2006 news articles

Welcome to the Irish Walled Towns Network

Ian Poole, outgoing Chair, and Chris Winter, Director of EHTF, were invited to attend the Irish Walled Towns Network conference held in Drogheda (near Dublin) on 9/10 November, at which Ian made a presentation on the work of the Forum. The organisation is quite young and very interested in the work of EHTF.

In order to share practice and maintain contact it was agreed that Reciprocal Membership should be set up between the two organisations and the Forum has been invited to present a paper at the next event, to be held in Youghal, County Cork, next May.

Details of the programme will be available in the near future; see www.heritagecouncil.ie/walled_towns for further details of the IWTN. We look forward to working with our Irish colleagues in the future.

A Sustainability Model - Improving Quality of Life

Quality of Life Model

Towns change, some more dramatically and more quickly than others. Each town is unique, a product of the cultural and other qualities of that place. Towns are living things ' they are both places, and the sum of the people who live and work there.

If we understand this to be the nature of towns, then our approach to shaping and implementing change needs to promote the quality of life of citizens as the cornerstone of urban development and regeneration. Whether it is a whole town under examination or an individual site, the same thought processes apply ' what will be the resultant social, environmental and economic outcomes and will these bring tangible and positive benefits to communities affected?

A sustainable approach to managing change in our historic towns is multi-faceted (as illustrated in the 'Q of L Model' below). It has the Quality of Life agenda at its core. Beyond the dimensions of Culture, Environment, Welfare and Economy the priorities may and will differ depending on specific circumstances.

However the message is a simple one ' to establish or maintain a sustainable renaissance of our historic towns we must be prepared to think as' urbanists' , beyond the comfort zone of 'disciplines'

Kevin McGovern,
RPS Planning, Transport & Environment

Span Places

Humane spaces, dignity and esteem, cohesion and identity, integrated landscape design. These were just a few of the compliments heaped on Span housing developments during a Symposium held at RIBA on 18 November.

Span Developments flowed from the vision of Eric Lyons, who looked below the surface of architecture and developed a core set of principles to build houses that people liked and could afford. The principles embraced three Ls: layout, landscape and leasehold. The letter has been vital in supporting residents' management tructures that have maintained the quality of the estates. It was part of a complete planning approach that saw the need to fuse together the physical, social and economic aspects of housing.

As a model for modest development, up to 150 dwellings say, it has much to teach us. But can it be applied to the larger numbers dictated by the growth agenda in some historic towns? Yes, if we are prepared to look and learn the lessons. To quote from a new monograph on Lyons and Span: 'The test of good housing is not whether it can be built easily, but whether it can be lived in easily.''Eric Lyons and Span', edited by Barbara Simms

Yin and Yang: Growth in Historic Towns in the 21st Century

Delegates at 2006 Annual ConferenceThe EHTF has always been ahead of its time. The Forum promoted the virtues of historic towns as fine places to live and work long before the notion of 'sustainable communities' was a gleam in a ministerial eye. Happily, others have caught up but, in order to maintain and create sustainable communities in the 21st century, we must understand what makes them and where better to look than to our historic towns and cities?

The Annual Conference in Bury St Edmunds explored this in depth.

Historic towns are far more than collections of fine buildings. They combine compactness, adaptability, human scale, cultural richness, local enterprise, harmony between townscape and landscape, a small environmental footprint and the ability to renew themselves. In this they are exemplars of sustainable communities.

At the scale of individual buildings they offer the Vitruvian qualities of firmness, commodity and delight, even if they have more than a few 'X Listed' eyesores that ought to be removed quietly. How can new building compare favourably with this? Perhaps by allowing architecture to grow out of our own culture, avoiding trendiness for the sake of it and, in recognising that modesty is a virtue, by trying to create the 'really good ordinary'.

