Places are not limited by their opportunity; they are limited by their leadership

On the day that the High Streets Task Force officially launches its support, I wanted to continue to share my thoughts as to ‘how we can do high streets differently’. 

We need to ask; can we build back better?

Lockdown has forced us to put a pause on life. We as a people need to ask, can we build back better? Do we want high streets dominated by landlords that have no connection to an area, or do we want to see community businesses and local people driving forward an area.

I believe we can and the increasing interest in Community Improvement Districts is telling me that people want a different future and a different connection to their area. Amazing orgs such Power to Change are helping to fund brilliant community businesses. It is these local leaders that need to be driving the high street agenda.

We need to bring people together to shape the high street. Do not start with engaging external consultants: start with engaging the community.  Even better, get out the way and let the community lead the way.

in many, many places communities…don’t need their power to be ‘unlocked’ by councils, they need it to be ‘unblocked’

Bonnie Hewson, Programme Manager Power to Change8 June 2020

Our high streets need strengthened local leadership

So, I am delighted that part of the reason the Task Force has been set-up is to strengthen local leadership in high streets and town centres in England.

The High Streets Task Force was commissioned by the government in 2019 as part of its Plan for the High Street and in response to recommendations of an expert panel on the high street chaired by the entrepreneur Sir John Timpson. The Task Force remit, agreed with MHCLG, is to deliver support to local authorities, develop place leaders, coordinate a national approach to town centres and to provide data and intelligence on town centres at a national and local level.

Places are like jigsaws. 1000 individual pieces have to come together to bring the picture to life. It can be frustrating, it can take a long time, but, with dedication and drive, the picture can be put together. Piece by piece. But it starts with leadership. We believe that the leaders who can start the jigsaw are the local community.  We intend to unlock and this leadership and put the civic movement at the heart of the debate on the future of our high streets.

If you allow people to take steps to meet their neighbours, they will.  Do you have a ‘a central heart’ – a ‘gathering space’ where you can meet as a community to talk about your high street? Look around your area? Who is leading the debate about trying to make the are better? The answer is in you. The answer is within the community.

 You should start by looking for the Community HEART.

The High Streets Task Force states: “We have a vision for town centres and high streets that are at the heart of their communities, with a unique sense of place and a strong identity”. A community is the lifeblood of every place. It is why, every high street needs a Community HEART Strategy. 

NEXT STEPS

Civic Voice is pleased to be involved in the High Streets Task Force and we will be urging community groups to sign up and be the leaders that their local area needs.

If you want to part of a growing movement wanting to shape our towns and cities, I  suggest that you sign up for Civic Voice’s #inconversation events on for the w/c 22nd June.

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At Civic Voice, our goal is to continue to give communities a voice at the national level on the issues and decisions that affect you locally. I pledge to you that we will continue to collaborate with communities to make great places.

Civic Voice is a part of the Government’s High Streets Task Force. The High Streets Task Force has been set-up to strengthen local leadership in high streets and town centres in England. It will do this by providing information, advice, training, knowledge and data – helping people to make a positive difference to their local communities.

https://www.highstreetstaskforce.org.uk/about/

Places are not limited by their opportunity; they are limited by their leadership

We have shared values, lets co-ordinate activities and Champion Heritage

Ahead of Cllr Karen Rowland’s #inconversation with Civic Voice, our Director, Ian Harvey, shares some perspectives on why the civic movement needs to champion, Heritage Champions! 

Highlights from this blog:

What does it mean to be a Heritage Champion?

‘We encourage all local authorities to appoint a Heritage Champion’
Historic England, 2016

The network of Heritage Champions was set up in 2004 by the then, English Heritage, to champion the interests of the historic environment within Local Authorities.

Heritage Champions are local councillors who have been nominated by their authority to carry out the role. The Champion focuses on persuading colleagues in the local authority and the wider community that the historic environment matters. Historic England provide advice which includes a publication, setting out what Heritage Champions can do in their role, how they can do it, and outlines contacts and sources of information.

The Champion should be ensuring that the historic environment plays a key role in the activities of the local authority in terms of policy development. 

How many councils have a Heritage Champion?

The network of Heritage Champions was set up in 2004 and the numbers steadily increased in the first few years. 

  • In 2005/6 the figure was 54 percent 
  • and this rose to 74 percent in 2013/2014

We have not been able to ascertain completely up-to-date figure current figures, but, we do know that Historic England tries to keep a central list of Champions to communicate with.

What have we done?

In September 2019, the Civic Voice Regional Forum requested that Civic Voice ask individual civic societies to share experiences about Heritage Champions. 

During October 2019, we asked 100 Civic Societies if they could name their Champion, 22 societies responded with a ‘yes’, and the rest either said ‘no’, or they didn’t know if they had a Heritage Champion. 

Our original plan was to undertake research during November/December, but the General Election arrived. As such, we decided in January to start an FOI on local councils to seek to find out if they had a Champion, or any interest in appointing one!

