Good design and place making
12th August 2009
Why is good quality design important to RENEW North Staffordshire?
A strong policy framework to support the creation of a high quality built environment is as key element in achieving sustainable housing regeneration. The low standard of the built environment in North Staffordshire is well documented. It is exacerbated by the inferior quality of planning applications/schemes being submitted and the lack of clear guidance to promote good practice. This is of a particular concern given that in times of economic downturn, it is often the design quality of schemes that are sacrificed to save costs.
What is RENEW doing to improve design quality?
There are five major aspects to the RENEW approach to improving design quality and place making across North Staffordshire. These are:
- the establishment of the North Staffordshire Design and Heritage Task Group
- the exemplar place-making projects
- the provision of funding for Urban Vision North Staffordshire
- being the main funder of the Stoke and Newcastle Design Supplementary Planning Document
- the preparation of detailed masterplans and options appraisals for priority areas
Exemplar place making projects
What is an 'Exemplar' project?
An 'exemplar' project is a project/scheme that is of exceptionally high quality or innovative, which means it can be used as an example of good practice.
RENEW sponsored the Bridgwater Pottery site as one of the schemes for the EUROPAN 9 competition. The EUROPAN competition gives architects, urban designers and landscape architects aged under 40 the chance to create a housing scheme for a real development site.
The site is now subject to a development proposal in partnership with Urban Splash, taking on board many of the key themes and principals identified through EUROPAN. In addition, the procurement of Urban Splash as a partner is crucial to achieving innovative design solutions to difficult sites.
RENEW, along with Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has also funded place making improvements in the Wellington Street neighbourhood of City Centre South (link to City Centre South areas homepage). The improvements have included facelifts, new paving, traffic management measures, boundary wall improvements and an enhancement of the quality of the new street lights that were being installed as part of the lighting private finance initiative (PFI). The palette of materials for the scheme is significantly superior to the normal city council standards.
The Wellington Street area is in close proximity to the new build development in the City Waterside area and the environmental improvements will provide a physical link between the old terraces and the new properties.
Provision of funding for Urban Vision North Staffordshire
RENEW will continue support the work of Urban Vision North Staffordshire which is an architecture and urban design centre. It is part funded by RENEW and other public sector partners. Urban Vision undertakes a number of tasks including exhibitions, education and training programmes. However, the most important aspect of their work is the management of the Design Review Panel (DRP). The panel is chaired by Ted Cullinan, a renowned architect with an international reputation, includes representatives from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). It meets on a monthly basis and review a wide variety of schemes/proposals including development proposals, masterplans, planning policy documents and consultants briefs.
There are a number of examples of how schemes have been improved by developers after they have been subject to design review, including the provision of a new health care centre in the Cobridge area of Stoke-on-Trent.
Main Funder of the Stoke and Newcastle Urban Design Supplementary Planning Document
As noted above, there is a lack of design guidance across North Staffordshire to support the development of good quality schemes. Accordingly, RENEW is 80% funding the Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-Under-Lyme Urban Design Supplementary Planning Document (SPD).
As well as providing clear urban design guidance, the SPD also provides advice on:
- the principles of good urban design
- how to write a good design and access statement
- how to consider local distinctiveness
- how to undertake site assessments in different landscape settings
In effect, the purpose of the document in addition to providing design guidance is to support prospective developers to submit good quality well thought out planning applications. Therefore, the education and training programme that sits alongside the SPD is a valuable tool in helping developers, architects, council staff and planning committee members interpret the document.
During the process of preparing the SPD, a number of training workshops have taken place with these groups. The training workshops have been a fundamental part of the process of preparing the SPD. So far, 23 councillors for Newcastle and Stoke-on-Trent have attended the training sessions, along with 60 officers, including development control, planning policy, housing and RENEW.
Another key element is the importance of sustainability. The SPD sets out how the principals of sustainability can be incorporated in to the whole design process ranging from concept to implementation.
The SPD is now available in draft and subject to approval of the client group chaired by RENEW and includes CABE, English Heritage, Advantage West Midlands, HCA and the two local authorities. It will be subject to public consultation in the winter of 2009 and formally adopted as council policy in 2010.
Preparation of detailed masterplans for priority areas
Currently, masterplans are being undertaken in the following areas:
All the masterplans will involve significant community and stakeholder engagement, including private sector developers and housing associations.
At the same time, there is pressure from several developers to submit planning applications for their sites, specifically on the Shearer Street site in North Shelton. RENEW is working with the developer to bring forward a scheme prior to the completion of the full master planning process, with the help of development brief.
This example is of particular importance because the original developer scheme was for more than 400 apartments. While the design of the scheme itself was of a good standard, it did not lend itself to creating a destination or a sense of place in the North Shelton neighbourhood. In particular, the type of residential development proposed was contrary to the perceived need for three and four bedroom family housing.
RENEW objected to the scheme, and is now working with the developer to bring forward a more comprehensive scheme – in a bid to create a focal point that will provide a range of housing types, with a mix of tenures, along with commercial development. Underpinning the new scheme will be a development brief, which has been the subject of community and stakeholder consultation.