And it's more than buildings, of course: space and architecture are the yin and yang of good places in many historic towns. This being so, it is sad to reflect that the 20th century has seen the death of the street. Streets need to be reclaimed from traffic and all parts of the public realm strengthened as places where people come together to reinforce community identity and cohesion.

If this suggests that all we need to do is to choose the right bricks and paviors we are mistaken. Governance is critical. How do we manage buildings and spaces and how do we get the community to own and cherish their place? By clear leadership and trusting people to behave well, perhaps. Viability is crucial too: high quality development has to be commercially successful.

These might be the necessary conditions for sustainable communities. Whether they are sufficient only time will tell. Maybe the secret lies in keynote speaker George Ferguson's words: 'Property has its duties as well as its rights.'

 

Brian Human, Chair EHTF

Ludlow wins the Academy of Urbanism 'Great Town' award

Quality Square,  LudlowAt the glittering award ceremony held at The Dorchester in London on 10 November, Mayor of Ludlow, Cllr Graeme Kidd, was presented with 'The Great Town' award and was invited to read the poem especially composed for the occasion by Ian McMillan:

'The most perfect town in England'
Betjeman said, and he should know.
He had an eye and an ear for England;
For English light, or that English glow
As the River Teme and a Shropshire sky
Combine in a perfect Ludlow way
And as the sun goes down and the night clouds fly

You can wallow at the end of a Ludlow day
In Ludlow Sausage and Ludlow Cheese
And a pint of a perfect local beer
And the sound of laughter carried on the breeze
From people just happy that they're here.
From the Castle down to Old Street,Ludlow is the place
To put heaven in your belly and a smile upon your face!

Graeme said “It is a great honour for Ludlow and its communities to be selected as the first Great Town by the Academy. I am sure the fact that we are a Slow Town ' the first CittaSlow Town in the UK - helped us to win this accolade”.

Other winners were:
Edinburgh - European City of the Year

Glasgow Merchant City - Great Neighbourhood

Marylebone High Street - Great Street

Borough Market, London - Great Place

Image: Quality Square, Ludlow

The Future of Retailing in Historic Towns

Town Square Shopping Centre, Stratford-upon-AvonThis was the title of the Stratford-upon-Avon Society's annual public lecture on 11 October given by Dr Brian Raggett, Executive Director of C B Richard Ellis, who is leading the CBRE contribution to the World Class Stratford project.

His main message was that Stratford needs better shopping, better restaurants, better transport - and a range of cultural activities apart from Shakespeare if the town is to compete successfully in the 21st century market place and avoid the 'Clone Town Trap', according to Ian Heggie, Chair of the Stratford-upon-Avon Society (and Member of the EHTF Executive Committee).

Dr Raggett continued: "It is important to play to the town's strengths but also maintain diversity and to study retail trends,and to avoid being a clone and to concentrate on local distinctiveness." He suggested that this could mean expanding the farmers' market, as has been done in Stroud,or attracting major organic retailers and internationally recognised restaurants, as in Ludlow.  He pointed out that a key trend in retailing was away from covered centres towards schemes with more public space.  Research shows that customers prefer shopping in open environments and strong civic leadership was needed to encourage high-value non-retail employment and partnerships which create an atmosphere that would attract and stimulate retailers.

He said that"Customers have to be satisfied, but retailers need to be inspired by what the town has to offer'. To achieve this it is necessary to solve transport problems and to focus on 'place making'.

Speaking of Stratford, he said "The places between the shops have to be more attractive and they are not yet. World Class Stratford should change that.It is also necessary to consider the entrances to the town from major car parks - visitors must be encouraged to think this is a different and interesting place'.

The points made by Dr Raggett are strongly supported by the Forum through its guidance documents and will continue to be advocated in the coming year with further work on retail development in historic towns.

