What should happen to strategic planning?

As part of our collaborative approach to responding to the Planning White Paper, we continue to share ‘drafts’ to individual questions. We are doing this to give as many people the chance as possible to what civic societies are saying to us, and to give you a chance to influence our final submission as it evolves.

The latest question is about the Duty to Cooperate. Share your thoughts with us via: info@civicvoice.org.uk.

7(b). How could strategic, cross-boundary issues be best planned for in the absence of a formal Duty to Cooperate?

The first part of our answer deals with the proposal to remove the Duty to Cooperate and the second part with possible alternatives.

Principle of removing the Duty to Co-operate

The proposed removal of the Duty to Co-operate is worthy of discussion, as feedback from our members has been that it has not been an effective replacement mechanism for regional spatial strategies, abolished in 2010, and we are aware of Local Plans that have failed the legal test at the examination stage[1], having to start the process again.

Common queries from civic societies about the ‘duty’ is that the process is a mystery to communities, inaccessible and not a transparent part of the planning system.

There is some suspicion that local authorities who do not want to adopt a local plan because it may be politically contentious are using the Duty to Co-operate as a ‘get-out’ clause. One Civic Society commented that it is a ‘duty to engage’ and not a ‘duty to agree’ and that for it to be really valuable, early and open engagement needs to happen – with political will to support the planners. It is much easier to blame the Planning Inspectorate as to why a local plan has not been adopted than for local politicians to show leadership and make difficult decisions. With difficult decisions comes political accountability. 

Communities recognise that the Duty to Co-operateis flawed, because local politics in neighbouring authorities can often have conflicting local visions for growth. With the current Duty to Co-operate, we query, where is the incentive for local authorities to plan positively to meet development needs across administrative boundaries, when there is no requirement to agree? This is particularly acute where there are constraints such as Green Belt, when such development has become so highly politicised.  

Civic Voice welcomes the Government considering alternatives to Duty to Co-operate, but we would not support removing the current duty without fully considering all options and introducing a workable solution for the whole country, as we believe a vacuum in strategic planning in the interim could lead to further delays and make it exceedingly more difficult to ensure that enough new homes are planned for.

Civic Voice urges Government that before the Duty to Co-operate is removed, we have a certainty over its replacement. It is essential that we have ‘larger than local planning’ to ensure that we positively plan to meet needs and tackle the bigger issues that cross boundaries such as addressing climate change, providing strategic infrastructure to support economic and housing growth and tackling regional inequalities through the ‘levelling up’ agenda. This is where collaboration between Government and stakeholders, including communities, is needed. For it to be valuable, early, and open engagement needs to happen, to help build public trust.

Possible alternatives

Currently, there is a messy picture of strategic planning arrangements across the country with some statutory joint strategic and local plans, a regional plan in London, and a series of non-statutory strategic growth frameworks/plans. Some parts of the country have Combined Authorities and Metro Mayors and we aware of the Government’s plans to for further devolution and reorganisation of local government. There are also 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) within England with different geographic boundaries to local authorities and joint/strategic plans. With this in mind, we believe that any replacement must be mindful of the existing strategic plans and bodies, provides some consistency across the country and ensures that the ‘sum of the parts meets the whole’.        

Collaborative strategic planning must be carried out to address the most pressing issues facing the nation such as economic recovery, meeting housing need and demand, climate change and reducing inequality.

It may be appropriate for Mayors of combined authorities to oversee the strategic distribution of housing and other development requirements, however, without complete coverage across the country, this proposal alone would not address the collaborative strategic approach that is needed for areas without a Mayor. We also believe that any strategic planning bodies going forward such as Combined Authorities must have an accessible, balanced, collaborative and democratic process, which involves communities at an early stage, to ensure that any strategic plans remain rooted in local communities.

LEPs could also play a role, but we would want the Government to make clear that it expects to see civic society and communities represented on such groups.

Should we go back to the regional level?

It is interesting to note that further consideration is being given in the White Paper to how to plan for strategic cross boundary issues

We already have a regional plan for London, so why not elsewhere? Whether you were a fan of them or not, the implications of the abolition of regional strategic for levels of housing development are still being felt today. The abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies has been a major barrier to the effective delivery of housing and infrastructure. It has led to a ‘messy picture’ of how planning is delivered across the country – from neighbourhood planning, to combined authorities, to the National Infrastructure Commission. It has highlighted the development of an ad hoc planning system driven by bespoke devolution deals. This is not strategic planning.

