Planning in a time of pandemics

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by Katie McClymont…..

Strange times we are in. Somewhere in the midst of transitioning to online teaching (or at least attempting to- I’ll leave it up to my students to be the judge of how successful this has been), home-schooling three children, standing in busy yet spacious queues for fruit, veg, bread, milk and other necessary elements of daily fuel – my mind has drifted to what all this means to us as planning researchers and educators. Aside from the practicalities of Zoom meetings, Skype for interviews and tutorials via blackboard, what things should we be offering comment on, and what things should we be reassessing ourselves?

The first is about housing and the idea of home. The message of ‘stay at home’ is loud and clear, but the implications of this vary vastly between households. The media has noted efforts to find accommodation for rough sleepers (BBC, 2020) and Arwa Mahdawi (2020) has eloquently written about the increasing risks of domestic violence, and for those for whom ‘home’ does not equate with safe space. It is right that these immediate concerns are at the forefront of policy responses, but there are longer-term, less-apparent issues for some ‘staying at home’. This includes those in overcrowded, unsatisfactory housing, with poor access to outdoor space, or even natural light. With public playgrounds now closed, those in social housing denied access to purportedly private gardens seem even more unfairly treated than before (Grant, 2019a and b). Moreover, research revealing the shockingly poor resident units developed under relaxations in change of use for offices showcases what ‘home’ will be for some people (Clifford et al, 2018). Units, some as small as 13 square metres (Park, 2019) and some without windows cannot be seen as fit places to be ‘locked-down’ within. This is only one part of the issues- including poor ventilation and exposure to excessive noise- with much contemporary housing as highlighted by the TCPA within their healthy homes campaign (Howie, 2019). Now, more than ever, (staying at) home should evoke safety, security and some comfort- for all of us as we all share the restrictions imposed for the national good. At its core, planning is premised in making decisions for collective interests- now is a time which acutely demonstrates how far from acceptable some of these decisions have been.

The message of ‘stay at home’ is loud and clear

This leads me to think further about public and community spaces, and their value. Aside from fears for health and fears of uncertainty, the current pandemic has provoked disquiet through the myriad impacts of ‘social distancing’. As much as missing the pub, the theatre, attending football matches and swimming in public pools, the removal of spaces for incidental ‘encounters’ with others- in libraries, cafes, the (school and public) playground changes the emotional pattern of daily life. It is too soon to know, personally or more widely, what the impact of these changes with be, but the removal of such ‘common’ places- or social infrastructure as Eric Klinsberg (2018) articulately defines- from everyday life, does offer a unique vantage point to reflect on their role. As planners, we do not often or readily articulate the value of such places: our language for the importance of community, public, semi-public spaces is under-developed. What is the difference between a church hall and community music venue? Does it matter who owns it? Who uses it? How does this vary between different setting- urban, rural, wealthy, mobile, declining, aging and all the other ways we are able to define an area?

Now, more than ever, (staying at) home should evoke safety, security and some comfort

Planning has a role in offering hope in the dark times: hope not for a return to business as usual, but hope for a better, shared future: one in which home can be a sanctuary supported by resilient and well-understood social infrastructure. Moreover, these quick comments are only a beginning. Can we emerge from this current crisis with renewed and refreshed ideas about the decline of the high street as a social space with increased online shopping, changes to our daily travel patterns which can minimise pollution and increase air quality (one silver lining of the current situation) as well as the key challenge of our generation: taking collective and state action to tackle climate change?

References

BBC (2020) Coronavirus: All rough sleepers in England ‘to be housed’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52063939 27th March 2020

Clifford, B, Firm, J, Livingstone, N and Canelas, P (2018) Assessing the impacts of extending permitted development rights to office-to-residential change of use in England, RICS Research Trust, available at https://www.rics.org/globalassets/rics-website/media/knowledge/research/research-reports/assessing-the-impacts-of-extending-permitted-development-rights-to-office-to-residential-change-of-use-in-england-rics.pdf

Grant, H. (2019a) Disabled children among social tenants blocked from communal gardens, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/sep/27/disabled-children-among-social-tenants-blocked-from-communal-gardens 27th September 2019

Grant, H. (2019b) Too poor to play: children in social housing blocked from communal playground https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/mar/25/too-poor-to-play-children-in-social-housing-blocked-from-communal-playground 25 March 2019

Howie, F. (2019) Why we need a healthy homes act, Town and Country Planning, 88(7), pp266-267

Klinenberg, E. (2018) Palaces for the People: How to build a more equal and united society, London, The Bodley Head

Mahdawi, A (2020) For some people, social distancing means being trapped indoors with an abuser https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/21/coronavirus-domestic-violence-week-in-patriarchy 21st March 2020

Park, J (2019) Housing and the importance of liveable space, Town and Country Planning, 88(7), pp280-284

Bristol: An exemplar of ‘reflexive governance’ for sustainable urban development?

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Stephen Hall, Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments, UWE Bristol

Aksel Ersoy, Department of Management in the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

As scholars living in Bristol, we are fascinated by this old port city and its on-going transformation. Prosperous Bristol has been named as the ‘Happiest city in the UK’ and often features in the ‘Best Place to Live in Britain’ lists. In addition to its high quality of life (for most, if not all, residents) Bristol is home to numerous environmental groups that advocate a stronger ecological approach – i.e. one that acknowledges and respects environmental limits to human development –to urban governance than the traditional economic growth oriented model. This makes Bristol an anomaly among the UK’s ‘Core Cities’. There is a broad spectrum of environmental activism in Bristol: green think tanks and pressure groups, energy co-operatives, waste recycling groups, a local currency (the Bristol Pound), local food networks, community self-build housing groups, and major national environmental actors such as the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Sustrans and the Soil Association. Bristol, thus, hosts a critical mass of green activism and expertise. We believe that the dissemination of such a wide range of ‘alternative’ voices locally is crucial to the debate on urban futures.

