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15/08/2019

Is putting people and dignity back into planning disruptive? It shouldn’t be…

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Kate Stewart argues for the need for people's voices to be heard in the planning process.

Having been involved in urban regeneration, architecture and design for many years, I’ve seen changing trends and tactics in relation to community consultation. But all too often, the people who live in areas earmarked for regeneration are ignored and subsequently left behind.

I get that regeneration has to mean positive change, and that investment is designed to jolt undervalued and underdeveloped places out of long-term deprivation, but where do existing communities fit in? Do developers see these people and their problems, as part of a failed past? Or are they a chance to better understand the true heart of what makes a place? We need to put dignity back into the planning process by ensuring that people’s stories are told.

This view is shared by a growing number of developers, including our current clients Cheshire West & Chester Council (CWaC), ForHousing and Regenda Homes.

In 2018 CWaC and housing partner ForHousing, submitted plans to regenerate Sutton Way, an estate in Ellesmere Port that included remodelling, demolishing and rebuilding new homes. Both knew that the usual methods of community consultation were not working. They needed new ideas.

“We need to put dignity back into the planning process by ensuring that people’s stories are told”

We Make Places won a competitive tender on the basis of our ‘disrupting the norm’ approach and a promise to engage with as many residents as possible, not just as part of the planning and regeneration process, but to deliver positive and lasting change.

We established a physical presence on Sutton Way, and visited residents’ homes, offering an open invitation to visit our newly created conversation space.

The renewal plans were a lot for residents to take in, particularly those set to lose their homes, but we have kept people involved in aspects such as design decisions and understanding the process.

The scheme has now has full planning permission and both clients credit We Make Places’ methods as being key to this outcome. We also identified a significant number of residents facing social and mental health challenges, and were able to work with the housing providers and various partners to develop community activities and referral routes that will continue beyond planning. These include ‘Meet Up Mondays’ drop-in sessions, local arts and social history projects, and our Urban Workbench programme, which tackles loneliness and isolation by teaching DIY skills.

When developers are aware of issues that could prohibit proper engagement and ignore them we must ask why. Are they just kicking problems down the road and hoping for the best – or purposely undermining existing communities? Neither leads to truly sustainable development.

Kate Stewart is chief executive of place-making and engagement specialist We Make Places

Photo | iStock

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