Capturing Quality in Our Time - Chapter 4

4.0 The Practical Approach

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Cirencester Cirencester: Developing Community Engagement
Andrea Pellegram,
Andrea Pellegram Town and Country Planning
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4.1 Cirencester has received insufficient investment to meet its infrastructure and service needs for many years. In a large rural district with many small market towns and other settlements, the town was perceived to be `too wealthy´, `too rural´, `too small´ or `too large´ to tick any of the targets set by the Local Strategic Partnership or the councils. It simply fell between all the stools, and local people were becoming increasingly frustrated that the town was `going to pot´.
4.2 Many small towns face similar problems. In addition, the economic downturn is putting new pressures on already stretched local authorities, which are often facing reduced income and staffing levels. At the same time, public expectations for service delivery continue to rise and statutory targets remain in force. Strategic funding and resources tend to be deployed in major growth areas or urban conurbations leaving gaps for smaller towns.
4.3 Community planning seeks to ensure that local authority and other policy and economic development services reflect properly the needs and aspirations of the grass roots community. It is a very cost effective means for understanding what the community wants, identifying service delivery objectives and is a way to join up budgets to deliver projects that are meaningful and provide value for money. Grant funding and other resources that wouldn't otherwise be available can be tapped into. It can be done by a lower tier of government (Parish or Town Council) level, or in partnership with District, County or Unitary authorities, or it can be done entirely within the voluntary or non-profit sector. It can kick-start regeneration or revitalisation of a historic town in a way that doesn't rely upon large public sector budget allocations.
4.4 Cirencester is an example of how to effectively engage with a community to create a sustainable market town. The Town Council began the process of developing a community plan entitled Our Future Cirencester in January 2008. In 15 months, 16 projects have been developed to promote the town's economic prosperity, enhance its cultural and heritage offer, make it a better place for young people to grow up and sustain its role as a market town that provides a hub of activity within a wide rural hinterland. The community plan uses local volunteers to identify needs and solutions from the grass roots level to encourage local government service delivery to be relevant and delivered where and how it is required. More information is available on Cirencester Town Council's website:
Thirteen Lessons from Cirencester
4.5 First, recognise the potential to act and get your story straight. It is more than likely that there are pressures and opportunities that are not currently being addressed. These should be recognised as valid and important so that they can become a catalyst for action. There may be popular initiatives that have failed in the past, the offer of potential funding, community discord, dissatisfaction with service delivery or significant growth pressures. Whatever they are, they offer the opportunity to refocus. Once you have recognised the problem, prepare your story of why you need to take action and why the community should support you.
4.6 Second, make their objectives your objectives. Early in your project, learn about what your partners are trying to achieve and seek to mould your own objectives to meet theirs and not the other way around. Potential partners have no incentive to join forces with you unless you help them achieve what they want. If you do this, you may be able to tap into their resources and increase your project's potential for success.
4.7 Third, create a formal management structure to oversee the project. Set up a formal steering group with adopted terms of reference. This group should represent the main community groups and local government to provide links between service providers of all sorts. The group should: provide the overall policy direction; oversee budgets and fundraising; and manage consultants, communications and strategic planning. Individual projects should be run by sub-groups or working groups. Excellent project management skills are required to keep a community plan on track.
4.8 Fourth, get a project manager. It is very important that community projects achieve credibility so they can attract partners and resources. Community planning is a complex process that requires excellent project management skills, sensitive negotiation, budget management, fundraising and an awareness of how local government and other services are provided. A successful project must have proper project control systems in place. The management group or the volunteers will need support and somebody else to do the actual work for them. A good project manager will be required, who can provide organisational skills, progress initiatives and do all the preparatory work. The management team and participants provide guidance and direction, but are not required to devote significant time to taking direct action. This is in contrast to the way in which many community based initiatives operate.