Bristol is home to numerous environmental groups: residents amass outside City Hall to welcome Greta Thunberg on 28th February 2020

Bristol was awarded the title European Green Capital 2015. Its bid as a ‘green, inclusionary and diverse’ city was framed in conjunction with a strong emphasis on community involvement. The policy discourse that had previously been based on economic development was reoriented towards environmentalism and collaboration. Bristol’s stated aspirations as European Green Capital shifted from the high profile events that might be expected of an orthodox urban entrepreneurialism to a set of ambitions oriented towards citizen engagement and inclusivity. This prompted us to write our paper[1] The Bristol Green Capital Partnership: an exemplar of reflexive governance for sustainable urban development, in which we argue that Bristol represents, perhaps, an atypical approach to the ‘urban sustainability fix’ (the balance sought between competing economic, social and environmental demands) in the UK.

There exist, in Bristol, genuine differences of substance between local partners, including recent polemical debates on resident parking zones, 20mph speed limits and the planning of the new Bristol Arena. However, in contrast to other UK Core Cities, there is less a sense that environmental interests are left to oppose an apparently antagonistic local authority from the political margins. In other words, Bristol represents a prima facie ideal incubator for the processes that characterise ‘reflexive governance’. The emerging literature on reflexive governance offers a normative framework for understanding a ‘learning-based approach to governance’. Reflexive governance prioritises organisational adaptation over technological advancement as a response to the complex challenges of climate change and resource scarcity. It focuses primarily on the process of governance, rather than outcome. It respects and exploits diverse forms of knowledge (scientific, political, everyday), and champions continuous institutional transformation to enable, and respond to, broader social dialogue.  

Walking along Bristol’s Harbourside

We argue that the governance of Bristol – embodied in the Bristol Green Capital Partnership (BGCP) which was formed by Bristol City Council to develop the concept of a ‘low carbon city with a high quality of life’ in 2007 – displays many ‘reflexive’ characteristics. Bristol stakeholders have created a space for dialogue, an interface for diverse voices and forms of knowledge that eschews the pursuit of simple consensus; in the words of one local official “if you’ve got something to say, join in … I do not know of another partnership in which a multinational German insurance company would sit down with a dreadlocked activist from St Pauls” It has exhibited considerable institutional adaptability, partly in response to the exhortations of the European Green Capital competition. BGCP, for example, has evolved from a core group of stakeholders, to a large and heterogeneous membership organisation, a grouping of over 800 organisations, ranging from transnational corporations to local community groups. Nonetheless, the discursive space within which it has achieved this transformation remains tightly bounded, defined primarily by actors that exhibit an a priori interest in the ‘green’ agenda; civil engineering companies, for whom the sustainable city discourse is framed as an infrastructure investment challenge, and grassroots environmental activists, rather than representative of mainstream business or public opinion, especially in more disadvantaged areas of the city. Moreover, there are multiple and contested visions within BGCP itself; as another local official noted “discussions about renewable energy in Bristol attract many suits and very few community activists, whereas meetings about local food attract very few suits”.

Our findings challenge Bristol’s self-image as a ‘green capital’, notwithstanding the very real achievements noted above, and highlight the limits of reflexive governance – a practical approach to inclusion, learning and adaptation – but one that, in focusing on dialogue and inclusion, underestimates the real political tensions, some of which we also highlight above, that define the actions required to realise the sustainability of cities, including Bristol.

[1] Ersoy, A and Hall, S (2020) The Bristol Green Capital Partnership: an exemplar of reflexive governance for sustainable urban development, Town Planning Review, Vol.91, No.4, forthcoming

“Futureproofing Luton”: Co-producing an arboretum-meadow with local Eco-warriors.

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……..by Helen Hoyle

On Monday this week MSc Urban Planning student William Cottrill and I had the privilege of spending the morning with 10 young Eco-warriors from Riverbank Primary School in Luton. The main objective of our morning was to plant nine significant climate-resilient trees of different species on a former minigolf site in Wardown Park, as part of our new Airquality arboretum-meadow project.

The morning dawned hopefully; a cold, dry, blue-sky day, the calm after storm Ciara, who had ripped a tree from its roots just outside Riverbank School. We started at Riverbank, with a workshop exploring the benefits of trees for pollution and climate change mitigation. You could feel the excitement radiating from the Eco-warriors as they entered the room; they had been looking forward to some hands-on tree planting in the park for weeks. First we distributed the #chooselandscape t-shirts which were de rigueur for the day. The Landscape Institute is one of our main project partners and President Adam White and CEO Dan Cook would later join us for the planting.

Discussing Climate change and the positive role of trees

The first activity was a masterclass in teamworking. Sarah Deacon, the Eco-warriors’ science teacher, had devised a cunning simulation of trees absorbing carbon and other pollutants using a bucket of water and sponges, so Will and I were left standing, holding dripping sponges whilst the Eco-warriors looked on. I was dumbstruck by the children’s curiosity, knowledge of climate change and the role of carbon dioxide, the value of trees as habitats as well as their confidence to express themselves. We moved to another activity involving placing creatures in their appropriate habitat within the tree (using a giant tree poster and model creatures), whilst trying to identify the random crustaceans Sarah had added to catch us out.

