Autumn Forum 2022
Addressing Placemaking Challenges in Uncertain Times
Addressing Placemaking Challenges in Uncertain Times
It is undeniable that successive crises have hit local authorities hard, with squeezed budgets, the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, changes in Government and economic uncertainty, providing a complex context for Authorities to address their placeshaping challenges.
It is under these circumstances that Public Practice convened our Autumn Forum, on 21 September in Liverpool Town Hall. The day was opened by Katherine Fairclough, Chief Executive of the LCRCA, in a timely and inspirational speech she discussed the challenges and benefits of working in the public sector. What particularly stood out was Katherine’s emphasis on the need for local authorities to adapt and evolve in an ever-changing context, be it the opportunities coming from devolution or finding flexible ways of working with new technologies.
LESSONS FROM THE COHORT
With our places and communities facing unprecedented challenges, officers from our Autumn 2021 Cohort shared their learnings from the ground on using existing assets to drive social change, making the case for a heritage-led approach to regeneration and sharing a practical toolkit for direct delivery with advice on overcoming delivery challenges. A key lesson here was how important defining and measuring social value was as part of managing change and measuring success.
LEARNINGS FROM DESIGN CODE PILOTS
Officers from across England discussed the design needs of their communities, sharing advice on best practice and valuable learnings. Case studies included; using data to support placeshaping and create a digitally enabled planning system, the importance of engaging with communities when creating design codes, and examples of best practice from design code pilots. Advocacy came through as a critical tool to ensure the development and adoption of the code, where even one in-house design champion seemed to make a critical difference.
The day closed with a public debate where panellists were asked to put forward what they thought the number one priority for the local government to tackle inequality should be. Panellists put forward impassioned propositions from a range of perspectives including; tackling economic inequality, driving forward sustainable approaches to placeshaping, improving the quality of design by building the capability of local government, reforming the planning system and genuinely engaging with young people. Whilst arguments were had about how to prioritise solving one problem over another, it was clear that social and economic inequalities are intrinsically linked and required a holistic, cross-sector and multi-disciplinary approach to tackling these big issues of today. Despite its challenges, domestic retrofitting was raised repeatedly as an example of how local authorities could tackle these issues practically.
In unprecedented times, it was clear that local government and their placeshaping teams have a key role to play in leading the way to blur siloed ways of working to tackle inequality and require investment and support to make this a realistic proposition.
We would like to thank all of our partners, supporters and speakers for making the event possible. We will be returning with our Spring Forum on March 24 2023, if you have any work that you would like to share at the next Forum get in touch!
Rebecca is Heritage and Conservation Lead in the Placemaking team at the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. Stephen is an Urban Designer and Planning Officer at the London Borough of Southwark, both are Public Practice Associates. They spoke about the merits of conserving and preserving the historic environment with an emphasis on examples of good quality design in conservation and regeneration projects. They posed the challenge that talking about good quality design is simply not enough, and that the value of and opportunities presented by the historic environment are often underestimated. They concluded by providing practical insights on the benefits and challenges of heritage-led regeneration.
Upfront costs of refurbishment, particularly higher VAT rates
The need for specialist knowledge when working with historic buildings
The risk of heritage wash and gentrification stripping out historic character
According to Historic England, for every £1 spent on regeneration, £1.60 is generated in additional economic activity
Built and cultural heritage is central to a sense of place and local identity
Regeneration and retrofit has a far lower carbon footprint than newbuild
Jenny is a Principal Regeneration Officer at Camden and Public Practice Associate. She discussed Camden Council’s vacant spaces programme, setting out the challenges posed by raising funding and creating a model for using vacant space to drive revenue and improve the social value of council assets. She shared advice on replicating this approach by sharing examples from the Hillgrove Estate pilot, where Camden has repurposed underused spaces such as lock-ups and garages to provide space for local community groups, charities and small businesses.
Israel is a Regeneration Officer at the London Borough of Haringey and a Public Practice Associate. In his presentation, Israel shared challenges and lessons from his Public Practice placement in South Tottenham, and how these challenges led him to develop a toolkit for placeshaping-focused direct delivery. Israel encouraged authorities to take an entrepreneurial approach when delivering affordable housing, as opposed to the traditional approach of selling surplus land. He provided examples from his placement and across London, highlighting the benefits of a direct delivery approach.
