Category Archives: strategy and policy

Why is robust evidence a placemaking holy grail?

We hear a lot about informed decision-making in relation to place and movement. Yet this week, the press has been full of challenges to supposedly well-researched Government positions. There’s HS2: with the Institute of Directors (among others) now calling the proposal madness. There was the Virgin Rail challenge to the numbers underlying the East Coast line. Can’t we ‘do’ robust evidence, the way medical researchers do?

We’ll be addressing these issues in PLACEmaking 2013/14. Email us if you have any ideas or comments.

Urbanists have long been the poor relations in their quest to demonstrate, and communicate, the value of investment in the urban realm: As John Dales writes in our sister publication Local Transport Today: ‘Not everything that can be counted counts; and what really counts can often not be counted’. Funding for urban realm and public space improvements has long been justified as an ‘add on’ to the hard case of transport investment. As Martina Juvara of SKM says: ‘We need to create a connection between the policy aspirations (by definition broad and flexible) and the hard justification of transport investment, strictly based on demand forecasts and transport efficiency, and to ‘speak multiple languages’ until a common ground of shared objectives is identified and supported by all parties, finding transport justifications for urban design improvements, and an economic and delivery framework for place-making.’

There is, thankfully, a growing realisation that the ‘value’ of key elements such as smarter travel, links between place, movement and investment potential, and the quality of the urban realm must be taken into consideration of we are to create places that people like, and that are resilient to ongoing change. The UK Government’s recent reports on road transport, however, seem to fly in the face of taking such an holistic approach. Where will it end? Here’s sample of some RUDI content on these issues to set the scene. Let us know what you think…

Confused approach to out of town retail: Government paying lip service to its own ideas, says high street ‘guru’ Portas

Last week in the press, headlines (albeit small ones) screamed: High street guru Mary Portas has blasted Cabinet Minister Eric Pickles in her fight to rescue the nation’s High Streets…

While the decision to make Portas the official ‘Queen of the High Street’ may have been a cynical stunt (why do we need a celebrity to enlighten us to what we already know? Sadly, because she gets her voice heard…), her policy suggestions (many provided by exhaustive consultant reports) were sound. In the future, she says, high streets could see a move away from retail.

But it transpires that Mary’s celebrity voice is not enough. Lately, Portas has accused the Government of paying little more than ‘lip service’ to the ideas she has put forward. She was highly critical of Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles recent support for the building of an 82,000 square foot supermarket on the seafront at Margate, one of the Portas Pilot towns chosen to be awarded a share of the Government’s high street innovation fund.

Access a selection of RUDI’s high street and town centre analysis

Portas has rightly said the Government needs to introduce clear policies and plans to save British high streets, describing them as the ‘heartbeats’ of each community, and claimed that more ‘joined-up thinking’ is needed. There certainly seems to be some confusion. Already this month, Communities secretary Eric Pickles has approved outline plans for a business park on the outskirts of Burbage in Leicestershire, after ruling that it would meet the need for office space in the area and would ‘not damage nearby town centres’.
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Urban food myths and moans: but we need to explore all the evidence

I’m an advocate of local food systems, and worked with CITIES to put together the Farming the City book which explores their potential, but I still believe we need to check out the arguments of the detractors, either so we can iron out problems and improve, or to tackle them on their misinformation. What is the opinion on these pieces from Spiked and SmartPlanet that, roughly speaking, take this view: ‘ ‘the available evidence convincingly demonstrates that long-distance trade and modern technologies have resulted in much greater food availability, lower prices, improved health and reduced environmental damage than if they had never materialised. Indeed, more trade and ever-improving technologies remain to this day the only proven ways to lift large numbers of people out of rural poverty and malnutrition.’

Agribusiness is greener than urban farming

When it comes to food, think global, act global

Local growth: we know what to do, so why don’t we do it?

As the date approaches (27 March 2013) for the National Planning Policy Framework to come into force, it transpires that councillors across the country are offering themselves for hire to property developers who are hoping to take advantage of the more relaxed post-NPPF regime.

Without a local plan, planning in the area will be determined in line with the NPPF’s much-heralded ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.

Local government politicians are trading on their inside knowledge of the planning system to receive fees of up to £20,000 for advice on how to get developments approved, according to the press.

This is just one instance of the mighty confusion brewing amongst local planning policy, especially as the first neighbourhood plan approval being broadly welcomed: but with provisos.

Steve Graham, Director of Civic Voice says: ‘Although this plan has gone through, Civic Voice can already see some referendums being extremely controversial. Other plans where significant site allocations may be required for housing or for particular development may prove to be more controversial. The real test for neighbourhood planning will come when being challenged by inappropriate development. We will then see what legal weight the plans have in practice’.

