"We need to create places where people want to live and work - planning, conservation and design play an indispensable role in regeneration." That statement could have been made by HTF at any time over the past two decades. In fact it's from World Class Places, the Government's new strategy for improving quality of place, so it's nice to know that where we lead others continue to follow.
And in this case, follow with a robust strategy that considers our understanding of quality of place, describes the importance of quality of place, assesses progress and the challenges, and looks ahead to building on success. The argument for place is reinforced by case studies from Tarporley, Cheshire to Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm and Upton, Northampton to Coin Street, London.
The content is vital, of course, but crucially this is a Government strategy owned by all Departments, not just the planning or heritage champions at Whitehall. For the first time those responsible for the health, education and defence estates will have to think about place making and place shaping!
Andy Burnham, DCMS and Hazel Blears, DCLG launched the strategy from The Deck atop the National Theatre on 12th May 2009, a venue with stunning views north across the Thames guaranteed to focus minds on what really constitutes a world class place.
Burnham stressed the importance of the Strategy in providing national leadership with a cross-ministerial focus. He made three telling points: we must not let an obsession with the new undermine respect for the past; we must learn from the mistakes of the 1950s and 60s in the rush towards new development; and we must think long term and not compromise on quality in tough times.
Blears took up the message, emphasising the need for more collaborative working, "not taking our eye off the ball of quality", balancing the need for good everyday design with design that is challenging and reiterating the need to hold to the principles of quality in difficult times. She stressed the need to support councillors to be bold in taking decisions. She praised planners as wonderful, creative people, sadly all too often stifled by bureaucracy ?? her audience was far too polite to point out the obvious!
But cynicism aside this was a significant event, an occasion to lift the spirit in a gloomy world. A brief time in which someone could call on the Athenian Oath - Thus in all these ways we will transmit this City, not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us - for support. Someone could reimagine town centres as "cultural destinations, not just for shopping". And poet Ian McMillan could exclaim:
I want to live in a place I call world class; Give me a sunlit square not an underpass.
World Class Places is available at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/worldclassplaces
Brian Human, Chair, HTF