Example responses to the FOI include: 

We are publishing those results today:

  • The FOI took place between January and February 2020
  • We had 224 responses in the timeframe allowed
  • 86 authorities did not respond in the timeframe
  • 69 said ‘yes’ they do have a Heritage Champion
  • 153 said ‘no’ they do not have a heritage champion. 
  • Of those 153 – 20 said the the idea of introducing a Heritage Champion is something that they are considering 

The plan had been to publish a bigger piece of research, but with Covid-19, local councils have had other priorities, so we want people to help us fill in the database. It is not complete. It is a start. 

See the spreadsheet of responses here: http://www.civicvoice.org.uk/resources/heritage-champions-spreadsheet/

We want to publish this spreadsheet so that we can make heritage champions, more transparent. It makes us wonder, if the local civic society doesn’t know if they have a heritage champion, who else would?

Transparency is clearly an issue. Hopefully creating this spreadsheet will be a start. 

We want civic societies championing heritage champions

Since 2006, we have witnessed funding cuts of 37% to local conservation officers. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.  We have to unlock other ways to champion and make the case for the historic environment. We believe that a well-known and well supported Heritage Champions network can help mitigate funding cuts. If Champions are positively supported by the local community, it can help us to collaboratively make the case for local heritage.

We want the civic movement to help support local champions and work with them with shared values, shared activities and coordination. It will be important that long-term we have independent ambassadors and champions that can continue to make the case for the historic and built environment. 

Summary

Help us to champion heritage champions by sharing with us information about your local authority. Send any information you have to info@civicvoice.org.uk and we will update the database and continue to publish it for people to access.  

Want to know more?

Local contacts for the Heritage Champions in Historic England are as follows

  • North West – Kate Kendall, Team Leader – Partnerships, Email
  • North East and Yorkshire – John D Walker, Stakeholder Engagement Adviser, Email
  • Midlands – Louisa Moore, Team Leader – Partnerships, Email
  • East of England – Hetty Thornton, Stakeholder Engagement Adviser, Email
  • South West – Rosie Byford, Stakeholder Engagement Adviser, Email
  • London and the South East – Rachael McMillan, Stakeholder Engagement Adviser, Email
We have shared values, lets co-ordinate activities and Champion Heritage

Civic Voice #inconversation goes international!

At a time when the world is needing to come together, we are bringing two leading American thinkers to the Civic Voice #inconversation series.

We will be considering whether we can embrace US models in the UK.

Across the world, we are seeing a growing public yearning for meaningful involvement in the important public discussions about the future of our communities. From the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi to the streets of New York City or London, citizens are increasingly demanding a greater role in public decision-making. Poor public processes that lead to conflict and distrust are undermining the future health of our democracies. Therefore, organizations like Civic Voice, Main Street America and AIA’s Centre for Communities are all fulfilling a vital role in renewing identifying processes and platforms for civic action in improving our towns, cities, and village.

But, can we learn from each other? Yes. 

  • Joel Mills, Director, Center for Communities by Design (part of the American Institute of Architects) will share his thoughts as to why our future success hinges on the ability to re-build trust in institutions by involving citizens more directly in public life so that we might facilitate a successful transition to a healthy urban society. Joel will also discuss the role that communities can play through the R/UDAT programme. Created in 1967, the R/UDAT program pioneered the modern charrette process by combining interdisciplinary teams in dynamic, multi-day grassroots processes to produce community visions, action plans, and recommendations. Can Civic Voice become the home of R/UDAT in the UK and create a resource to support communities to shape new developments and high streets?  Join #inconversation via: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/in-conversation-with-joel-mills-tickets-104947783646
  • How to do high streets differently? Join Patrice Frey, CEO of US Main Street as she shares perspectives from the Main Street America approach to revitalising town centres and high streets. For over 30 years, Main Street have worked in 2000 communities across the US, but would this approach work in the UK? The Main Street approach is focused around Transformation Strategies, which articulate a focused, deliberate path to revitalizing or strengthening a downtown or commercial district’s economy. A program’s work on Transformation Strategies should be organized around the Four Points: Economic Vitality, Design, Promotion, and Organization. At the heart of the approach is for the work to be sustained, inclusive and community driven.
  • With questions about our own high streets, and the future legacy of Heritage Action Zones, can the Civic Movement take forward Main Street in the UK? Register: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/in-conversation-could-the-main-street-us-approach-work-in-england-tickets-105974436392

The work of Civic Voice is part of a much bigger ecosystem helping to reinforce similar initiatives in countries around the world today.  Organisations such as US Main Street and Center for Communities by Design provide an important contribution to the international conversation about public trust and the future of public participation far beyond the UK. Together we are part of a growing global movement for active communities as the bedrock for shaping the places where we live. 

We are all global citizens. We must all work together.

We look forward to both Patrice and Joel going’ #inconversation and look forward to Civic Societies working with us to mainstream these ideas in the UK.

And who knows, we might even have a conversation about community involvement in Riyadh soon… 

If you want to part of a growing movement wanting to shape our towns and cities, we suggest that you sign up for Civic Voice’s #inconversation events:

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Civic Voice #inconversation goes international!

Positive Space – Grosvenor’s new Community Charter is a ‘small step for Grosvenor’, but it is a giant leap forward for ‘meaningful participation’….

Positive Space – Grosvenor’s new Community Charter : This is a charter written for employees of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland and shared with the partners and communities with whom they work. Published on June 8th 2020.

