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Engagement event 2 - Delivering design quality in Suffolk 

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Feedback from workshop 2: 16 January 2019


Introduction to the session:

It is important that this project does not just repeat what already exists either in Suffolk or in nationally available policy and guidance, but that it says something specific about this place. However, there is a tension in that Suffolk is a diverse country with different design pressures and issues in different places. How can we develop principles at the high level that everyone can sign up to which are still specific to Suffolk? 

Summary of main themes from feedback:



Building communities not just houses was seen central to discussions. Having meaningful collaboration, engagement and participation with communities that are affected by development is a significant aspiration throughout all the discussion groups – currently it is seen as tokenistic. It needs to start early and involve a wide cross section of people, break through ‘silos’ of self-interest and make use of community officers within Local Authorities. Transparency in discussions, having a narrative and explaining what growth will deliver is important. Neighbourhood plans have a role in this though some perceive them to be anti development


Plans and proposals should be truly local:

Plans should be based on local need, social and employment, and specific to place. They should reflect the character of the locality. Early assessment of this is important prior to designs being developed. Background characterisation and baseline information needs to be more widely available and easy to access.  It must then be clear how proposals have responded to this. General feeling that a plan led process is best for everyone.



This is a common thread looking for evidence based decisions on where good growth should occur related to sustainable transport networks and other assessments. At the local level green infrastructure and community facilities are strongly supported. Connectivity is a word that came up again and again. Building resilience to climate change should be encouraged. Biodiversity was seen as key.


Specific feedback from working groups:

  1. Making plans and policy - the Local and Neighbourhood Plan: 

  • A strategic county wide data base is needed to properly assess and make local plans

  • We want to see the right development in right place according to principles of sustainable development.

  • Meaningful collaboration of communities is essential in making plans eg: better integration and collaboration between Neighbourhood Plans and Local Plan to avoid tension.

  • Neighbourhood Plans are perceived to be resisting growth.


    2. Building sustainable communities   

How do we grow rural communities in a ‘sustainable’ way that reflects the evolution of that community and the settlement? 

Local Plans

  • There is currently difficulty in engagement at early stage – we need demystification of the process.

  • Hard to get people to engage at local plan and master planning stages but this is critical.

  • Transparency in process. Explain the process of how we decide where to build - how do councils allocate sites?

  • Plan led process is best and most transparent but it’s the process that feeds into the plan that needs work.

  • Focus on process. Pressure for expansion rarely comes from communities. 

  • Local Plans should be truly local and specific and reflect the community needs of the area.


Neighbourhood Plans

  • Councils to promote NP’s to focus on local issues and local needs.

 Other Issues to be addressed

  • How can we capture creativity that benefits communities in masterplans? 

  • Tension between quality of design and cost of land. 

  • On allocated sites how do we ensure that any special features are enhanced? E.g ancient monument.

  • vision – do we have enough bright ideas or more of the same?

  • Focus on energy, water, access to jobs and transport, broadband 

Sustainable Development - What and How?


Connectivity is a key issue whether it is infrastructure, green space or social: 

  • Everyone should be able to access high-quality greenspace without a car.

  • “Connectivity to greenspace.” through green corridors.

  • More scope for live/work. “connectivity to broadband, electricity, water etc” 

  • Sustainable transport links and improve foot and cycle network – connectivity! 

  • Social “connectivity”- very important to develop sustainable communities.

Design and set standards for the future: 

  • Needs discussing at early stage 

  • Set the best standards we can achieve now (as it will fall short later) 

  • Design houses to build in resilience to climate change 

  • Rainwater harvesting – not just for individual unit – for community hub? – landscape and biodiversity  

  • Design in Biodiversity

  • Build into design – good green infrastructure designed in early.

  • Long-term sustainable management of greenspace 

  • Create a standard for Suffolk. Should be able to accommodate flexibility to enable delivery


Other issues:

  • Retain and enhance existing buildings

 1. The design process 

  • Bringing design in early on sites.

  • There should be consistency of advice from Planning Authority from outline to full planning application.

  • More due diligence is required from landowners 

  • More comprehensive analysis is required on sites prior to the start of design.


   2. Community engagement  


Meaningful engagement with the Community is needed:

  • Face to face communication needed to find out the ‘DNA’ of place (not just p.c’s) 

  • Trust – need to earn this (historic mistrust of the L.A)  

  • Cut out jargon - language can be a barrier. The people best pleased to engage are not planners. 

  • Holistic view of people and place (stake -holders involved from the outset)  

  • Community – led – involved communities’ team – taking into account the long-term view 

  • Local documents (policy) owed by the community.

  • What about other stakeholders – health, schools, well- being? (how do we incorporate this asap?)

Ways of engagement:

  • Social media but needs to be diverse to attract a broader range of participants.  

  • Needs to be a narrative behind why this is happening (the back story), how people’s contributions will help inform. Needs a thread.  

  • Need to explain why growth

  • Research community before you go in – key people to speak to current.

  • Use of developer resources to carry out engagement, as well as them in-house. (developers, L.A and community)

How do you build long-term ownership?  


  1. The planning application process 



  • At the pre-application stage need meaningful and pragmatic discussions with correctly qualified staff.

  • Consistency to approach/ process across authorities  

  • Timely discussions before deadlines (and timely comments, from consultees)  



  • The right people should be at the table – we need to break down the silo mentality

  • Partnership (non-adversary) and collaboration between agents and Planning Authority promotes better design    

  • Developer / client forums  

  • Master planning/ development brief LA’s/ county council clearers synergy between  


Broader interpretation of “sustainability” 


  1. Character and Distinctiveness 


Need to start with an understanding of what we have. We need good baseline information before the design process starts:

  • Character assessment

  • Where to build  

  • Landscape assessment  


Assessment and Design:

  • There should be enough evidence to influence/ refuse an application.

  • Design statements on character are important

  • Should build up layers of character e.g. field boundaries, urban grain.

Masterplans and Plan making:

  • Proper assessment should be done right at the beginning

  • Bring forward character assessment – inception /plan making stage  

  • Briefs appropriate to scale  

  • Self-build should be plugged into policy


   2. Economic and social prosperity   


Important to focus on building communities:

  • Build communities – not just houses - Build houses, shape places  


We must be able to deliver the right infrastructure for communities to blossom:

  • Be stricter about delivery of employment/social uses.

  •  Understand how a neighbourhood centre can be delivered (monitor/enforce S106, How will infrastructure be delivered) 

  • If community centre is in the plan, then deliver it – monitor / enforce S106s and commitments in permissions (why doesn’t this happen currently?)  

  • Requirement for deliverable public transport 

  • Change public transport to meet modern behavior  

  • Shops/play areas/ schools/ neighbourhood centres 


Responsibilities of developers should be to:

  • Engage earlier  

  • Understand places they are building

  • Have a better understand the community. They are looking to “bolt on to” much earlier in the process  

  • Demographics employment  

  • Achieve good Transport links with in and outside site 

  • Look beyond the bottom line  

  • For good Housing Mix, Tenure/price mix 


Local Authorities should be:

  • Responsible for integrating economic and social prosperity 

  • Multi-disciplinary approach – e.g. communities’ team (or members) of LA's organise events for a  new community. Could developers contribute?  

  • Use existing communication structures  

  • Stricter about delivery  

  • Enforcement officer (note – fees go up)  

  • Development timeline planning officers (teams) engaged much earlier and for much longer (much more multi disciplinary teams. 

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