Clearly RSS were unpopular in many parts of England, with some people accusing them of being undemocratic, however, they did provide a framework for developing strategic planning and housing policies, including facilitating debate and mediation on the broad distribution of development and housing. Supporters of them still talk about their comprehensive, strategic view of planning across each region.

However, limited it might be, even something setting out a Regional Vision with objectives would be a start but to have an effect, it would need ‘teeth’ and be recognised. We have to stop saying ‘it is politically toxic to talk about regions’.

To a ‘National Plan’ and beyond!

To quote the UK 2070 Commission[2], “Currently, the future of the UK is being shaped by the incremental, short-term and ad hoc nature of government policy”.

We should not be looking for the popular decisions but should be looking for good decisions and the right solution. We support the UK 2070’s commission call for a national spatial plan: http://uk2070.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/UK2070-FINAL-REPORT.pdf

Civic Voice supports the need for a national spatial strategy which sets national priorities and within that framework you have regional or sub-regional planning.   A national spatial strategy would be a planning framework to plan for the whole of England, with aims to improve, balance up, and deliver the objectives of the country from housing, climate change, infrastructure, social equality and would be the place to meaningfully start to tackle the national ‘levelling up’ agenda.

There is potential to start this work quickly by appointing a new body, chaired by the Planning Minister, with the ability to reach across government departments and bring together existing national organisations such as the National Infrastructure Commission, HS2, Northern Powerhouse and Homes England. Without the national leadership, we will not address the challenges we face. This could be the single biggest change to the system that could form part of the radical solution that the Government wants.


[1] https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1681910/why-councils-struggling-meet-duty-cooperate

[2] http://uk2070.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/UK2070-FINAL-REPORT.pdf

What should happen to strategic planning?

Do you agree with Government proposals for improving the production and use of design guides and codes?

Over the next few weeks, we are going to start sharing our draft responses to some of the Planning White Paper consultation questions. We want to do this so that you can see what other civic societies are saying to us, and give you a chance to influence our final submission as it evolves.

The first question and draft answer (available below) we are sharing is in relation to the question 17:

Tell us what you think to this response via: info@civicvoice.org.uk

17. Do you agree with our proposals for improving the production and use of design guides and codes?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

The emphasis on design codes and good design is clearly welcomed by Civic Voice members. Based on 151 responses to a Civic Voice survey (undertaken in Sept 2020), 79.6% respondents supported the idea for design guides and codes to have a more central role in the system. We also highlight the National Housing Audit research (January 2020), that The most effective design governance tools are design codes and design review but they are used far less than other more generic approaches.

However, the clear concerns from our members are focused on (1) how the codes are created and (2) how they work in practice to ensure that the quality of development is improved.

We have 3 substantial comments to make:

PRACTICAL ARRANGEMENTS

We do not think it is realistic to expect a local authority to be able to code all land within a local authority boundary. The resources, time and cost needed to undertake such an exercise would be so large, it would never be a strategic priority for a council.

However, we see the potential for local authorities to produce design codes for specific sites/areas e.g. growth areas or protected areas. We struggle to see how codes will work in renewal areas, which would appear to cover much of our existing built up areas.

There should be a sensible transition period in which communities can concentrate on getting guides/codes in place (plus funding and up-skilling), during which the current discretionary approach should remain.

At what point should a community group start to campaign for their local authority to produce a local design code? Whilst we have lots of interest in this proposal, there will potentially be a period of two planning systems while we transition from the current system to the proposed one in the White Paper. If a community were to try to implement a code, based on the forthcoming National Model Design Code, how much weight would it have? Would it quickly become out of date? Can you produce design codes before the local authority has allocated its growth, renewal and protected areas through the new style local plan?

With the emphasis on local authorities producing local plans within a shorter timeframe than ever before, we think it is unrealistic to also expect them to prioritise design codes until local plans are in place.  

We welcome the expectation that local design guides and codes will be prepared with community involvement but still consider formal consultation should be required before local design codes are adopted. We welcome the proposal to measure public support for codes but are unsure at this stage how ‘empirical evidence of what is popular and characteristic’ could be gathered.  

We think that any community group that is named in the Statement of Community Involvement should be allowed to prepare local design codes, with access to funding and expert support from the proposed national body, not just neighbourhood planning groups. 