According to a survey (July 2019), published by property firm Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, it found that just 2 per cent of the public trust developers and only 7 per cent have faith in local authorities, when it comes to planning for large-scale development.

For developers, the key driver of public distrust is the perception that they only care about making a profit. For local authorities, the reasons are broader based, but what comes through is that the public do not really understand what their local council is doing and why this is in their best interests. Civic Voice has been saying this for the past ten years! 

Grosvenor responded to this survey in a meaningful manner

The mood and culture within the built environment are changing.  The trend is clear: public participation in local decision making is here to stay.  People want to be involved in the decisions that immediately affect their lives.  Get it right and it will speed up the planning system.  

So, Grosvenor is aiming to create a more Positive Space, where the trade-offs involved in change are openly debated, more voices are heard, and we all work more productively together. This initiative aims to set a new standard for public engagement across their business and to give the communities that they work with meaningful involvement in how their neighbourhoods are managed and evolve.

Developers should not be afraid to engage meaningfully with communities. 

It is a simple idea. If people see their ideas and concerns emerging through the design work, they will tend to feel that their ideas are being responded to which builds trust, and often helps to build the basis of support for a scheme.  It can be inspirational and energising activity where the results of collaboration can be felt for many years in the future. It can lead to us collaboratively creating great places. 

Process

Grosvenor has been working with partners in real estate, the public sector, and organisations such as Civic Voice to look at way we can all collectively rebuild trust in the planning system and development. I was pleased to join the working group that they established. It was a refreshing experience to be in a room with people that you might not normally get to meet, but, it was clear in the first meeting that everyone was there because they wanted to see a strong response to rebuilding trust in planning decisions.

Do I feel my voice was heard, well, it would not surprise me if some people thought: ‘not another comment from Civic Voice’……..

At Civic Voice we are aware of the growth agenda and the need for
more homes to be built. Our members understand this too, with 71% of them wanting to see more housing built. Yet all over England many of these members, who are knowledgeable and positive people, have had to engage in planning proposals that they feel passionately are not right for their places.  Yet it was an eye opener for me to hear from councils and developers on the views and experiences that they had when consulting civic societies and community groups. We have more to do on both sides. It is right that community groups who represent a community will also be challenged. 

Positive Space – Grosvenor’s new Community Charter 

Summary

It is time to change the way things are done and to bring communities genuinely to the heart of planning and place-making. ‘Rebalancing the power in the planning system’ is about bringing people giving communities a meaningful right to participate at every stage of the planning process. 

There is a long road to recovering trust and placing it on new foundations of transparency, honesty, and dialogue.  Positive Space – Grosvenor’s new Community Charter  is a small step for developers, but it is a giant leap forward for meaningful participation in the UK.

We applaud Grosvenor in leading from the front.

Now to other developers? Can we see your Community Charter, please?

Positive Space – Grosvenor’s new Community Charter is a ‘small step for Grosvenor’, but it is a giant leap forward for ‘meaningful participation’….

Let’s talk about HAZ baby!

Ahead of Civic Voice’s roundtable discussion on Heritage Action Zones I wanted to continue to share my thoughts as to how we can do high streets differently.

Much has been written about “the loss of the high street” and people predicting the future. But communities do not need more reports and more research – they need help. Actions are what matter. We need local communities to be given the support that they need to #bethechange.

Our current project ‘How to do high streets differently’ is exploring different ideas as to how we can give communities a greater role in the future of the high street.

So, why a meeting on HAZ Zoom meeting?

It is a continuation of our face to face work. Civic Societies often connect face to face in a meeting room, or via visits to different areas. The benefit of Zoom is that we can connect many more people. We can now bring in a wider-audience, not just civic societies. We are pleased to have Louise Brennan from Historic England; Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading and Sophie Gibson from Burnley Empire Trust joining the call today.

To support their local ambitions, Blackpool Civic Trust had intended on hosting a meeting of civic societies in Heritage Action Zone areas, in May, but for obvious reasons, this didn’t happen. This Zoom meeting replaces the Blackpool meeting.

The main aims for the session are:

  • To connect different groups together to share experience
  • To start gaining an understanding of the amount, type and range of community activities within Heritage Action Zones
  • To identify the issues on which community action is focused and any significant gaps;
  • To identify what civic societies and others believe would most help them increase or extend their activity in future
  • To help inform the future direction of the HAZ network; and
  • To feed into Civic Voice’s wider thinking on doing high streets differently.

During the session, we might event cover the idea of campaigning for HAZs to become ‘Community Improvement Districts‘.

It was Joan Humble (Blackpool Civic Trust) and then John Walker, (Ramsgate Civic Society) who suggested to us that they thought the idea of Community Improvement Districts could be something of a legacy for HAZ areas. Interestingly, Matthew Mckeague at the Architectural Heritage Fund also suggested something similar when he participated in a Civic Voice #inconversation.

The common view seems to be emerging that local high streets will gain an increased  importance relative to city centres. If the future is for more focus on ‘local high streets’, perhaps the idea of a CID can be something that individual heritage action zones can consider.  We see the idea being much wider going much wider than just HAZ areas.