A focus on habitats

We then moved to some artwork, involving drawing the leaves of the nine very distinctive trees including Tilia platyphyllous (Broad-leaved lime), Tilia cordata (small-leaved lime), Pinus nigra Austriaca (Austrian Pine), Junglans regia (Walnut tree), Acer pseudoplatanus (Sycamore), Acer campestre (Field maple), Gleditsia tricanthos (Honey locust), Cedrus atlantica (Atlas cedar) and Liriodendron tulipfera (Tulip tree). We had selected these with the help of Stan Carter, Tree Officer at Luton Parks Service, who had chosen them to provide aesthetic interest whilst being adapted to local conditions, but also geared up to a future, warmer climate.

The artwork session begins

The intention is that once the trees are established, we will add signage to the individual trees in the arboretum, using the Eco-warriors drawings. As we worked on our drawings I noted the different approaches the children took to the task, and we chatted away about differences in the size of insects in the UK and parts of India.

Creative approaches to leaf drawing

It was now time to move outside and get our hands and feet dirty. Riverbank School is conveniently located just across the road from Wardown Park, so it was a short walk across to the arboretum site. Once there we met with other project partners including Jane Conway (Operations manager) and Steve Battlebury (Greenspace manager) from Luton Parks Service, Adam and Dan from the Landscape Institute, the Marshalls Group (the tree sponsor), the Rotary and the Friends of Wardown Museum. After a brief introduction to the project, discussion of the positive role of Landscape Architecture as a placemaking profession and some ‘thank yous’, we got down to the serious business of planting the nine trees. The Eco-warriors threw themselves into the task with considerable vigour and enthusiasm, only stopping periodically to examine and then name the many worms found in and around the tree pits.

The Eco-warriors approached tree planting with considerable enthusiasm!

Once the trees had been planted (I was amazed at how much soil the Eco-warriors shifted and at their speed) we posed for some celebratory photos, before the Eco-warriors returned to school for lunch. We are all looking forward to the next phase of the project; seeding the meadow, which will take place in April.

Investigating worms in the tree pits

During the planting event we reflected on the power of positive engagement and collaboration between diverse partners from different sectors. This collaboration started seven years ago, whilst I was at Sheffield University and worked closely with Luton Parks Service to co-produce an urban meadows experiment as part of the NERC-funded Urban BESS project. In 2015 we together delivered flowering meadows to this very same disused minigolf site, subsequently winning a Community Business Award. Our new “Futureproofing Luton” project began with a Community Engagement Award from the Faculty of Environment and Technology at the University of the West of England, to work on project with Riverbank Primary School and Luton Parks Service to return the flowering meadows to Wardown Park. This award was complemented by a generous donation of meadow seed from Sue France, CEO of Pictorial Meadows, the Sheffield-based specialist meadows consultancy. A chance (if persuasive) conversation with Andy Morris at the Landscape Institute Jellicoe Lecture in November then resulted in the generous donation of nine trees by Marshalls, a company with a strong sense of environmental responsibility, also serving as a carbon offset for the impact of the Landscape Institute awards in 2019, the 90th anniversary of the Landscape Institute. I knew of ambitions to introduce an arboretum to the minigolf site here, but no significant funding for this had yet been forthcoming – so I decided to ask! This was followed quickly by an additional pledge of two further trees from the Rotary, and then another two from the Regiment Gallery in commemoration of VJ Day.

This new Arboretum-meadow in Wardown Park will provide an educational resource for local people and wider visitors to the park and museum. It will focus on the benefits of urban trees and meadows for air pollution and climate change mitigation, biodiversity and human happiness and deeper wellbeing. It will be accessible to local children and adults, as well as visitors to the park and museum from outside Luton.  We hope the children here today will bring their parents and continue to visit the arboretum through spring, summer and autumn 2020 and into the future. We all believe it is a positive exemplar for future projects throughout the UK and beyond.

A fantastic morning’s work! Thank you Riverbank Primary!

I will be presenting on the “Futureproofing Luton” project at Multiple Values of Nature, the joint Valuing Nature and People and Nature BES Symposium in Bristol on 2nd March 2020. (https://valuing-nature.net/event/joint-symposium-multiple-values-nature) and delivering a session in the Health, Wellbeing and Place Landscape Institute CPD Event in London on 26th March 2020. (https://www.landscapeinstitute.org/events/events/)

“The idea of citizen participation is a little like eating spinach…”

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Katie McClymont, co-author of a recent comprehensive review of the evidence between community-led housing (CLH) and health, describes a stimulating stakeholder workshop session…

In her famous and oft-quoted article, Sherry Arnstein describes community involvement thus: ‘The idea of citizen participation is a little like eating spinach: no one is against it in principle because it is good for you’.

 A similar comment could be made about community-led housing (CLH).  Both its proponents, and government sources and commentators, view it as a solution to many of the problems associated with the contemporary UK housing market and unhealthy and unhappy urban lifestyles more widely.  However, there is surprisingly little robust evidence used to back up many of these claims. Little is known definitively about the benefits of community-led housing, despite the assertions made for it as a mode of development and living.  The review which we have just undertaken, and the seminar on which this blog reports, aims to take the first steps in remedying this lack of evidence, as well as outlining the directions in which we think future research agendas need to go.

Before proceeding, however, a few steps of clarification are needed. Most readers may well be familiar with what is meant by the term ‘community-led housing’ but for those who are not, a useful definition is provided in the CLH Toolkit.  It stresses three aspects which are necessary for any development to be defined as CLH: first – for there to be meaningful engagement throughout the process; second – for a local group to own/manage/steward the development; and third – that the benefits of development are asset-locked to that area.