If the default is the National Model Design Code, is this really localising decision making? How much weight will the National Model Design Code have when its published? What is the incentive for a local authority to decide to take forward a local design code when they are under resourced and being pressured on local plan issues, when the default position is the national code? Why should they do it? The sceptic in us fears that under these circumstances planning departments will think, let’s just use the National Model Design Code and not worry about the public engagement and producing our own. We say this as we know that numerous local authorities have not wanted to encourage neighbourhood planning for similar reasons. What carrot and stick approach will Government use if certain local authorities choose not to take forward design codes?

WILL THE ACTUAL CODES GIVE COMMUNITIES CONFIDENCE?

We welcome several comments within the consultation, particularly paragraph 3.8, with specific reference to:

“It will be essential that they (design codes) are prepared with effective inputs from the local community considering empirical evidence of what is popular and characteristic in the local area”

We acknowledge the fact that developers can bring forward design codes but welcome the statement that it must be with effective inputs from the local community:

‘To underpin the importance of this we intend to make clear that design codes should only be given weight in the planning process if they can demonstrate that its input has been secured from the community’

The two key phrases here are defining “effective” community engagement and the “weight” given to local design codes when that has been achieved. We recommend that the National Model Design Code should define these terms and set standards for the level of meaningful community engagement that is to be expected.

We would expect that as a basic, local councils and developers are expected to follow the current design guidance that says: “Community panels or forums can be set up by local planning authorities or third sector organisations, such as civic societies, to represent the views of local communities by scrutinising plans, policies or applications” (paragraph 22).

At present, it is unclear as to what status the local design codes will have. Will they be equivalent to the existing ‘supplementary planning guidance’ or will they have the same statutory status as a local plan? This needs to be clarified by Government. Local design codes must have strong statutory status if they are to have the confidence of the public.

‘We will also make clear that decisions on design should be made in line with these documents’

It would be pointless for a local authority to produce a design code if they then chose to ignore it because of pressure from a developer. Therefore, if a developer brings forward a different design code that does not accord with the local authority’s, it should be rejected. However, the developer would be free to pursue their proposal through a discretionary approach and subject to local scrutiny, justifying their reasons for the departure.

HOW AND WHO WILL PRODUCE THEM – WHAT IS THE ROLE OF DIFFERENT PLAYERS?

We welcome the commitment that “It will be essential that they are prepared with effective inputs from the local community”, but the challenge will be to ensure that “effective input” is followed through. It is critical that local communities can positively engage in the preparation of local design codes to make sure developments truly reflect local character and environmental sensitivities.

We support the idea that local design guides/codes must be produced with community involvement to deliver provably popular housing. Civic Societies will have an absolutely essential role to play here.

We know that many local authorities have different success rates when it comes to engaging with communities. A local planning team does not always have the necessary local knowledge about an area and that is why it is critical that local communities are engaged in the process. Sufficient resources and training must be available to all local authorities and the wider community, who are being asked to prepare them.

If the point of design codes being introduced is to help communities support development, those same communities must be involved at local plan process. The success of design codes will be judged by the involvement of communities.

We believe that Statements of Community Involvement could be the bedrock of community involvement but, unfortunately, far too many have become too long, out of date and out of touch documents. We recommend that the Government implement a ‘National Statement of Community Involvement’, that showcases ‘best in class’ engagement at the different levels of consultation.

We recommend that the Civic Societies registered on the central database with Civic Voice are classed as ‘Consultees’ on all design codes being created in their area of geographic benefit.

Whilst we applaud the Government’s ambition around digital engagement – which we also want to see – this should be in addition to other methods of engagement as a range of approaches are required to engage the widest cross-section of the local community. We could not support this if it led to the loss of other methods of engagement.

We recommend that exhibitions / workshops / open meetings and discussion groups and independent but informed facilitation continues. It is important that various platforms are utilised to debate and explore ideas and, in our experience, no one size fits all when engaging communities, and ‘best in class’ engagement needs to recognise this.

There should be formal consultation with the wider community before local design codes are adopted.

END

Over the next few weeks, we are going to start sharing our draft responses to some of the Planning White Paper consultation questions. We want to do this so that you can see what other civic societies are saying to us, and give you a chance to influence our final submission as it evolves.

Tell us what you think to this response via: info@civicvoice.org.uk

Do you agree with Government proposals for improving the production and use of design guides and codes?