4.9 Fifth, document all contributions. Keep track of all volunteer hours by: using sign-in sheets for all meetings; keeping minutes of meetings; and making records of phone calls and interviews. This will provide data about the amount of 'in-kind' contribution you have received. If possible, estimate the value of each person's time. It is very important to grant providers and other partners that they can be certain that there is genuine community support. This helps convince them that their resources will be effectively deployed and will achieve real benefits.
4.10 Sixth, use the skills in your local community in a focused, meaningful and time-limited way. Your community will be full of people with special skills to take your projects forward, whether these are knowledge of local history, website development, or links to schools. Find out who these people are and ask them to help in focused ways. Only ask for as much help as you need to achieve a specific objective. If you use working groups to progress a project, for instance preparing a plan or set of objectives, draft a time-limited programme beforehand and only invite volunteers to join when you can be certain that they will only be required to give a specified input. In this way, people will feel that they understand the obligation they have to you and the project and they will be able to leave at the end with the feeling that they have made a real contribution. If you do not provide volunteers with a project end, they will be less likely to join you because they will perceive the project as a huge commitment. At the end of the specific project, they can be invited to join a new project if they wish. This will keep their commitment fresh.
4.11 Seventh, keep the process transparent. Ensure that information about the project and how it is run is readily available. Don't spend a lot of money on publications – it is usually sufficient to post documents on the internet. However, it is good practice to use a range of communication methods, for instance, make the most of existing publications wherever you can. The important thing is that if people, including the press, want to find out what's going on, they can do so simply and readily. It is also helpful to make information available about project costs and income from sources such as voluntary in-kind contributions and grants received. Regular feedback to the press is also a good idea and can stop bad press stories from taking hold. Ignorance often leads to suspicion so don't be shy!
4.12 Eighth, consult often using a variety of techniques. It is better to prepare simple engagement exercises using existing opportunities than to invest significant effort in preparing detailed consultation documents and events that are costly and have 'one hit' effect. The objective of consultation should be to learn what the community wants, and not to validate what you think it wants. You will find that after you have run a number of events, you will have captured most of the community's views. However, regular consultation ensures that your projects and policy objectives remain on track and also ensures that the community is kept aware of the project's progress.
4.13 Ninth, use the local press as an engagement tool. Work with the editor to create a series of articles that encourage feedback, either through the paper's website or in the letters pages to generate local debate about key issues. Give a website address for responses.
4.14 Tenth, plan and run a full media campaign. Find a designated reporter from the local newspaper and give them regular updates. Impress upon them the importance of keeping community development stories current and frequent to improve local people's views of their town and also of the community plan. Write press releases that give a positive spin to what you are trying to achieve and seek to emulate the editorial style of the local paper, so that the editor will be more likely to use your text.
4.15 Eleventh, make the most of the economic downturn. Many planning departments are currently facing a reduction in planning applications, which means that some officers may not be fully utilised. Take this opportunity to renew policies and to engage with the public on emerging issues so that your authority or firm is ready for resurgence in the building and regeneration process. Times of hardship reveal where weaknesses lie. Consultation at times like this will help identify strengths and weaknesses in time to prepare robust policy responses when things get moving and funds start flowing again. Likewise, there may be able and skilled people in the community, who are not fully occupied and who would be willing to donate their time.
4.16 Twelfth, be flexible and opportunistic about which projects you take forward. Prepare a wide range of possible projects in the early stages and take forward only those for which funding becomes available. It is better to be too ambitious and have a range of possible projects, expecting to progress only a few, than to put a lot of work into the preparation of projects for which funding is not forthcoming. At the early stages, it is not a matter of 'less is more' but 'the more the merrier'.
4.17 Thirteenth, find the right vehicle to take your project forward. It is likely that once the process has taken hold, a new organisation will need to be established. Once the programme has been established and embedded, it will involve bidding for future funding and project delivery. A range of organisational structures exist and the format you choose will depend upon the unique needs of your project. Also, bear in mind that once the process has taken root, local groups and individuals may well take over. Let them.
4.18 Examples and details of how these principles were applied in Cirencester are found in Andrea's presentation elsewhere on this site.