Yẹmí is a Senior Development Manager at Meridian Water for the London Borough of Enfield and a Public Practice Associate. She shared her experience from the Meridian Water regeneration programme. Meridian Water is a 25-year, £6 billion regeneration project led by the London Borough of Enfield. She discussed the challenges of delivering on such a large project in uncertain economic and political circumstances and spoke about how continual engagement with stakeholders and residents is fundamental to the project’s continued success. She concluded by sharing the lessons learned, focusing on the benefits of an agile, adaptable and collaborative approach.
Nissa is a chartered planner and an expert in digital transformation and innovation within the planning and development field. In her presentation, Nissa spoke about her work developing a digital-first, data-led planning service in Greater Cambridge. She provided insights on how authorities can identify and develop digital capabilities and embed a digital-first approach to planning, creating a backbone for future projects, from policy to design. Nissa shared advice for developing good practice guides for digital projects and engaging key stakeholders in the digital approach. She concluded that people should always be at the centre when developing a digitally enabled planning system.
Rob is a planner with over 15 years of experience in public sector plan-making. He has a passion for exploring new ideas and fostering rural communities in plan-making. He discussed the work of the Lake District National Park Authority as part of the DLUHC pathfinder programme, placing a particular emphasis on the importance of engaging the community when developing design codes. He discussed the challenges of creating a design code for the entire National Park, working with a wide range of stakeholders with differing views on what the code should contain. He concluded by sharing the innovative ways his team has engaged with communities across the National Park, which include, establishing a steering group, collecting data from online surveys, hosting consultations in a variety of venues, including pubs and leading a campaign on TikTok!
Jenny is the lead official responsible for the Office for Place, set up within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The Office for Place will support councils and communities to turn their visions of what they like into local standards that all new development should meet.
Jenny joined us to discuss the national policy context for placemakers. She focused on planning reforms and the levelling up agenda, sharing findings from the National Model Design Code Pathfinder Programme. At the core of planning and levelling up reforms is the desire to give communities control over what is built, where it is built and what it looks like. She shared insights from a range of authority case studies with different and complex levelling up challenges, including; Hertfordshire, Hyndburn, Portsmouth and Southwark. Jenny then concluded with advice for authorities starting on their design code journeys.
Jane Healey Brown, Director - Planning, Arup
Lola McLoughlin, Academy Graduate, PLACED
Lifa Zvimbande, Regional Director - North, RIBA
Zoë Billingham, Director, IPPR North
Joseph Penn, Sustainability Project Manager, Lancaster West Neighbourhood Team
The forum drew to a close with a public debate featuring experts in; planning, design, economics, sustainability and participation. The panel put forward propositions on what they believed the number one priority for local government to tackle inequality should be.
Jane Healey Brown of Arup put forward an impassioned argument for the merits of strategic planning when tackling inequalities, stating that taking a strategic approach is fundamental to laying the foundations for equality in our communities.
Lola McCloughlin, a graduate of the PLACED Academy, then put forward a full-hearted argument for the importance of engaging with young people when making placeshaping decisions, stating that inequality can’t be tackled without the inclusion of all generations in decision-making processes. She placed a particular focus on spatial inclusion, honing in on trans inclusion in public spaces.
Lifa Zvimbande, Regional Director for the North of England at RIBA, added that without good quality design our communities will face perpetual inequality. She highlighted that poorly designed places exacerbate inequalities, and local authorities need to be proactive and ensure good design principles are used in new and existing developments, laying the foundation for more sustainable, equitable and inclusive places. Having the right capabilities and design skills in-house was crucial to enabling this approach.
Zoë Billingham, who leads the IPPR North think tank added her perspective as an economist to the debate. She argued that without tackling economic inequality, local authorities will not be able to tackle other social issues. She spoke about the importance of delivering secure and well-paid employment in strengthening our communities and places, placing particular focus on the economic issues faced in the North.
Joseph Penn put forward his belief that tackling the climate crisis and creating sustainable communities is the most important issue facing authorities. He spoke about the role of local authorities in tackling climate change through sustainable design, retrofitting and reducing embodied carbon, arguing that without urgent action the climate crisis will only serve to exacerbate inequalities.
Despite impassioned propositions from all panellists, it was clear from all that the social and economic inequalities discussed are not mutually exclusive and an integrated, cross-sector approach is needed, with Local Authorities leading the charge. Domestic retrofitting was often raised by the panel and audience as a practical, albeit hard to implement, solution that Local Authorities can take.
In an increasingly uncertain world, it is clear that placeshapers and local authorities have a central role in overcoming siloed ways of working and leading a multi-agency approach to tackling inequality. A concerted effort with adequate funding and support is required to make this a reality.