We were commissioned by Power to Change to undertake a comprehensive review of CLH and Health;  to investigate what evidence there is that CLH influences both the health of those involved in it and people in the wider neighbourhood.  The idea of linking planning, development and built environment factors to health outcomes is not a new one. Substantial research has demonstrated that the built environment has an important effect on people’s wellbeing (see RTPI, 2014, PHE, 2017), and specifically that housing plays a major role in this, with poor quality housing being linked to both mental and physical health problems (Toms, 2019). The aim of our review, expressed in the seminar and report, was to explore the specific role that CLH does or could play in this agenda.

We outlined four key strands from the literature where a link between CLH and health outcomes can be found.  These are each addressed as statements: CLH supports healthy aging, CLH promotes social inclusion, CLH may lead to improved physical health and CLH can support people who are disadvantaged or in need of additional support.

During our seminar, each statement was discussed in a ‘world café’-style workshop, as described below. The aim of the event was to ensure that the review was open to scrutiny and feedback from other experts, but also to begin dialogue about the gaps in existing evidence and ways of improving communication to enhance both practice and understanding. The 22 participants divided into four small groups, and each group discussed the findings from a strand for ten minutes with the help of a facilitator.  The facilitators then rotated around the groups so that all participants had the opportunity to provide input on each statement.  The participants came from a wide range of backgrounds: academics, community activists, those involved already in CLH in various forms, planners and policy-makers. 

Participants took the debate further by raising the question of how to involve the widest range of people in CLH, but how also to make this equitable and inclusive, rather than intrusive or assuming that all have the same aspirations about where and how they live. They considered how the process of being involved in establishing, developing and building a CLH settlement could change the self-image of a community from being ‘vulnerable’ to ‘empowered’. However caution was raised that CLH may further segregate marginalised groups if the housing is not integrated within a wider neighbourhood too. Health was viewed as a useful lens by participants who were advocates for CLH – it was seen as offering the potential to quantify some of the positive outcomes of CLH in a way which would be understood in ‘cost-benefit’ analysis. The feeling was that this event marked the start of a conversation – a very lively and engaging one which as chair and timekeeper I had to work hard to keep under control!

The final report has now been published, and we hope it is useful to practitioners, funders and researchers.  We also hope it will be a first step in developing new research projects which begin to address the gaps which we have identified. Most of all, we hope that this work plays a small yet important part in changing policy and practice to bring about healthier, happy, more inclusive and more empowered communities through increased control of housing choices and benefits.

To access the published report please see https://www.powertochange.org.uk/research/community-led-housing-health-comprehensive-literature-review/

At the heart of the housing discussion

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….by Adam Sheppard

On the 14th November UWE Bristol proudly co-hosted the 20th Bristol Planning Law and Policy Conference.  This annual event was designed, as many good ideas are, over a pint of beer in a pub.  The thinking was that many notable events around planning and planning law were focused around London plus locations including Oxford and Birmingham, whilst Bristol, a regional centre and base for much planning and law activity, had little of comparable scale and resonance. The conference is a partnership between UWE Bristol, Clarke Willmott, JLL, and Jan Molyneux (a retired but still very active planning consultant) and has included other notable persons, most recently Bryan Smith (another retired but still very active planning consultant). Always with the intention of ensuring balance and perspective; the conference aims to ensure insights are diverse and embrace contested spaces to create dialogue, debate, and progress.

This year’s event took place in The Passenger Shed in Brunel’s Old Station at Bristol Temple Meads Railway Station. The list of famous people associated with Bristol is as long as it is diverse including, to name just a few, such greats as Sir Bernard Lovell, the bands Portishead and Massive Attack, actors Cary Grant, John Challis, and David Prowse, Damien Hurst, the comedians Russell Howard, Lee Evans, John Cleese (is he still a comedian?), and Stephen Merchant, three(!) actors in a show I have never seen but gather is a big deal called ‘Game of Thrones’ (Maise Williams, Jacob Anderson, and Hannah Murray), medical pioneer Elizabeth Blackwell, James May, Banksy, stars of sport Ian Holloway, Jo Durie and Gary Mabbutt, and not forgetting Laura Crane who, according to my wife, has been on something called ‘Love Island’. Brunel was actually born in Portsmouth but has been adopted by Bristol.  This magnificent venue was built between 1839–41 for the Great Western Railway (GWR) and was designed to accommodate Brunel’s 7 ft broad gauge railway design, typifying both Brunel and Bristol in being innovative, creative, progressive, and different to what is otherwise seen as the norm.

Final preparations for a day of insight and discussion

The 2019 conference was proud to host as speaker Adam Challis (JLL), Kevin Parker (Redrow Homes), Cllr Paul Smith (Bristol City Council), James Maurici QC (Landmark Chambers), Mark Southgate (MOBIE), Mike Grist (Curo), Emma Webster (Lifestory Group), Theo Backhouse (Backhouse Housing), Tom Brewerton (Unite Students), and Lin Cousins (Three Dragons).  The calibre of these speakers is notable of course, but so too was the theme – housing delivery. 

In the UK the housing topic has come to dominate planning in many respects.  The affordability challenge is perhaps most notable for many areas of the UK, and particularly the south.  The delivery of affordable housing, not affordable housing as now defined by Government via a definition as broad as Brunel’s tracks but genuinely affordable housing, is one of the key issues of our time. The challenge arguably still revolves around Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy from 1980 and, in particular, the inability to effectively replace genuine social housing stock ever since.  How we now respond to this challenge is a matter of some debate, but a comprehensive response is certainly needed and hopefully after the next General Election progress can be made on this matter, assuming our nation can otherwise stop imploding and start moving forward again.