Getting Started Checklist Back to contents
  1. Develop your strategic objectives and desired outcomes:
    • Why do you want to engage with the public?
    • What do you want to achieve from the exercise?
    • How do you know when you are finished?
    • How would you measure success when you are finished?
    • What happens after you are finished?
  2. Prepare your organisational structure:
    • Who has overall accountability and how are decisions made?
    • Who are the key stakeholders and how will they be involved?
    • How will the project be managed?
    • What is the role of everyone involved in the project?
    • Where do you get basic administrative and operational support?
    • What happens at meetings?
    • How are you going to cover your initial project running costs?
  3. Identify the basis upon which to build the project:
    • Who is already in the community delivering projects and programmes aligned to your strategic objectives?
    • Who will work with you?
    • What work has already been done that you can use, for instance plans, policy documents, studies, etc?
  4. Prepare an outline work programme:
    • What is your initial engagement strategy where you begin your relationship with your community?
    • How do you maintain the relationship with the community throughout the life of the project?
    • What do you want to achieve in the first three years of your project?
  5. Develop an outline communication strategy:
    • How will you advertise the start of the project?
    • How will you get people involved?
    • How do you build interest and report success?
Eco-Homes Structuring Principles for Good Design
Ben Bolgar, Director of Design Theory and Networks,
The Prince's Foundation
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4.19 Key principles include:
  1. learn from the past, including study of appropriate models;
  2. localise by understanding local conditions; and
  3. transform action by applying appropriate, robust advances.
4.20 Development around sustainable neighbourhoods is a convenient remedy to the 'Inconvenient Truth'.
4.21 Pattern books have a part to play, but must be based on:
  1. identifying ‘local’ DNA and precedents for use in calibration of appropriate types;
  2. records of urban grain and the dynamics of its change; and
  3. records of architectural diversity.
4.22 The Enquiry by Design process brings together the key stakeholders in an intensive workshop for a proposed project to collaborate in creating a vision for the site, through drawing and testing multiple solutions to produce a consensus master plan.
4.23 Design coding:
  1. at its simplest it is a set of graphic instructions for building a place;
  2. is also often called form–based coding because it focuses on physical form rather than land use;
  3. emphasises the construction of a public realm –  the spaces between the buildings – and sets standards for build quality;
  4. is a positive, rather than negative, approach to a town’s growth and development;
  5. protects the stakeholder vision and gives planning certainty and speed to developers; and
  6. in competitive situations can level the playing field in terms of standards and accuracy of bids.
Cities may be coded piece by piece and a key unit for coding is the land parcel.
4.24 Sherford Sustainable New Community is an urban extension to Plymouth. It is a community with 5,500 homes, a town centre with retail and employment, up to 50% affordable housing, rapid bus connections to the centre, an Eco Home excellent rating, 50% renewable energy use, green structure, and a local food and materials policy. The BRE Sustainability Assessment gives it a score of 85% against seven criteria and it is ranked as an exemplar. The plan, which is built around perimeter blocks, is based on easy accessibility to services, which is referred to as 'easy living'.
4.25 Upton in Northampton is a major urban extension comprising: a permeable grid network; pedestrian orientated streets; defined spaces and a legible environment; 6,400 dwelling units; 13,320 sq m of retail floorspace; and 28% open space, but concentrated within a country park. Planning for extra homes in the area would save Northampton from expanding into the countryside in 20 years.
4.26 Change and the design process is complex. Fashion changes much more quickly than infrastructure, which in turn changes much more quickly than nature. Depending on the likely rate of change different approaches are needed. Fast change issues need shaping; medium rates require regeneration; and renewal and slow changes need stewardship. Some important issues for good design are how it addresses: balance; hierarchy; legibility; and materials. But it is a matter for much debate, as exemplified by comments about new building proposals:
“This is trying too hard to win awards, it's simply the wrong design for the place and existing building. Those who are keen on spoiling Bath – I suggest you look at what is now being demolished. That, in its time, was so forward looking...”

“Mock– Georgian in stone cladding would be as unworthy of the modern city as if the Woods had built in half– timbering or wattle and daub.”
