26 February 2019
How are villages and neighbourhoods in Suffolk changing and what challenges are they are facing.
A Suffolk wide initiative to improve design quality in the built environment. In partnership with Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC), we hosted a workshop at The Mix, Stowmarket to give village and neighbourhood representatives an opportunity to help shape Suffolk Design.
We wanted to learn about their experience of:
Engaging with developers and the planning system.
Neighbourhood Planning and other parish/neighbourhood policy and guidance.
Working with District and Borough Councils, and the County Council.
To do this, we hosted a series of workshop sessions to explore how things have worked to date and which identify areas where improvements can be made.
All our events will then feed into the emerging Suffolk Design project and help shape how it helps in improving outcomes.
Outcomes from the day!
It is clear that the Suffolk Design project can serve a critical role in supporting good design at the local level. There is a great deal of interest from parishes and communities in a resource that helps them better-manage their place going forward. A portal that put key information at people’s fingertips was strongly supported. Supplementary material such as templates, contacts and signposting was also suggested as a good way to support design at the local level. The event its self was seen as a valuable resource that enabled people to share ideas and best practice. There is scope for Suffolk Design to include a program of networking and training events to support design at the parish and neighbourhood level to sit along site the information contained within the portal.
50+ members of Parish Councils and Neighbourhood Development Plan Groups assembled to undertake a series of workshops. These were designed to address the following:
Engagement: how parishes and communities are able to engage with the planning system, developers, and other stakeholders to help shape decisions affecting them and their place.
This was done through discussion in groups of around 10, with participants feeding back their findings to the wider group and with time allowed for discussion and questions.
Early engagement by both developers and planners is critical but often this is either too late or not meaningful.
Information is available for most projects but it is not easy to find, putting Parishes and Communities on the back foot.
There are good examples of engagement that could act as a model for others going forward.
Suffolk Design could establish an engagement protocol that would enable people to better engage with local design issues.
Establish an engagement protocol for Suffolk Design so that everyone knows what is expected of them in terms of engagement and involvement.
Make information available early so that people can be proactive rather than reactive.
Put useful contacts in one place so that it is easy to communicate with the people you need.
Highlight examples of engagement best practice so that good models can influence future working.
The first workshop focused on current practice in terms of engagement with the planning and design process from the perspective of communities and Parishes. The overwhelming view was two-fold; that well-executed community engagement leads to better design outcomes and that the current picture surrounding engagement was often lacking in predictable ways. It was either too late, not meaningful, or was absent all together. Where engagement has been successful, participants felt that this translated to better overall outcomes for their communities.
Developers vary greatly depending on both the company and the individuals involved, with groups reporting a mixed experience. The general consensus was that developer-led engagement often left a lot to be desired, both in terms of how it is undertaken and how it translated into influencing the outcomes. Engaging with the planning system was also seen as mixed, with groups reporting that whilst they generally had positive experiences dealing with Planning Officers, the overall process was frustrating and difficult to use. Better routes of communication are needed to ensure that communities can access the people they need.
Methods of consultation need to be improved. Traditional methods are no longer the best way of engaging. Short questionnaires, pop-up events in places people already visit, going into schools etc are more effective than events in halls etc. A way of encouraging engagement that is easier to access for a wider demographic is needed. This would improve participation rates and help to embed community views more thoroughly into the design process. Highlighting best practice in terms of engagement was seen as a good resource for improving wider practice.
Proactive approaches to design give the best outcomes; masterplans, briefs and design principles setting out expectations are good examples.
Connectivity is a key issue, with isolated housing on the edges of existing communities a key concern.
Highways and traffic issues are often not reconciled with planning and design aspirations.
Neighbourhood Plans are often not given the weight they should be in influencing design.
Information about localities is hard to gather and access but would help
Develop a suite of baseline information to support Neighbourhood Plans such as mapping, character information etc.
Develop templates or ‘core’ content that can be shared within Neighbourhood Plans to help in their production.
Develop case studies of best practice and successful policies.
Establish a network for Parishes and NDP groups for training, learning from case studies, and sharing information.
Develop a framework of local expertise to assist in the development of NDPs
There is huge scope for the Suffolk Design project to support local design aspirations through providing information, resources and networking. A ‘kit of parts’ that brings together the common or ‘core’ NDP policy information would be of great benefit to the groups preparing plans. Mapping is often hard to come by, so expressing local issues spatially in a way that NDP groups could access was seen as particularly beneficial. Templates that set out the types of information needed for common types of policy would also help, as would wording that could be used across NDPs. Common data to map includes designated landscape, local green spaces, connectivity, and local facilities and services. A key issue facing communities is connectivity between new and existing, and setting out where things are in relation to development proposals would help in establishing where connections need to be made.
The power of sharing information and best practice was evidenced by how much people gained simply from attending the event; many explained that meeting their fellow communities from other parts of Suffolk had been extremely useful and that more of this kind of thing was needed in order to harness the embedded knowledge that already exists. A program of events including training, round-tables, site visits and forums would be beneficial. This could be included in the Suffolk Design program along side the online portal. Part of this should include the development of a framework of local expertise that NDP groups can call upon to assist in producing their plans. Local consultants that support communities are invaluable but often hard to find, so putting people in touch with these local experts would pay dividends.
View the Parish & Neighbourhood event invite here!
View the Parish & Neighbourhood agenda click here!