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Placemaking – where’s the manifesto?

Maria AdebowaleI’ve spent the last couple of days looking through some of the main political party manifestos. Not necessarily my favourite task, but pretty crucial for trying to get the hang on the next government’s future plans for urban placemaking.

What struck me first is that none of the manifestos even named placemaking let alone explained what it meant for them as part of a city’s (or come to that rural) social, economic, and environmental benefits. In a country where around 80% of voters live in urban areas, it doesn’t seem particularly churlish to expect some strategy around this arena from a political party fit for government.

Placemaking, I agree, can be a slightly tricksy in its meaning, partially because it has a interdisciplinary approach. But that in some ways is part of its strength. By focusing on collaboration, co-creation, economics, governance, design and culture, it recognises the potential of public spaces, grey and green, as assets to tackle poverty and create long term benefits for communities.

With each of the political parties trying to highlight their social purpose to support people in need, (to a lesser, or greater degree, depending on their political leaning) and with predictions of very close poll results, it’s a big mistake not to name a commitment to placemaking, and to illustrate it.

Having said that, there are some interesting manifesto conversations and ‘promises’ that could lend themselves to an effective placemaking strategy or manifesto, but it’s lean pickings.

It’s a big mistake not to name a commitment

to placemaking and to illustrate it

Labour’s manifesto, for example, claims to put sustainability back on the political agenda, says it will tackle land banking, promote access to green spaces through ‘increased protection’, launch a programme of pocket parks, establish the English New Deal to provide opportunities for cities to have more power over the design of public spaces and create ‘real lasting changes for people to take control’ of their high streets and – through public participation – create a ‘people-led’ constitutional convention.

The Conservative manifesto, has similar ideals, but with the use of different instruments. Not surprising as a party that champions small government, it is looking to offer local people more control. They also stress their keenness to support local growth for large cities through ‘far reaching plans’, release public sector land, support locally-led garden cities and towns and promote cycling. Their manifesto has an ‘ambitious programme of pocket parks’, continues to develop asset transfers, and gives local traders a say on minor planning applications that impact on local high streets.

The Green Party’s manifesto also has some placemaking potential, specifically through their focus on opens spaces. Its manifesto’s most radical proposition is the repeal of the National Planning Policy Framework. The Green Party state that their aim is to remove the damaging presumption in favour of development by putting ‘planning back in the hands of the people’. They also talk of a new planning system that allows everyone to live within five minutes of a green open space, and the transfer of public land to community trusts. Like the Labour and Conservative parties, the Greens are looking to develop a people-led convention, to develop a national constitution.

Finally, the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto – like its rivals – talks of improving where people live through democratic and regulatory changes. They want to promote walking and cycling and access to green spaces by amending planning law to introduce ‘landscape scale planning’ and by passing the Nature Act to increase access to green spaces. The Liberal Democrats also want to regulate design through a Green Buildings Act, remove ‘intrusive security devices’ in public spaces and, provide regulation on design that supports a circular economy through reuse and recycling.

Its seems to me that some propositions in each of the manifestos could together make for elements of a placemaking manifesto that focuses on urban places to create a strong sense of policy and regulatory placemaking leadership. If a political party really wants to ‘bring Britain together’, ‘create a brighter more secure future’, ‘develop opportunities for everyone’ and ‘deliver for the common good’ then they need a placemaking manifesto that offers clarity on just how they would unlock the resources of urban place for public benefit. A party that does that might just get my vote.

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