Cambridge Learning from the Past
David Grech, Historic Areas Advisor,
English Heritage East of England Region
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4.27 The theme is learning from the past by defining place and identity and using it to shape and manage growth. But why should we learn from the past?
  1. ‘We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us’, said Winston Churchill.
  2. And as English Heritage says: ‘Our environment contains a unique and dynamic record of human activity. It has been shaped by people responding to the surroundings they inherit, and embodies the aspirations, skills and investment of successive generations.’ and ‘Each generation should therefore shape and sustain the historic environment in ways that allow people to use, enjoy and benefit from it, without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.’ English Heritage, Conservation Principles.
4.28 How do we do this? We can start by defining place and identity:
  1. Characterisation – the mapping, describing, analysing and understanding of the existing townscape or landscape character.
  2. Identifying Significance – ‘The significance of a place embraces all the diverse cultural and natural heritage values that people associate with it, or which prompt them to respond to it. These values tend to grow in strength and complexity over time, as understanding deepens and people's perceptions of place evolve.’ English Heritage, Conservation Principles
  3. ‘In order to identify the significance of a place, it is necessary first to understand its fabric, and how and why it has changed over time; and then to consider:
    1. who values the place and why they do so;
    2. how those values relate to its fabric;
    3. their relative importance;
    4. whether associated objects contribute to them;
    5. the contribution made by the setting and context of the place; and
    6. how the place compares with others sharing similar values.’ English Heritage, Conservation Principles
4.29 Good examples that we may learn from are:
  1. Saltire a 19th century planned model industrial settlement (1851–1868), now a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and
  2. Cambridge, a city that has grown organically over at least 800 years – it shows:
    1. an important town centre interface between town and gown, e.g. King's Parade;
    2. planned, formal development, e.g. New Square early 19th century;
    3. planned estate development, e.g. Defreville Estate late 19th–early 20th century; and
    4. a distinctive structure of green open spaces penetrating into the urban area.
4.30 In summary, learning from the past means:
  1. characterisation of the place;
  2. assessment of significance and sensitivities; and
  3. using the knowledge gained to inform the design process.
4.31 Questions that should be asked as part of this process include:
  1. What information might be collected to form a Characterisation Study (noting separately which data may be summarised through mapping)?
  2. How might significance and sensitivity be assessed?
  3. Assuming that we do not wish to simply clone an historic town, how do we use this knowledge to inform the design process?
Cambridge Partnerships, Capacity Building and
Prioritisation to Deliver Quality Outcomes

Alex Plant, Chief Executive,
Cambridgeshire Horizons
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4.32 There is a growth conundrum that we need to face. Historic towns need to be living places, yet they face affordability pressures; and growth is needed – the closer to town centres/job clusters the better – yet growth often worries residents. Effective growth can only be delivered by a partnership approach where there is a shared vision and cooperation that creates the capacity to deliver. Partners include elected members, the public, RSLs, academia, the business community, utilities, developers/house builders and a broad range of local and national public sector agencies.
4.33 Building capacity is not just about planning. Skilled members are a key to the process and they need to work through leadership, joint planning & transport arrangements, local delivery vehicles and delivery boards. As public sector borrowing/spending inevitably start to shrink after 2009, and in a period of austerity developer contributions will also shrink, decision making will have increasingly to focus on prioritisation of spending and investment. We need integrated development plans and no more wish lists of projects.
4.34 Possible new sources of funding include:
  1. Tax Increment Financing;
  2. asset–backed vehicles;
  3. tariffs, e.g. through CIL;
  4. co–investment with the HCA through loans/equity share;
  5. review periods for major projects; and
  6. joint ventures.
4.35 The challenges for the public sector in trying to move into better times include:
  1. What can the public sector do to mitigate impacts during the recession?
  2. How can the public sector position itself effectively for the upturn when it comes?
  3. What does this mean for partnership and capacity building?
  4. How can we develop investment in the skills that will be needed to deliver quality growth in the future?