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Putting people at the heart of planning

Planners are putting people at the heart of local decisions across the country, says Joshua Rule, as he unveils the finalists of this year’s Royal Town Planning Institute Awards for Planning Excellence.

All of this year’s 78 finalists demonstrated to judges how they engaged their communities, ensured the process was inclusive and outlined the clear social benefits from their project.

Here are just four examples planners and the communities can take inspiration from:

Stamford Hill: ensuring community benefits from development: It was two community groups – with competing visions of what they wanted their neighbourhood to look like –   that challenged the local planners in Stamford Hill, in inner north London. A planning led approach helped to bring the community together to articulate a shared vision, known as Towards a Stamford Hill Plan. A Community Panel, with representatives from neighbourhood forum groups, key community groups, faith groups and local councillors, helped to shape the community engagement in Stamford Hill to develop the plan. Over 500 interviews and 9 community workshops, attended by up to 100 people each were held, with planners ensuring this engagement included people from all religious, cultural and party political groups in the community. The planning team also took part in workshops and site visits led by residents with special needs. The final plan emphasises the benefits derived for the community from development over the next 15 years, such as revived town centres designed to be at the heart of resident’s social and cultural lives, better access to open spaces and new affordable housing.

Caddington Woods: Community Trust in the development driving seat: The story of Caddington Woods in Bedfordshire is a common one – international company with a major site moves elsewhere, leaving the local community with fewer jobs and a large vacant site. But what happened next makes this story unique. The local communities of Slip End and Caddington worked with councillors and the council to achieve planning permission for a new development of 325 homes and community spaces. The community remained at the heart of the planning application with the formation of the Community Trust. The Trust was set up through a section 106 agreement – agreements for funding between developers and the local council to make a proposal ‘acceptable’ – and brought together residents, councillors, the council, developers and General Motors, the aforementioned international company. The Caddington Woods development has 30% affordable housing and of these, 46 are managed by the Trust, so that they are retained in perpetuity for the community and the rents are fed back into the Trust.

Cockenzie: engaging teenagers, often underrepresented in planning: Everyone knows a teenager who doesn’t say much more than ‘yep, nah and ok’, so understandably getting them involved in planning can be a challenge. Fortunately, a Community Forum set up to help shape the community engagement about what to do with a  former power station in Cockenzie made sure they were included. Interactive sessions were held with 12-17 year olds on what they liked about the area and what they would like to see changed. Their views, along with the rest of the community’s which were gathered at workshops, drop-in sessions across three towns, feedback points in a number of libraries, and other school workshops, helped to shape the 25 year vision for the former Cockenzie Power Station in East Lothian, Scotland. It features new employment space with room for 3,500 jobs (which will no doubt benefit some of those teenagers in the future) and new green spaces for local residents to enjoy.

Stromness: turning community concern into a shared vision delivered by planners: A decaying cottage with whitewashed walls turned black by mould, a leaking, rusted tin roof and boarded up windows typified the slow decline of Stromness. Imagine living in a small village where everything around you was falling apart. Morale was low in Stromness and so the community came together  to do something about it. Taking their case to the council’s planners, the community set out how they wanted to transform their town and the planning team supported the community’s initiative. The plan began with a ‘blank page approach’ to establish the key priorities. Funnelled through the Stromness Town Centre Partnership – the plan was shaped by community events, meetings and surveys, plus well attended community workshops. The local planners  incorporated all of this into a plan-led approach which was then subject to further public consultation before being approved. That decaying cottage – along with other historic buildings, new housing and upgrades to public spaces – has now been transformed in line with the community’s wishes.

While the approaches may be different, it is planners and the community working together to achieve a shared vision, which has been the key to success among these finalists.

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