The conversation today will start focusing on:

  • Overall, are you satisfied with what the HAZ is trying to achieve?
  • Are you satisfied that you have a voice and can influence the direction of the HAZ?
  • What was your motivation in deciding to get involved in the HAZ?
  • Are you facing any barriers to being involved?
  • What do you see your role as on the HAZ?
  • Do you have any other perspectives on the HAZ idea?
  • If you could improve one aspect of HAZ, what would it be?

We share early stage ideas with civic groups across the country as it is important that communities themselves become the advocates for local change.  We are always feeding back and discussing ideas with communities. No comment is ever left behind in how we shape our ideas.

Places are not limited by their opportunity; they are limited by their leadership

Places are like jigsaws. 1000 pieces have to come together to make a good place. That includes having someone pulling the individual pieces together and building the picture.

We believe that the people who can start the jigsaw are the local community. We believe that our high streets need local leaders. We intend to unlock this leadership and put the civic movement at the heart of the debate on the future of our high streets. We will support them to have short, medium and long term action plans for redefining where they live. It might even involve some of them driving forward with campaigns for Community Improvement Districts.

Where to start the jigsaw?

Watch this space, or watch our next set of #inconversation events via http://www.civicvoice.org.uk/get-involved/events/

 #Inconversations

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Let’s talk about HAZ baby!

Going from the physical to the digital

Ahead of Steve Quartermain’s #inconversation with Civic Voice, our policy lead, Sarah James shares her perspectives on the future of the planning system. She suggests that utilising IT can make the system more Accessible, Balanced, Collaborative, and Democratic. 

The findings of a recent RTPI survey show that despite progress on digital engagement during Covid-19, challenges clearly still remain and we would therefore like to see a renewed focus on resourcing IT systems that allow widespread public participation via digital methods.

So, how can we carry out consultations when we cannot meet face-to-face?

For practical reasons, the impacts of coronavirus have necessitated local authorities, developers, and communities to innovate, and shift processes online via more digital methods of communication. Many consultations have been postponed and some local authorities have resorted to delegating decisions to officers. Traditional methods of consultation, engagement and committee decision making are undergoing fundamental change.

Some community groups are concerned that there will be a lack of proper scrutiny of planning applications and that resources for planning will be squeezed even further in future. This is understandable and reinforces the lack of trust that people have in the planning system.

Nevertheless, these shifts are likely to become permanent. This was highlighted by Councillor Clare Coghill, Leader of Waltham Forest Council when she discussed the council’s approach to planning during the coronavirus pandemic, recently saying, “The genie is out of the bottle, we will not be going back to the traditional ways of working.” This view was also supported by a Comres survey of UK councillors which found that virtual public exhibitions, webinar consultations and social media will be effective ways for developers to conduct planning consultations. Clearly, more digital methods of engagement are here to stay, and this could facilitate more permanent change to consultation practices.

Traditional and digital will go hand in hand. With this in mind, whilst digital access is widespread, there is a need to cater for those who do not have access, the skills, or desire to engage digitally. Equally, it is also likely that many people may not want to, or may be unable to, attend public events for many months after restrictions are eased. Both factors are likely to adversely affect the older population or other at-risk groups, who are often the greatest participants in the planning system. Traditional methods will continue to be needed and used.

On the flip side, hopefully the move towards the digital will bring in new audiences. Early evidence suggests that this might be the case. Both Somerset Council and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea reported a significant increase in the number of people registering to participate in ‘virtual planning meetings’. This is positive. The more people that participate, the more transparent and accountable councils will become. This can only be a good thing for the planning system, as we look to re-build trust in it.

We have challenges, but they can be overcome. We are ready to support councils.

Councils need to drastically increase their use of ‘Plantech’ to engage with communities. Utilising IT can make the system more accessible, balanced, collaborative, and democratic.

To quote Cllr Coghill again, “The genie is out of the bottle, we will not be going back to the traditional ways of working.”

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Civic Voice is campaigning for an ABCD planning system. Read our manifesto at http://www.civicvoice.org.uk/manifesto

A version of this article was first published by the RTPI in May 2020 as part of a wider response from experts in the planning profession on the profession’s response to Covid-19.

Read the original article and other pieces here.

Going from the physical to the digital

We need to put a Community HEART Strategy into every high street

Ahead of Civic Voice’s latest #inconversation with Matthew Mckeague, I wanted to continue to share my thoughts as to how we can do high street regeneration differently.  My message, echoed by Professor Cathy Parker is that it is important that everywhere has a group of people caring about it.

A community is the life-blood of every place. It is why, every high street needs a Community HEART Strategy. 

CAthy Parker BID

The role of high streets and town centres in contributing to the local economy and the health, wellbeing, cohesion, and cultural life of the local community is vital.  Covid-19 has been devastating for the health of the nation in so many ways. We must use what has happened to rethink the traditional models.  We need to start a new era of community led high streets.

We should use this devastating period to not just #buildbackbetter but instead to create the economy and society that we want.

So, what can we do?

Community – It all starts with people meeting together 

We need a focus on bringing people together.  If you allow people to take steps to meet their neighbours, they will.  Do you have a ‘a central heart’ – a ‘gathering space’ where you can meet as a community? Somewhere to meet a friend or to bump into a familiar face?? it can be park, square or library. Every high street needs places to gather. Where o you gather as a community on your high street?