A High Court judge has already ruled that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) takes precedence over the Localism Act and out-of-date or incomplete local development plans.

Recent research by commercial property consultant GVA has revealed that the market is unable to deliver large scale housing schemes without greater support from the public sector.

With councils struggling to correct the gaping mismatch between resources, actual housing and growth need, planned housing and growth need, localism and other planning policy, surely something has to give.

Surely, as a sector, place-makers need to at least talk about this?

Those place pioneers and leaders that do think so are coming together in Newcastle on April 17 to explore real options and solutions for impact.

Do your own exploration with our selection of free RUDI content on these themes

Infrastructure to be fast tracked: why not housing and mixed use?

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill, currently plodding going through Parliament, had a second reading this week. The planning lobbyists and press are beginning to why mixed-use projects, including major residential or retail schemes, offices, factories, warehouses, and conference and exhibition centres (measuring more than 40,000 square metres) cannot also choose the fast-track system if the so wish.

The RTPI has suggested that the fast track list should include housing, provided it is part of a mixed-use scheme. If the Government is so keen to boost housing, why are these schemes excluded from fast tracking?

For example,says the RTPI, developments including ‘substantial volumes of housing’, such as King’s Cross regeneration scheme, could be good examples of schemes that have ‘achieved substantial regeneration but only with the inclusion of a major housing element’.

With the current confusion surrounding ways to boost the delivery of new communities, isn’t this worth a look?

Kick-starting a housing design and delivery revolution

Almere

Cohesive homes and community building at Almere

Homes and housing delivery is at the top of government agendas these days. A host of initiatives is maturing to provide an unusually fertile sector: funding from Government housing pots is coming on-stream, the first neighbourhood plan is moving to referendum (and councils are apparently ‘inundated’ with neighbourhood planning applications, according to the media), and CIL is finally beginning to yield revenues available to communities. Yet there are many challenges to overcome: not least that two councils are already being advised that their draft local plans for housing may not comply with the National Planning Policy Framework’s housing requirements, being insufficient to meet the full, objectively assessed local needs. NIMBYism is still rife, and the crisis encourages risk-averse behaviour.

Practitioners are responding by coalescing around a host of related new activities aimed at seeing new partners in place-making getting involved in housing alongside traditional volume housebuilders: an approach loosely described as plot-based urbanism, or ‘massive amounts of small’.

These fast-emerging new approaches to delivering large-scale resilient homes, neighbourhoods and communities through vastly increased amounts of smaller-scale activity will be thoroughly explored and discussed at a new RUDI initiative, Start Small: Think Big in London and Newcastle 2013

Read about the key issues here

And access free RUDI content on this subject here

Plot-based development approaches enable access to a much wider range of players wishing to get involved in home and community building. A simple framework, together with a set of design codes, can support and enable a wide range of development types and partners. The emerging communities involved will determine for themselves how their houses, businesses, and even the landscape will be designed and delivered.

In Almere, Holland, this is already happening. For the first time in Europe, on such a large scale, a range of players involved in custom-building will determine for themselves how their houses, businesses, and even the landscape will be designed and delivered. This includes not only the residential buildings and businesses, but the whole framework; local infrastructure, water storage, sanitation, energy supply, urban farming and public spaces.

The Almere strategy is far from a traditional planning approach; it represents the introduction of a new kind of development process, and an experiment in delivering cohesive place-making.

Smart cities: real time data helps us to connect with urban activities

The availability of rich, real-time, and remote data has major implications for the ways in which urban planners visualise and predict the ‘smart city’ for investment and infrastructure planning.

Explore these issues and others in our free to download Data and Modelling publication

‘Giving people visual and tangible access to real-time information about their city enables them to take their decisions more in sync with their environment, with what is actually happening around them. It creates a feedback loop between people, their actions, and the city, says Kristian Kloeckl, project leader at SENSEable City Lab and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART). He’ll be talking about the Singapore experience at our Modelling World event on 11 and 12 July, 2012, at the Oval, London.

See what MIT are working on in Singapore

Join us at Modelling World 2012 to find out how leaders in the field from MIT’s Senseable City Lab, UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, TfL and leading consultants are exploring ways to turn the data explosion into robust, strategic plans. For example, we’ll cover Singapore’s pioneering real-time city project using data from cameras, communication devices, microcontrollers and sensors to imagine, monitor, and understand how our cities move and live. Plus much more…

Transport & towns; parking and policy: it’s finally time to get it right

The current focus on re-vitalising our town centre and high streets has, intentionally or not, perfectly illuminated many vital flaws and contradictions at the heart of planning policy. The new measures aiming to boost town centres highlight the startling lack of robust evidence and consistent policy underpinning investment and policy approaches.