Content with currency and pertinence

Affordability is only one issue though. The supply challenge is almost universal. Homeless is unacceptable yet commonplace. Meeting the needs of the elderly and those with particular housing requirements is complex and have their own affordability challenges.  And the market itself presents challenges to all house builders, but particularly the small and medium sized companies.  Our speakers spoke to all these challenges, and more, in a conference with too many highlights to mention. 

After the conference a black tie dinner is held.  This part of the event has become infamous for selling out quicker than Glastonbury as our dinner host, Professor Martin Boddy from UWE Bristol, noted in his address*.  The after dinner speaker this year was the excellent Dr Phil Hammond who managed to be as funny as he was poignant and challenging.

Preparing for an evening of networking in the grandeur of Brunel’s architecture

Having an event in Bristol of this scale and importance only really matters because of what it can achieve; it has no value in being self-serving, the conference must exist to raise challenging subjects and stimulate debate.  In doing this, in some small way, it can help move matters forward in a positive way.  UWE Bristol is proud to be part of this event, and I am personally proud to have represented UWE Bristol on the organising committee these last half dozen years.  As we move forward I am now handing the UWE Bristol baton over to my colleague Nick Smith, meaning we can all rest assured the event will only get bigger and better. Look out for tickets for next year – excitingly involving a new location at Ashton Gate Stadium!

*I am contractually obliged to note that the dinner only exists to further the opportunities for conference discussion and debate…

How do the residents of former metal mining areas value this heritage?

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By Danni Sinnett (SPE) and Margarida Sardo (Science Communication Unit)….

There are around 5,000 former metal mines in England and Wales, and many hundreds of thousands globally. Many of these mines have a legacy of highly polluted wastes, which can pose a risk to water quality and human health. As metal supplies diminish and new sources of metals are needed, especially for use in smart technologies, the potential to extract metals from these mine wastes is being examined. However, they often support important habitats and species assemblages, or are important for their historical significance. For example, around 20% of former metal mines are associated with Sites of Special Scientific Interest, around 14% are protected by European designations including in the lead mining areas in the Pennines and North Wales, and the tin-copper mines of Cornwall. Around 15% of former metal mines in England are in a World Heritage Site including the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (Sinnett, 2018).

Wheal Maid mine Cornwall

Much of the research and policy concerned with the management of abandoned mine wastes is focussed on environmental protection, landscape quality and the need to balance this with the conservation of nature and, to a lesser extent, heritage. In recent years there have also be a number of studies examining the motivation and preferences of those visiting restored mineral extraction sites.

However, there has been very little research on how local residents value their mining heritage and their preferences for its long-term management. This is important as it is ultimately local people who are affected by both the positive and negative impacts of this legacy, as well as any changes to the status quo. It is also essential to ensure that local people are supportive of any plans for the management of the sites. Understanding their preferences and concerns can inform this process.

We undertook some research with residents of former mining areas to address this gap in our understanding. Specifically, we explored the following questions: how do those living in former metal mining landscapes value them in terms of aesthetic appearance, role in preserving cultural heritage, nature conservation and tourism? What are the preferred options for managing abandoned metal mines?

We used the Q Method to examine the preferences of those living in six areas of metal mining in England and Wales. Q Method allows participants to ‘sort’ a series of statements based on the degree to which the statement represents their perspective on a subject. We selected a set of statements from the academic literature, policy and articles in local press. They covered a range of opinions and options on the mining legacy and its management.

Our analysis revealed five perspectives:

  • Preservationists want to maintain the status quo, and recognise the value of the mining landscape for its industrial heritage and nature conservation. They want former mine sites to be left alone, and protected, primarily for their heritage value.
  • Environmentalists are more motivated by water quality and pollution mitigation. They feel that that mine wastes would benefit from vegetation establishment and recognise their contribution to nature conservation. They value the role of experts.
  • Industry supporters prioritise the local economy and are the most supportive of mineral extraction in general and the reworking of mine wastes, feeling that it would create jobs and bring in new people.
  • Nature enthusiasts prioritise vegetation establishment on mine sites. They recognise the contribution mine sites make, or could make, to nature conservation. They want to see the sites restored, feeling they should not be left as they are.
  • Landscape lovers are focussed on improving the aesthetic appearance of the mine wastes. They are most concerned with the impact of mines on the landscape, but are open to the idea of reworking the mines to aid the local economy.

There were also several areas of agreement:

  • All residents prioritised water quality to some degree, with environmentalists and landscape lovers in particular feeling very strongly that this should take precedence over heritage features and nature conservation.
  • They also felt that the preference of the people living locally should take be a priority in deciding the future of the post-mining landscape, with most disagreeing that the future management of mine waste should be expert-led.

In summary, we found that most residents view their mining heritage positively for the cultural and ecological benefits that it provides, but they are concerned about the adverse impact on water quality and the lack of vegetation on many sites. There may be some support for metal recovery from abandoned mines if it is combined with high quality restoration that mitigates water pollution and revegetates the sites, whilst preserving their cultural heritage. Residents must be part of the process – too many feel that landscape decisions are taken out of the hands of local communities and do not benefit them.

This work was funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council through INSPIRE: IN Situ Processes In Resource Extraction from waste repositories; Grant number: NE/L013908/1.

You can read the papers from this research here:

Sinnett, D. (2019) Going to waste? The potential impacts on nature conservation and cultural heritage from resource recovery on former mineral extraction sites in England and Wales. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 62(7), 1227-1248. Available from https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/852458.