Do you know where the heart of your high street is?

  • H – Heritage
  • E – Economy stupid, but for everyone. Establish priorities
  • A – Accessible for all. Make you area attractive for everyone.
  • R – Redefine it. The recovery will happen…. but it needs to be planned
  • T – Together and embrace technology

Heritage – A sense of place. 

  • Every place is unique, and every place is different, with its own distinctive assets and sense of place.  A one size fits all approach does not work. People do not want a clone town. 69 high streets across England have now been selected to receive a share of the £95 million fund. Learn about these!
  • Identify the civic infrastructure – libraries, charity shops, pubs – places that people connect. Showcase your community’s unique characteristics. Find the heart.
  • Much can be done locally, but not everything. It is okay to look to other places for inspiration. Places will be affected differently by Covid-19 and will face a different recovery period. Use frameworks that can be adapted for local conditions. Check out IPM’s 4 stage model and adapt it locally.  

Economy stupid, but for everyone. Establish priorities.

  • Britain’s shopping culture is changing. The future of retail is dead. High Streets will need to share retail space with residential, working, leisure, health and educational spaces.
  • A diverse economic strategy needs to support existing businesses,  but has to create a culture that supports local entrepreneurs and innovators to drive forward the area. 100 employers employing 2 people will in the long term be better than 2 employers employing 100 people. It will make you more local, more resilient.
  • Focus on creating a local economy with local jobs supported by local people. Speak to the council about support available to stimulate new businesses. Ownership should be in the hands of the community. Power to Change supports people to start and grow community businesses to revive local assets, protect the services people rely on, and address local needs. Community businesses help make places better, for example by saving local shops, giving more training opportunities for local people or providing affordable housing.

Accessible for all. Make you area attractive for everyone. 

  • For everyone. – Bikes, pedestrians, business, residents, young and old…. everyone has a role to play. It should be a place for everyone to visit and a place where everyone can feel like they can set up a new business. This will mean reducing the number of cars on our roads. It can be done .
  • Accessible for all. Create a viable future by connecting local community groups together. Connect the dots and map out what is happening.  You need to coordinate partnerships and stop working in silos. Inspiring more community involvement will be the single and most important thing you can do to build a resilient high street. Broadstairs Town Team aim to make our town an even nicer place to live in, work in and visit.  Collaboration is key to that. It’s all about Community working together.
  • Attractive for all: Give different people a reason to visit.  Don’t shut the high street at 6pm. Aim for the Purple Flag Award. In every community you will have talented musicians who need a platform. Make a music festival.

Redefine it. The recovery will happen…. but it needs to be planned 

  • Make sure you register with the High Streets Task Force and follow the Task Force recovery plan with suggestion to transform your High Street.
  • The Wimbledon Society decided to produce their own plan (Vision 2040), which started with the local community wishlist, and deals with the major issues facing ‘High Streets’ on a national level.  The society were keen to have ‘proposals’ not just ‘policies’, and to be ‘proactive’ and not ‘reactive’. Most importantly, through ‘Vision 2040’, they want to show what kind of town they could look forward to, including: relocating traffic, pedestrianising and planting extensively, celebrating the historic environment, all in a plan that is produced “bottom up” by local people, rather than the usual “top down”
  • The time is ripe to focus on creating varied communities in towns, that cater for the people who live in them. Utilise the Tactical urbanism approach. Tactical urbanism is about focusing on low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment.

Technology and a planned transition to a new ways of trading

  • Technology: Can you count the footfall on your high street? Do you have a virtual High Street? Do you do digital? Do you have a social media presence?  Would it be possible for someone to work from a local cafe? Do you have free WIFI? You need to be able to answer these questions.
  • Together:  By thinking differently, working together and putting the ‘place’ as the priority, we can overcome great obstacles. Put politics away. Focus on place. The People’s Town Centre Vision , put together by Aldershot Civic Society is showing what is possible. Read more here.
  • Transition: A transition plan will help you bring together the different ideas and focus on the future in a focused, deliberate manner

We need to put the Community HEART into every high street.

We need to use this chance to do things differently, but the solution for our high streets is already in them. We must reignite a sense of pride and ownership within a local community and encourage residents and businesses to join in investing in the area, the solution for our high streets is already in them.

Remember, places are not limited by their opportunity; they are limited by their leadership. Let’s inspire the community leaders in our towns to step forward and help shape the future.

Finally, start establish a Community Heart Action Plan. Do not wait for the local council to do this. If you start, other activities and priorities will start connecting together! Civic Voice’s webinar series will cover the detail of what this might look like.

NEXT STEPS

If you want to part of a growing movement wanting to shape our towns and cities, I would suggest that you sign up for Civic Voice’s #inconversation events on for the w/c 22nd June.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

At Civic Voice, our goal is to continue to give communities a voice at the national level on the issues and decisions that affect you locally. I pledge to you that we will continue to collaborate with communities to make great places.