What does the White Paper say about meaningful participation in planning?

With so many proposals contained in the White Paper, we thought we would try to demystify some of the key themes one by one, go beyond the headlines in the press, and explore what is actually being proposed. Today, we are looking at public participation in the plan making process. So, what does the White Paper say and what will change?

Up front, the White Paper says:

‘We wish to… move the democracy forward in the planning process and give neighbourhoods and communities an earlier and more meaningful voice in the future of their area as plans are made, harnessing digital technology to make it much easier to access and understand information about specific planning proposals. More engagement should take place at the Local Plan phase.’

and

‘Local councils should radically and profoundly re-invent the ambition, depth and breadth with which they engage with communities as they consult on Local Plans. Our reforms will democratise the planning process by putting a new emphasis on engagement at the plan-making stage’

But how does the White Paper propose to achieve this?

The key proposal is for ‘meaningful public engagement’ from the very start of the process with ‘best in class’ ways of achieving public involvement for where development should go and what it should look like. Little detail is provided on how this should be done. However, Christopher Katkowski QC, a member of the taskforce that helped to write the White Paper highlighted on a London Forum webinar earlier this week, that the focus of the White Paper is on big ideas and he said that this is an opportunity for all civic societies to put forward ideas on how this could be achieved.

We want to ask, ‘How should communities be involved at the plan making stage? For example, should civic societies be statutory consultees at the local plan stage? Could citizen juries or assemblies be part of the solution? Let us know what you think. Tell us your ideas and examples of good practice and we will feed this back to Government. Fill in the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/3KVM8TB.

You can read the full White Paper online here. The Government is consulting on the proposals until 29 October 2020.

Our director Ian Harvey, has started to explore some of his own ideas in a blog here.

What does the White Paper say about meaningful participation in planning?

Can citizens’ assemblies rebuild trust in our planning system?

A report was published on Thursday, 10th September by Climate Change UK.

On its own, a report being published with the aim of influencing Government is not major news. So why was this report given such prominence on Channel 4 news and by the BBC website?

Perhaps it was because it was a report that was published by a non-party political group of 108 people, a group that was setting out how the UK should respond to and become net zero by 2050. It was a report from a ‘Citizens Assembly’.

Their final report is available here. This blog is not about the report though, it’s about the process they followed to get to the recommendations.

What is ‘A citizens’ assembly’

The group, or citizens’ assembly, was set up by six government select committees – groups of MPs who look at what the government is doing and scrutinise policy.

Members of the Climate change assembly were chosen to represent a spectrum of views from all over the UK and committed 60 hours of their time to studying and debating climate change. The assembly members met over six weekends in Spring 2020 and they heard balanced evidence on the choices the UK faces, discussed them. They then worked together to put forward the recommendations to the Government.

Citizens’ assemblies have been used all around the world, including in the UK, to help shape the work of governments and parliaments, but as we currently engage with Government on the Planning White Paper, I wonder whether citizens assemblies could be part of solution to ensuring meaningful participation at the plan making stage?

The Planning White Paper says:

 We wish to:

move the democracy forward in the planning process and give neighbourhoods and communities an earlier and more meaningful voice in the future of their area as plans are made, harnessing digital technology to make it much easier to access and understand information about specific planning proposals. More engagement should take place at the Local Plan phase.

Despite the importance of working with communities – and lots of nice words, consultation features very little in the white proposals. This is a cause of concern.

Bringing democracy forward is something we have long championed and I wonder, if the Government is serious and wants to be radical, should we be looking at formally introducing Citizens Assemblies into the planning system.  Should we be bringing people from all walks of life come together to debate, discuss and decide – on planning issues.

What is to say that at the plan making stage in the new proposals, local authorities are required by law to establish Citizen Assemblies to decide on the major issues – where to designate protected land/growth areas etc and where to allocate housing sites. Anyone who works in planning will tell you that it is hard to get a community excited and engaged about local plans.

They would be 100-150 randomly selected people that live in the local authority area. They would be required to come together over a series of days – think jury service – and they would be presented with the data, documents, and debates.

Housing developers could present evidence, so to the local civic society, so to the council. But when all is said and done, it is the group of individuals who vote and decide on the issues. It removes the politics from the system and would certainly speed up the process. You could say it is democracy in action? It works for climate change. Why not the planning system?