Sinnett, D. E., & Sardo, A. M. (2020) Former metal mining landscapes in England and Wales: Five perspectives from local residents. Landscape and Urban Planning, 193. Available from https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/3851958.

A Smarter Approach to Infrastructure Planning

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….by Hannah Hickman

In December 2018, Stephen Hall, Nick Croft and I were successful in winning a tender for some exciting work on infrastructure planning and governance. Commissioned by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), this was to be carried out in partnership with Peter Brett Associates (PBA).

We were set some challenging tasks:

  1. To assist in understanding better the practical barriers to the co-ordination of infrastructure and growth, and how approaches to infrastructure planning vary under different governance arrangements;
  2. To test the effectiveness of current approaches and explore how they might be improved to achieved greater integration;
  3. To create visual tools to demonstrate the range of players involved in the governance and delivery of infrastructure; and
  4. To provide a framework for discussing and addressing the issues that emerged.

We quickly found ourselves buried in local plans, infrastructure delivery frameworks and infrastructure provider investment frameworks, scratching our heads trying to fathom the inter-relationships between the myriad of players involved in the governance, delivery and funding of infrastructure, but as with all research, this material came alive, on talking to those on the ground. This we did by interviewing over 40 planning professionals and infrastructure providers in three in-depth case studies of Staffordshire County Council, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Glasgow City Council, chosen to reflect highly divergent governance contexts. This material was then supplemented by a national survey of all local planning authorities.

In some respects, readers of the report might feel rather dispirited by the findings. We identified five principles of good infrastructure planning:

  1. A shared vision of place, with clear objectives
  2. Specific infrastructure priorities identified to achieve that vision, aligned to funding sources
  3. Effective and early engagement to align planning and delivery
  4. Capacity, knowledge and resources
  5. Continuous learning and dissemination.

Yet we found relatively little evidence of these principles being realised in practice. Effective infrastructure planning is undoubtedly being hindered by complex multi-level governance arrangements, the demise of strategic planning, the lack of a stable funding environment for local authorities and an over-emphasis on competitive bidding, the absence of place narrative from regulatory frameworks, and lack of alignment between both the funding cycles and geographies of providers, with those used for local authority growth plans. In response to our findings, the RTPI has warned:

“that a failure to adopt a more joined-up approach to planning the UK’s towns and cities will make it impossible to meet the challenges of climate change, population growth and environmental risks over the coming decades” (RTPI 2019).

However, we did find pockets of innovation and good practice (driven largely by enthusiastic individuals and partnership built over long periods of time) and, importantly, a real commitment from both providers and planners to seek to work more closely together to drive improvements in practice. Striking, nevertheless, was the overwhelming desire from all players to see greater leadership from Central Government on infrastructure planning, both in terms of setting a strategic direction for infrastructure, tasking their own departments (health, education and transport in particular) to engage in a place based approach, and in addressing the negative impacts of a ‘deal’ based approach to infrastructure planning.

Striking also was the perception of infrastructure planning as a sub-set niche planning activity, involving the hidden world of undergound pipes and wires (did you know that ‘infra’ derives from the Latin word meaning ‘under’?), but as a research team we concluded the project by unanimously believing that infrastructure planning should be seen as a core-planning activity, deserved of more attention, and critical to the effective functioning of our society and effective place making.

If you want to read more about our recommendations for improving practice, then do read our report (or at least the summary!)

https://www.rtpi.org.uk/knowledge/better-planning/better-planning-smart-city-regions/a-smarter-approach-to-infrastructure-planning/

Challenging, unsettling and obscure! Exploring unknown intellectual lands with a reading group

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by Hooman Foroughmand Araabi

Academics often have very focused thinking, leading to a narrow range of reading. We often either read personal texts (the novel we might read before sleeping) or professional texts in our own field (the literature we come across in relation to research or teaching). Something is being missed here, as reading can make new ways of thinking, but this rarely happens if our reading choices come from what we already know.  

During my PhD, I ran a reading group for 4 years. The group was a particular space to read and think together about texts which we would not have read individually.  I gained perspectives on those texts, from our group discussions within the carefully curated spaces where we met, which I could not have achieved alone. Thinking is a social phenomenon, as its subjects and methods are both socially constructed. Back in ancient Greece, philosophies emerged from dialogues and discussion which in turn led to philosophical texts. This method of dialogue and discussion was then used over many centuries to help us understand the ensuing philosophical texts. So, why now, are discussion groups such a rare species within our contemporary academic jungles? Are we now trapping ourselves in intellectual enclaves woven from the devastated reading list leftover from our systematic literature reviews? Or are we just choosing to read texts which do not inspire or require group discussion?

It‘s understandable that, as academics, we could easily be overloaded with papers and books, some of which may be less useful than others. It has also been claimed that, in this time of social media, people read less and have fewer critical discussions. So, why then, when we can easily be overloaded and, at the same time, anyone can easily find relevant texts, would we explore unknown intellectual lands with a reading group? Well, perhaps because it can provide us with unpredicted inspiration and maybe a joy beyond any established need!  

Not exploring unknown intellectual domains whilst engaged in academia would surely be a missed opportunity. In a search for continued explorations of such domains, I started a reading group at UWE a year ago. The reading group has been, and will be, open to everyone with the intention of finding texts that challenge us, unrest us and hopefully open new ways of thinking. Meeting in the heart of Bristol, at Arnolfini art gallery, also offers us the opportunity to include film and theatre along with the texts.