Civic Voice is a part of the Government’s High Streets Task Force. The High Streets Task Force has been set-up to strengthen local leadership in high streets and town centres in England. It will do this by providing information, advice, training, knowledge and data – helping people to make a positive difference to their local communities.

We encourage civic societies and community groups to register to receive task force updates from https://highstreetstaskforce.org.uk/

If you want to consider the idea of establishing a  Community HEART Strategy,  get in touch at info@civicvoice.org.uk

 

We need to put a Community HEART Strategy into every high street

A number of civic societies have been in touch to ask a simple question – What is a Community Improvement District?

A work in progress……

My own progression to ‘Community Improvement Districts’, builds on from the Big Conservation Conservation and my work championing  ‘Conservation Area Improvement Districts’. With 100s of conservation areas being high streets in their own right, I wanted to explore ways of unlocking money that could be ring fenced for improving the historic environment. Sharing the idea with community groups led me directly to the idea that ‘Community Improvement Districts’ could be a solution to give communities a more meaningful voice in shaping their high street.

Yet, as much as I like to be the fount of wisdom on all great things, I have discovered that this is not a new idea.  Engaging London’s Communities: the Big Society and Localism put forward the idea in 2011 suggested ‘Community Improvement Districts’  as a possible way ahead when the idea of Big Society was in our lexicon. My own research has unearthed Community Improvement Districts in the US (29 in Georgia!), but they seem to be more common to BIDs, just with a slightly different name. 

BIDs should be replaced with CIDS
MHCLG Select Committee

The MHCLG Select Committee was attracted by the idea that BIDs should be replaced with Community Improvement Districts (2019).

The National Lottery funded organisation, Power to Change is  also looking at CIDs as part of their own 10 year vision to see community business recognised as a new economic model.  

Momentum is building in England, but Scotland is ahead

In the placemaking agenda, Scotland is one-step ahead of the rest of the UK on many fronts and it seems to be the same with CIDs! @JoeJamesBarratt recently highlighted to me on twitter that Improvement Districts operate in Scotland and could be a model for England to follow.  But it was thanks to Simon Quinn, IPM, who messaged me to share a story about a ‘Pilot Community Improvement District’ in Scotland.  See the story here.CIDs in Scotland

This isn’t a CID yet, but well done Scotland for leading the way and bringing an idea to life. I am a firm believer that we should share ideas and information and not to reinvent the wheel. It also gives me an excuse to visit Scotland when the lockdown is over!

We know that High Streets have been suffering across the UK as peoples’ shopping and leisure habits change. The impact is now being accelerated due to Covid. So, when things change, the way we do things should change to. The governance of our high streets needs to change.

I can see Community Improvement Districts working alongside traditional BIDs, but focused on smaller high streets and smaller towns, where, a BID alone may not be financially viable. For example where a critical mass of businesses don’t exist, but that they need to work together for the greater good.

The CID model can break down the barriers between corporates, citizens and councils, and can everyone to better understand the challenges and the importance of collective action. Every action will count when added together!

So, what might it look like:

  • A Community Improvement District (CID) would be a defined area of business and residential properties, whose owners choose to pay an additional precept (think how town and parish councils and BIDs are funded – a bit of both!)
  • Perhaps business rates for the area are ring-fenced for that particular locality – not to the local authority, but to the local organising body.
  • The governance would be centred on the power of “community”.  By bringing together corporates, community groups, citizens and councils in a collaborative partnership, to give everyone a meaningful voice.
  • The additional revenue is then decided upon by the local people and dedicated to services and improvements within the high street’s boundaries.
  • It would be time limited like a Business Improvement District or Neighbourhood Forum. It might end after five years. It would not be in perpetuity. Get the job done. Move on.
  • It may well be a charitable trust.

Covid-19 is changing everything

Civic societies are in clear agreement as to which areas of themes and issues they want Civic Voice campaigning on after the crisis. We have three clear areas of work that civic societies think we should prioritise:

  • Bringing new life to town and city centres
  • Giving local communities more influence in planning and placemaking decisions
  • Protecting and enhancing Conservation Areas

Combine the three and you might say, that Civic Voice will be campaigning to give local communities more influence in historic high streets through CIDs.

As Covid-19 has shown us, we are all connected. We need the local family running an independent cafe, or a library with hours the allow children to attend after school, or a local park to be open and safe. Our problems cannot be solved in isolation. But the future leadership in our towns will be trusted, transparent, place-focused networks, with the community at the heart. Its ‘garlic bread… its the future.’

Informal networks on high streets

Let me be clear: BIDs will continue to have an essential role in reviving our town centres, but a BID is just one mechanism that might help us redefine our High Streets more effectively. We have to bring the community to the heart of our high streets. It is critical that we collaborate together to show how much we value where we live.

Next steps

If someone wanted to proceed with a Community Improvement District, then I would suggest you register for Civic Voice’s #inconversation event on June 23rd. Phil Prentice from Scotland’s Town Partnership will be sharing perspectives as to how the  Possilpark traders are pulling together to pilot a Community Improvement District. 

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Civic Voice is a part of the Government’s High Streets Task Force. The High Streets Task Force has been set-up to strengthen local leadership in high streets and town centres in England. It will do this by providing information, advice, training, knowledge and data – helping people to make a positive difference to their local communities.