Whilst we accept that some communities think that the Government’s Planning White paper are trying to move towards cancelling out any meaningful local input into planning application decisions, we also have to recognise that for a number of years, Civic Voice members have overwhelmingly called for greater participation at the plan-making stage. We accept this might not be at the cost of having no voice at the individual planning application state.

The obvious weakness of citizens’ assembly is that only a small number of citizens can participate, and they are relatively expensive to organise. Turning this around though, by having a smaller, randomly selected group, it allows the group to discuss and debate the issues. Other citizens can have faith that they are not playing party politics and trying to deal with the issues in front of them. By removing local politics, would this change the system into one that we trust our fellow citizen to make the decisions.

It would require strong leadership from local government to accept the proposals. But it would also require strong leadership from communities too!

Local councils will be asked to demonstrate best in class engagement in the preparation of the local plan. Please do share your experiences of consultation with Civic Voice via: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/3KVM8TB

Can citizens’ assemblies rebuild trust in our planning system?

The Planning White Paper and housing targets: what will change?

So, what does the White Paper say about housing targets and what will change?

The key proposal is for new centrally set ‘binding’ housing targets for each local authority which they will then be required to meet through land allocations in the new Local Plans. How does this change things? We already have a ‘standard method’ for calculating housing numbers, however, this method calculates a local authority’s housing need and is only the starting point for Local Plans. It is not a binding requirement. Figures can be revised up, for example to accommodate growth from a neighbouring authority, or down, to take account of land constraints such as Green Belt etc and this debate over the final number tends to dominate Local Plan examinations. The White Paper proposes to remove this debate from the process to speed things up, provide certainty and ensure the Government’s ambition for 300,000 new homes per year is distributed across the country and delivered. 

How will the new housing targets be calculated?

In short, we don’t know. All the White Paper says is that the new standard method will take into account factors such as the size of existing urban areas to accommodate new housing, the level of affordability and land constraints within an area etc. Alongside the White Paper, the Government has produced a Changes to the Current Planning System consultation which, amongst other things, proposes changes to the current standard method for calculating housing numbers, however, this is not the same as what is being proposed in the Housing White Paper as this formula does not factor in things such as land constraints and is not a binding housing requirement. The White Paper seeks views on how this may be achieved. 

For further discussion on housing numbers in the White Paper, have a look at Zack Simons’ interesting blog available here: https://www.planoraks.com/posts-1/national-housing-plan-a-really-radical-idea

Lichfields have helpfully, looked at the proposed changes to the current standard method and calculated new numbers for each local authority available here: https://lichfields.uk/grow-renew-protect-planning-for-the-future/how-many-homes-the-new-standard-method/ However, whilst this gives us a direction of travel, as highlighted above, these would still only be the starting points for Local Plans currently being prepared and are likely to be temporary figures until the new binding housing requirements proposed in the White Paper come into force.

The Planning White Paper and housing targets: what will change?

What is the national design guide?

Andy von Bradsky, Head of Architecture for MHCLG recently attended a Civic Voice webinar with Civic Voice’s Ian Harvey to highlight the Government’s approach to design, with a specific reference to the National Design Guide. 

The National Planning Policy Framework makes clear that creating high quality buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve. This design guide, the National Design Guide, illustrates how well-designed places that are beautiful, enduring and successful can be achieved in practice. It forms part of the Government’s collection of planning practice guidance and should be read alongside the separate planning practice guidance on design process and tools – see the Southgate article above!.

You can access the National Design Guide here

What is the national design guide?

Building for a Healthy Life is the latest edition of – and new name for – Building for Life 12.

Building for a Healthy Life is the latest edition of – and new name for – Building for Life 12.

Building for a Healthy Life (BHL) updates the original 12 point structure and underlying principles within Building for Life 12.  The new name reflects changes in legislation as well as refinements made to the 12 considerations in response to good practice and user feedback.

The new name also recognises that this edition has been written in partnership with Homes England, NHS England and NHS Improvement. BHL integrates the findings of the three-year Healthy New Towns Programme led by NHS England and NHS Improvement 

Many local authorities across the country have cited Building for Life 12 in their Local Plans and Supplementary Planning Documents. As BHL is the new name for Building for Life 12, local authorities can use BHL without having to rewrite existing policy documents.

Download Building for a Healthy Life.

Building for a Healthy Life is the latest edition of – and new name for – Building for Life 12.

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.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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!