The ABE reading group meets in the heart of Bristol

The reading group is a way to enjoy group thinking in an unmeasurable way (unlike REF, TEF or KEF). Yet, it has inspired my teaching and research. To be honest, this is not a surprise!  When interviewing successful urban design academic and practitioners for a research study, I found that one of the key contributors to their success was chance or accidental encounters with people, texts or job opportunities. The role of chance in discovering the unknown and progressing human knowledge has been acknowledged within philosophy of science, particularly by Paul Feyerabend. As known processes often result in known outcomes, attempts to explore the unknown are vital if we are to expand our knowledge.

The reading group will carry on in the coming academic year, and hopefully beyond, to pursue the mission. Hopefully more challenging, unsettling and obscure texts will be explored with willing fellow explorers!…

Planning for the Future…..

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Strategic spatial planning and governance at the city and city-region level.

By Hannah Hickman….

On Monday 17th June, staff from Bristol City Council and the University of West of England joined together for the second in a series of seminars aimed at drawing professional town planners and academics together – practice informed research and research informed practice in action!

Sarah O’Driscoll, Strategic City Planning Manager at Bristol City Council was first up. She gave an update on progress on the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) and the challenging economic and housing aspirations contained within the draft.

Sarah O’Driscoll (BCC) outlined the key challenges addressed by the draft Joint Spatial Plan (JSP)

As the first ‘new style’ sub-regional spatial plan to be subject to examination and produced under joint arrangements (including a shared staff resource across the four West of England authorities: Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath and NE Somerset and N Somerset), this was both fascinating and timely, as examination of the JSP starts shortly. UWE colleagues were particularly keen to understand the role of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) in the preparation of the JSP and how this might change in the future once the planning powers of WECA – including the preparation of a joint plan – are operationalised. UWE staff also asked whether students might be able to observe the examination. Yes was the answer. Students must be encouraged to attend as this will no doubt comprise some very interesting debate!

Sarah O’Driscoll presents issues and opportunities along the journey to delivering the Joint Spatial Plan

Next up was Colin Chapman, Local Plan Team Manager at Bristol City Council. His subject was the content of Bristol’s draft local plan recently out for consultation. He shared a compelling narrative around the continued need for densification within the city’s green belt constrained boundary. He highlighted several exciting – as well as challenging – opportunities for substantial development. Particularly striking was the proposed diversification of St Philip’s Marsh. Currently an industrial area of the city, but with a long canal frontage and proximity to the city centre, Colin made a convincing case for achieving a greater mix of uses here. The opportunity for 2,500 homes at the Cumberland Basin – again an exciting waterfront location – raised some eyebrows: not because of the number of homes proposed necessarily but because of the re-configuration of a key arterial road network into and out of the city that this might entail! Colin ended by highlighting a frequently cited response to recent consultation: “we understand the need for all these homes but where’s the infrastructure?”

Colin Chapman (BCC) outlined aspirations for regeneration around the Frome Gateway (draft Local Plan)

This was the perfect segway into the first of UWE’s contribution, which was on research commissioned by the Royal Town Planning Institute on infrastructure governance in towns, cities and regions. Hannah Hickman and Stephen Hall shared some key emerging findings, highlighting both the systemic and practical challenges to achieving effective integrated infrastructure planning.

Hannah Hickman and Stephen Hall (UWE) explained the focus of their RTPI commissioned research

Bristol City Council colleagues were particularly interested in the varied findings around the challenges of achieving effective engagement between the planning community and providers (a very variable experience depending on sector) and highlighted their own experiences – both positive and negative – of engaging with statutory providers in particular. The culture of infrastructure funding ‘by bidding’ was a prominent theme of discussion, with the effort required to bid for pots of money without any certainty that funding would be forthcoming highlighted as a frustration. Watch this space for news of the final report and subsequent more detailed presentation of findings – including at the forthcoming AESOP conference in early July in Venice (lucky us!).

Hannah Hickman and Stephen Hall (UWE) outline their research method

Finally, Hannah Hickman introduced some research being led by Dr Katie McClymont and Adam Sheppard at UWE on ‘re-thinking regulation’ which will explore questions around the relationship between policy aspirations in place visions and plans, and the effectiveness of tools of regulation (such as development control, prior approvals, permitted development and permission in principle) in achieving them. There was much enthusiasm for exploring these questions jointly.

The overall outcome? Much shared learning, a positive appetite for continued ongoing dialogue, and the eager consumption of a few custard creams and chocolate digestives (dark!).

Rethinking the Green City in Brasilia…

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…..by Helen Hoyle

“Built for automobiles and air-conditioners, not people…it’s a lousy place to visit and no-one wanted to live there”, so my 1996 Lonely Planet Guide describes “the great planned city” of Brasilia. Danni Sinnett and I were on our way to find out if and how the city had changed since then.  We were taking part in a collaborative Newton-funded workshop, “Rethinking the Green and Planned City”, masterminded by Ian Mell (School of Environment, Education and Development (SEEDS), University of Manchester) with Maria do Carmen Lima and Camila Sant’ Anna from the University of Brasilia. The objectives were to bring early career Urban Green Infrastructure (UGI) researchers together from throughout the UK and Brazil to network and to identify challenges and opportunities for future international research collaborations around the planning, design and management of UGI. I was invited to present my research on stakeholder perceptions of introducing urban meadows1, whilst Danni and Maggie Roe were invited mentors. Danni presented her work on the development of the Building with Nature benchmark2 and perspectives of residents of former metal mining areas on their mining heritage.