We encourage civic societies and community groups to register to receive task force updates from https://highstreetstaskforce.org.uk/

A number of civic societies have been in touch to ask a simple question – What is a Community Improvement District?

Using the Place Alliance’s housing audit criteria to assess housing planning applications – want to join a working group to mainstream this?

On the day that national bodies, including Civic Voice and the Place Alliance, join together to call for a national design delivery unit, Leeds Civic Trust share a perspective on housing and how they are making the case for higher quality local design. 

If you have read the Place Alliance’s report (January 2020) into the state of 142 new housing developments in England over the last five years, I am sure you will agree that it makes sobering reading. For those who are unfamiliar, the report can be downloaded here: http://placealliance.org.uk/research/national-housing-audit/

The following bullet points give a flavour of some of the findings to come out of this audit:

  • Although there had been a small improvement on the previous survey, new housing design is mediocre or poor based on the assessment criteria used in the audit
  • One in five of the 142 schemes considered should have been refused outright. Even when some of these schemes were refused, they were won on appeal
  • Lower density developments tended to be of poorer quality (it is suggested that this is because there is less incentive to be creative)
  • Those who buy the properties like them. Those who live nearby often do not. But both parties agree that these estates are often too car and road dominated.
  • Less affluent communities get poorer designs even though the cost differential between a poor and good design is marginal

Pretty damning stuff.

And yet for many of us in the business of looking at planning applications and development proposals, the prospect of commenting on new-build housing developments is not one that fills us with joy. These are often dwellings that are designed by numbers – often without the influence of an architect. It seems strange that we spend hours poring over the design details of a “statement building” in a city or town centre, but all too often developments such as thee receive little attention, even though in volume terms they have a much bigger impact;  Leeds has one of the highest targets for new housing in the country – around 50,000 to be built between 2017-2033. If most of these sites are developed, their impact (for good or for ill) will be huge.

So at Leeds Civic Trust, we have decided to pay more attention to these schemes by adopting the 17 criteria using the Place Alliance in its housing audit assessment. The difference is that we are using them to consider planning applications rather than completed schemes. With that in mind, we have made some adjustments:

  • We have tweaked the criteria to add a few additional areas for consideration.
    • For example, we have added consideration of climate emergency (under criteria 4: Environmental Impact),
    • how the edges of developments are treated and screening implemented (under criteria 6: Existing and New Landscapes)
    • and quality of fencing and walls (under Safety and Security). 
    • We are also considering adding an 18th criterion, which will consider broader public health issues. Although the criteria will guide our analysis of all housing applications, we are unlikely to use it in full for the smallest schemes (the Place Alliance audit was focused on volume housebuilding and so excluded developments with less than 50 units).
  • We will also include under each criterion a relevant policy reference – for example, an appropriate section of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), A reference to the National Housing Design Guide or to Leeds City Council’s Neighbourhoods for Living document. This ensures that our observations are underpinned by policy

Using the criteria in practice

  1. Swithins Lane – scheme layout 

Swithins Lane – scheme layout

  1. Swithins Lane Example House types 

Swithins Lane Example House types

The first scheme we looked at was a development of 66 dwellings on Swithins Lane in Rothwell on the outskirts of Leeds, our overall assessment of the scheme was that it was poor to mediocre – it only scored “good” on three criteria (Community Facilities, Housing Types and Safety and Security).

In our assessment we said that:

“the proposal is considered to have low standards and aspirations, particularly with regard to landscaping, sustainability (flood retention strategy, wind alleviation strategy, biodiversity), transport & waste management and context.”

We were also critical of the architectural response (the scheme uses standard housing types) and the way in which highways dominate.

I think it is fair to say that using this criteria-based approach forced us to make a more through assessment than would ordinarily have been the case, and as a result we have produced a much more rounded critique of the scheme in front of us.

Insisting on high quality design

Professor Matthew Carmona, Chair of the Place Alliance made an interesting remark in a recent blog post in which he critiques the government’s latest Planning document Planning for the Future. He says:

“On the one hand the document espouses a ‘world-class planning service’ and the need to ‘create beautiful and sustainable places’ for everyone.  On the other it talks a language of deregulation wrapped up in extending permitted development rights, expanding the use of zoning tools, and giving automatic rebates of planning fees when local authorities loose appeals.”

This was written before the Covid-19 emergency had really taken hold. It seems likely that the volume housebuilders will lead the call for a further relaxation of planning rules to get the construction industry moving and to address the housing crisis after months during which housebuilding plans have been put on hold. So, in the face of an economic downturn, there is a danger that design considerations will be pushed further downgraded. The role for civic societies in insisting on good design and placemaking will be more important than ever. The rigour offered by these audit criteria provides us with a framework through which we can demand higher standards in Post Covid-19 world where there may be pressure to allow standard to slip further.

