose and appeal.

Through my Northern Futures initiative, I’m championing innovative ideas from people in the North to build a stronger economy and fairer society.

Elaine Cresswell, Landscape Architect, who pitched the idea of urban regeneration to the Deputy Prime Minister at the Northern Futures summit said:

After pitching my vision for the North to the Deputy Prime Minister, it’s really exciting to see ideas for regenerating vacant sites taking real shape. For too long, derelict land, gap sites and unused buildings located at the heart of Northern city centres have been a wasted resource. They create a poor image to visitors, investors, businesses and potential residents, reducing the potential for future development. There are so many properties that can be used on a temporary basis for business, community or arts uses, whilst renewing the appeal of a neighbourhood and making it viable again.

The North has nearly twice as many hectares of previously developed vacant land and buildings than the South, with 10,130 hectares in the North compared to just 5,580 hectares in the South.

To help unlock this potential, the Deputy Prime Minister will form a working group immediately – comprised of local government, businesses and charities – to investigate how more vacant buildings and land across the North can be brought back into temporary use. The group will explore sites with potential across Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle.

The working group will present their findings to the Deputy Prime Minister in January. They will outline the barriers and solutions to getting more empty properties back in use. The aim will be to have blueprints for action – with private sponsorship where necessary – for each of the following cities before April 2015: Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool. More detailed agreements would follow as soon as possible in 2015.

The initiative has been inspired by a pitch at the Deputy Prime Minister’s Northern Futures Summit in Leeds on 6 November, where Liverpool-based entrepreneur Elaine Cresswell called for more meanwhile use of vacant commercial properties in the city.

How will this be done?

An exercise to explore the spaces ripe for regeneration across the major cities of the North is already underway, with the following buildings and areas already identified as potentials for ‘meanwhile use’ in major Northern cities. Local authorities in Newcastle and Leeds will be joining the working group to identify appropriate sites locally too.


  • ABC Cinema
  • Lyceum Post Office
  • The Oratory
  • England and Martins Bank
  • Seamans Orphanage
  • Toxteth Reservoir
  • Rope Walks ‘Back’ streets


  • King Street
  • Cross Street
  • Deansgate
  • Piccadilly Place/Moseley Street


  • Castlegate
  • New retail quarter, city centre

What has urban regeneration achieved in Berlin?

The Betahaus is a multi-disciplinary collaborative working space which sees artists, creatives, business people and start-ups come together to share resource and space in the heart of Berlin.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Berlin had very cheap housing and industrial space, some in spectacularly grand old buildings. Low rents drew artists and creative people to the city which created a burgeoning cultural scene; which in turn drew young graduates who found they could get by in a cutting-edge, low-cost city. By the late 1990s Berlin had become the default destination for creative, ambitious, educated young Germans.

Founded in 2009, the Betahaus has become one of the largest co-working spaces in Europe, with over 2,500 square metres of space. All kinds of people work at Betahaus – from journalists, photographers, translators, graphic designers, designers, programmers, academics, architects, artists, non-governmental organizations and clubs to startups and corporate companies. Berlin’s creative and start-up scene has been the source of great companies such as Soundcloud, a fast-growing music-sharing website with 250 million monthly active users. One of its founders, Alexander Ljung, says that “in a given hour, we will reach almost every country in the world”.

  1. Photos from the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to Betahaus in Berlin will be available on the Cabinet Office Flickr page.
  2. Northern Futures is an initiative launched by the Deputy Prime Minister in which he sought ideas from the people of the North about how we can build a strong economic core for the region. We have seen over 500 ideas from people who live and work in the North.
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