Image: Town Square Shopping Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Cityscape Seminar

20 Years EHTF CityscapeAs part of the Cityscape 2007 exhibition and conference to be held at Earls Court2 from 27 February- 1 March, EHTF will be running a seminar on the morning of 1 March entitled: 'Historic towns: maintaining identity and place'

This will include presentations on the Streetscape:from strategy to reality- with the Chichester case study; the Importance of identity and diversity- Tourism in context; a Tale of Two Cities:Conservation Area Appraisals for major historic towns;and Housing Growth - managing expansion: design and planning.

Entry to the seminar and exhibition is free of charge, but requires pre-booking; please register here.

EHTF Members are entitled to a £50 discount for the conferences which also run for the three days.For full details and booking see: www.cityscapeonline.com.

EHTF members will also receive an invitation to the Reception which will take place on the evening of 28 February.

The yellow lines dilemma in Ludlow

Quality Square, LudlowAn example of the challenges facing many Forum Members Shropshire County Council is introducing decriminalised parking enforcement (DPE) very soon and it is a legal requirement for all parking restrictions, signs and markings to be 100% correct on the ground before they can be enforced.

In Ludlow, at the same time, a Pay and Display scheme will be introduced, generating an income which will enable the start up of a new full time Park and Ride service this October, whilst also cutting some bus fares. In addition, there is a residents' parking permit scheme covering the whole town, so local people are not disadvantaged by the charges.

A decision was made to re-mark where necessary existing double yellow lines to conservation area standards and mark out bays in line with current regulations. This would require fewer upright signs (since 'no waiting at any time' plates are no longer mandatory with double yellow lines) and would be more easily enforceable.

This is consistent with what was done after the enhancement scheme was completed and the yellow lines have been quite neatly executed. There are no lines in a couple of the most highly sensitive areas, such as Quality Square, but elsewhere the choice is stark: lines, signs or cars. Experience tells us that people will park in even the narrowest of streets if they get the chance!

There will be a review of the signing situation once the scheme has settled down and improvements or alterations to reduce visual impact will be considered then. This review (which it has been suggested may involve EHTF) will be taken very seriously, in line with the long term approach to historic Ludlow.

Image: Quality Square, Ludlow

No more signs and lines!

CrossroadsThe Forum has been campaigning since the early 1990's for fewer signs and lines and less street clutter. Over the years other organisations may have had a higher profile - for example English Heritage with 'Streets for All' - but EHTF has consistently published guidance which points to a better way: for example the Historic Core Zones Report (1999) and Review (2003) and Focus on the Public Realm (2003) (see publications).

Ben Hamilton-Baillie has worked with EHTF and continues to demonstrate the aesthetic and safety advantages of fewer signs, through the European 'Shared Space' programme. Bradford on Avon is the most recent Forum Member to ask for Ben's advice, which he gave at a meeting in the beautiful Wiltshire town on 8 September. He will also be the keynote speaker at a 'Transport Day' organised by the the West Suffolk Green Business Forum in Bury St Edmunds on 29 November.

CPRE and the RAC are now calling for less clutter on country roads, which although outside of the remit of EHTF, has significant impact on the approach to many historic towns, set as they are in rural contexts.

The fairly experimental traffic management schemes put in place in Halifax, Lincoln, Shrewsbury and Bury St Edmunds for the Historic Core Zones project were in consultation with, and with the approval of, the then Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) and may have involved "imaginative interpretation of the regulations" but have not yet resulted in any catastrophes!

The pressure is mounting to re-think the public spaces that have been obscured by a plethora of information and instructions, in an increasing risk-averse society. EHTF would like to offer Members the opportunity to share examples of best practice in order to encourage colleagues who may have difficulties convincing others that less is more!

The Annual Conference will continue to develop this theme and work in 2007 will include scrutiny of the new Transport Innovation Fund Initiative. Please contact Chris Winter, EHTF Director, if you would like your experiences shared through the website or the newsletter.

Illustration: Crossroads - Paul Boston & Ben Hamilton-Bailie, Director of Hamilton-Bailey Associates