Martin Hamilton

Director, Leeds Civic Trust

@LeedsCivicTrust

The design quality of the external residential environment will be measured against seventeen topics:

1. Community facilities – Does the development provide (or is it close to) community facilities, such as a school, parks, play areas, shops, pubs or cafés?
2. Housing types – Is there a mix of housing types to meet varied local needs?
3. Public transport – Does the development have easy access to public transport?
4. Environmental impact – Does the development have a low environmental impact?
5. The locality – Is the design specific to the scheme?
6. Existing and new landscape – Does the scheme exploit existing landscape or topography and create a new bio-diverse landscape?
7. Character of the development – Does the scheme feel like a place with a distinctive character?
8. Street legibility – Do the buildings and layout make it easy to find your way around?
9. Street definition – Are streets defined by a well-structured building layout?
10. Highway design – Does the building layout take priority over the road, so that highways do not dominate?
11. Car parking – Is the car parking well integrated and situated, so it supports the street scene?
12. Pedestrian friendly – Are the streets pedestrian and cycle friendly?
13. Connectivity within and with the surroundings developments – Does the street layout connect up internally and integrate with existing streets, paths and surrounding development?
14. Safety and security – Are open spaces, play areas and streets overlooked and do they feel safe?
15. Public, open and play spaces – Is public, open and play spaces well designed and does it have suitable management arrangements in place?
16. Architectural quality – Do the buildings exhibit architectural quality?
17. Storage and bins – Are storage spaces well designed and do they integrate well within the development?

Civic Voice wants to establish a working group to see how we can mainstream this approach and to consider whether training programmes could be developed by a range of providers may provide further material to help understand urban design principles and the specific issues underpinning this approach.

Are you interested in joining this group: get in touch at info@civicvoice.org.uk.

Using the Place Alliance’s housing audit criteria to assess housing planning applications – want to join a working group to mainstream this?

How can we do high streets differently?

In the latest of a series of blogs, our director Ian Harvey considers how we can all play a part in the future of our high street.

Ahead of Civic Voice’s high street conversation with Graham Galpin, I wanted to share a few thoughts of my own as to what communities can do.  My message, echoed by Professor Cathy Parker is that what’s important is that everywhere has a group of people caring about it.

We all to need to get involved.CAthy Parker BID

According to the Government’s own research, 57% of people want to have influence over decisions that are happening in their area; yet 26% of those individuals do not feel they actually influence those decisions.

My message to those individuals. Now is the time to act. Your local area needs you more than ever.

We all have something we love about where we live. It might be a patch of green space or a historic building. Or maybe you have a conservation area that makes you proud, or a local high street that has lots of independents.

What has happened in the past few weeks has made us all realise how valuable our towns and city centres area.

And now, more than ever, your local high street and town centre needs you. The next few years will be some of the most challenging that we face.  Yet it all starts with me, you, all of us.  The local area and high street needs you. The future of our high streets will be led by local activity and local ownership. There are now over 300 Business Improvement Districts established across the country and they are a key mechanism to help support businesses in areas that have one. Unfortunately though, many areas do not have a BID.

Civic societies and community groups have been champions of our town centres and high streets for many years. In the past, it has been so easy for people to say ‘it is the responsibility of the council to take action’. That attitude is not acceptable anymore. If you want to see your high street and town centre succeed, you need to get involved. Councils have a key ‘enabler/facilitator’ role, but we can achieve so much through local place leaders coming together and curating the area to be a ‘community district’.

There are so many ways to show that we care and to play our part –  we can shop locally, launch a town vision, engage business, maybe start a campaign? But we need local leaders.

Every high street needs a long-term vision about what it is offering and this needs to fit in with the wider challenges faced by society. For example, the UK has a serious housing shortage. Why don’t we seriously consider converting some empty shop units into housing? In my opinion, the future leadership of our high streets needs to be driven by informal place-focused community and business networks.

What we need is action and we can start today.

How can we save our town centres and high streets? Through working together;

  1. Find out what the council plan for your area? Stay apolitical, but talk to local councillors and the MP.
  2. If they don’t have the answer, start a social media campaign – ‘What do you love about your area?’ What are the 3 things you would change?
  3. After that, if you do nothing else, register with the High Streets Task Force. The High Streets Task Force was set up in July last year to support local authorities, business and community groups to transform their high streets. Register here.
  4. Once registered with the Task Force, get in touch with local media and tell them that you want to start talking about where we live. Use local press and radio, advertise in the local library, church or town hall! Have a town conversation!
  5. Organise a ‘virtual workshop” to get people to start thinking about the recovery and that you want to start mapping the different business and activities that you have on the high street?
  6. Get everyone engaged, e.g. speak to the Friends of the park, local residents associations, church groups, business associations etc
  7. Host a networking lunch on Zoom with local businesses – can they work together to provide services to the community?
  8. Launch a ‘loyalty card’ to encourage local shopping
  9. If possible, get people together and organise a socially distanced litter pick
  10. If possible, go and support a local cafe … even if you all stand 2 metres apart. It’s a start.
  11. Then do more. And more. And more.

When people ask what your response was in the recovery to covid-19, be the person that can say that you cared about where you live! You didn’t wait for someone else.  You started a twitter conversation, you connected with others, you Zoomed.

The future of your town centre will be thankful.

At Civic Voice, our goal is to continue to give communities a voice at the national level on the issues and decisions that affect you locally. I pledge to you that we will continue to collaborate with communities to make great places.

Ian Harvey

Executive Director

@ianmichharvey

How can we do high streets differently?