Three ways to help get it right:
View our handpicked content on these key issues
Join us at for a key debate on 26 April 2012 in London: the key people will all be there!
Meet the protagonists: challenge the status quo with us on July 11 and 12 2012

The issues currently exercising our network of urban, movement and parking professionals relate to this inconsistency and lack of rigour. The indications are everywhere: the DfT was this month urged to review its National Transport Model (NTM) by a leading traffic expert who claimed the model’s forecast of major road traffic growth in London, at least, is ‘implausible’. Transport Planning Society chairman Keith Buchan said the forecast was ‘so far away from reality that there must be an urgent review of how this has come about’. And as such potentially flawed forecasts underpin decisions on what transport infrastructure gets built, and what kinds of urban realm investment shape our towns and cities, this is more than merely worrying.

The transport profession has dominated the making of place for the past 50 years because it has counted and modelled. Measurement is power. Urban practice has much to learn from the transport industry if its legacy is truly to be one that is great.

Getting value for money, based on the best evidence, is what we need more than ever in this post-recession world. Our publication Local Transport Today has noted that a shift to smaller-scale transport schemes ‘could be a good thing’ in the spirit of recent thinking around the virtues of ‘smarter’, lower cost interventions. These may well fit in with other recent studies that clarify the drivers needed to support a move to healthier (and so desirable in social funding costs) cycling and walking behaviours, and with those that note how technological developments are increasingly influencing positive changes in living and movement patterns.
But, alas, several recent studies – some commissioned by the developers and investors who insist that they ‘know’ their market – suggest that many private car owners wish to drive and park their cars even when there are convenient and cost-effective alternatives. How can we begin to encourage more realistic behaviours across the board if we don’t begin with the easier targets?

Similarly, in hard times, parking is prioritised as a potentially juicy revenue stream by politicians and practitioners alike, in terms of both collecting and modelling future incomes. But how reliable are such models? Traffic- and car-choked high streets don’t appeal to anyone but those lucky enough to grab a spot while they pop into the chemist.
Yet with infrastructure development decisions, thanks to the lack of rigourous evidence underpinning them, being used to further political rather than social agendas, we still see the lion’s share of infrastructre funding going to private car-based transport modes.
And nor do new planning policy frameworks offer increased consistency. The new NPPF has been criticised for favouring car-based urban sprawl, and the localism agenda, which claims to place new emphasis on supporting accessibility and activity for a wider range of people and places, offers potential but no real resource. As the move to localism cries out for investment in placemaking support, it is, as Julian Dobson, co-author of the Business, Innovation and Skills report into the much-reported demise of the high street notes: ‘ironic that government has withdrawn from serious investment in placemaking at precisely the time when placemaking skills are most needed.’

The challenge for enlightened place and movement professionals is to work together to demonstrate how integrated spatial planning leads to quality of place, which in turn generates demonstrable economic and social value.

The tools and processes necessary to help us understand the real nature and needs of the world around us, and so generate robust evidence bases that support informed decion-making already exist: all we have to do is get (much) better at using them.

Are we vulnerable to speculation (again) under a new planning system?

There has been much comment lately on the potential impacts of changes to the planning system due to come into force by April next year – the point at which the new measures in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) come into play (see some of the latest developments on RUDI.net).

It has been widely reported in the press that developers are lining up to take advantage of the new presumption in favour of development…a report in Building claimed that it has spoken to lawyers who estimate that as many as 95 per cent of councils will be vulnerable to speculative applications.

The Guardian is also concerned: The coalition has announced plans to hack back the ‘thicket’ of planning regulations that, at the moment, govern construction in the UK, ity suggests, heralding a development free-for-all, and Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. ‘The proposals would encourage decision takers at every level to assume that the default answer to development proposals is yes’. So, placemakers, what is to be done before we have no option other than to ‘look back in anger’ at what we have allowed to happen? How can we balance necessary development with the creation of quality places for people? Tell us what’s going on out there…surely it can’t be all doom and gloom? Continue reading

Out of our space: development is removing large parts of the city, including the streets, from a genuinely public realm

As the debate hots up about the viability and acceptability of economic-led planning and development practices, scrutiny about access to truly public spaces is back on the agenda. While cash is king, the impact of developer-led development, especially retail-led ‘semi private’ developments such as Liverpool One.

Writer Anna Minton, a regular speaker at RUDI events and the author of Ground Control, has some interesting new comments to make in the politcal magazine Red Pepper: ‘Removing large parts of the city, including the streets, from a genuinely public realm and handing them over to private companies.

‘These would own and control the entire area, policing it with private security and round-the-clock surveillance. The consequence has been the creation of a new environment characterised by high security, ‘defensible’ gated architecture and strict rules and regulations governing behaviour. Read the full article here