Ian Mell (left) opens the workshop with colleagues from the University of Brasilia

The workshop structure was an exciting mix of short, focused presentations by participants with different international research perspectives, longer sessions where mentors presented their ‘good, bad and ugly’ experiences of collaborations on research projects, participant-oriented problem-solving exercises, and a walking field visit where we experienced some of the challenges of living in Brasilia first hand. This was inspired in its approach, because by walking through the city, we gained some understanding of the challenges of moving about the city on foot…life at the human scale in a city built for cars.

Brasilia…road transport still dominates in 2019

First conceived by President Juscelino Kubitschek to bring economic growth to the Brazilian interior, whilst relieving high population densities and land values in the coastal cities of Rio and Sao Paulo, Brasilia was inaugurated as the new capital of Brazil in 1960. Planned by Lucio Costa and designed by architect Oscar Niemayer and landscape architect Burle Marx, the city was built rapidly in three years and politicians and bureaucrats were lured there from the east coast by the promise of high wages. An almost unbelieveable photograph from 1957 reveals the original blank canvas of ‘cerrado’ or savannah landscape, with a cross on the ground across which the two main axes of the city were developed.

The crossing of the axis. Image by Mario Fontenelle in 1957 showing the crossing in the native cerrado vegetation.

Lucio Costa devised ‘The Pilot Plan’. The city was laid out in the form of an aeroplane, with the fuselage declared as ‘the monumental axis’ along which  significant government, civic and religious functions were located: the iconic towers of the Ministerial Buildings, Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aperecida (Metropolitan Cathedral), Teatro Nacional Claudio Santoro (National Theatre) and dome-shaped Museum of the Republic. The city was and still is an exemplar in functional zoning, with residential neighbourhoods, retail and hotel functions laid out along the ‘wings’ of the aeroplane.

Lucio Costa’s ‘Pilot Plan’.

The field visit started at our hotel, just off the ‘monumental axis’ (in the hotel district, of course). The day before I had been for a morning run along some of the retrofitted foot and cycleways in the middle of the axis, where the city looks its most ‘green’. I had been told it was perfectly safe to run there (in terms of both personal safety issues and traffic) and indeed, at 6.34am there was actually little traffic to cross as I made my way across one of the major freeways towards the green. The view of the city and surrounding landscape from the central axis was vast – I almost felt as if I was flying, but I also began to understand how the topography might contribute to one of the city’s greatest challenges, flooding. The city is built on a slope, and with a high percentage of impermeable surfaces and compacted soils, it was easy to see how rainfall would flow rapidly overground towards the artificial Lake Paranoa to the east of the city. As highlighted later by Mariana Siqueira, a landscape architect practising in the city, most of the native cerrado vegetation has been removed from the city, in favour of short grass, limiting infiltration and contributing to flooding and the sedimentation of Lake Paranoa.

The view towards the monumental axis from our hotel

As we all walked through the retail quarter towards the main bus station on our tour, I was aware that at 8.30am there were many more vehicles on the road than there had been at 6.34 am the day before.  We had learned from Gabriela Tenorio, one of our hosts, that the population of the city has now grown to 3M, with most people driving to work daily from surrounding satellite settlements. We were also aware of street vendors selling everything from fruit to clothing and bags, but it didn’t seem too difficult to navigate on foot, at least within the central area. We continued our walk to the Metropolitan Cathedral. Here, as later in the Three Powers Square, I was struck by how stark the buildings looked against the skyline. The white concrete structures of Niemayer’s architecture catch the sun, but there is no softening green vegetation or human-scale street furniture. A UNESCO world heritage site since 1987, the city defies any addition to or alteration of Niemayer’s minimalistic designs. Although he aimed for sensual curves, there is little to soften the landscape in the harsh light. Inside the cathedral, the curved wall made for a ‘whispering wall’.

The Metropolitan Cathedral…
The cathedral and city under construction
Walking the walk…Danni and Ian
Niemayer’s Museum of the Republic, with the towers of the Ministerial Buildings in the background

Later, a visit to the residential units provided some contrast. Located along the southern ‘wing’ of the ‘aeroplane’, each unit comprised four ‘superblocks’ made to house 3000 inhabitants in six-storey buildings. Planted walkways and in some cases ponds and other water features were incorporated (designed by landscape architect Burle Marx), interspersed with commercial streets. A church, school, social club, health centre, kindergarten, library and cinema were included within each unit, indication that social infrastructure was well-integrated and provided.

Plan of a residential unit with its four superblocks

Here we learned from Gabriela that the superblocks are now much sought-after. There is also controversy about the high cost of maintaining the planting here, with accusations that wealthier residents are not footing the bill, now subsidised by other areas of the city budget. These are some of the few residential areas in Brasilia (and in Brazil) where middle class people live in open, un-gated neighbourhoods. Brasilia is considered the safest city in the country, yet social and economic polarisation are stark throughout the country. Workshop participants (architects living in Sao Paulo) described to me their own gated neighbourhoods, explaining that they would not ride their bikes from home, but would drive somewhere first to cycle in a designated recreational zone.

Inside the superblock. Planting integrated with six-storey residential buildings

The final part of our tour took us (by bus this time) to the Botanical Gardens to the south of the city. Home to a mosaic of native cerrado, here the city’s residents can take picnics in a designated area of pine planting outside the gardens, or access wilder nature on a walking trail through the cerrado. We took part in a number of team building activities before taking the trail.

Walking through the native cerrado inside the Botanical Garden

The workshop was a refreshing, eye-opening opportunity to share experiences and develop collaborations with people working in very different international contexts. Although we share the need to address the overarching challenge of planning and designing future UGI in a context of climate crisis, with common issues such as the need to mitigate flooding and reduce car-dependence, more specific challenges and opportunities are localised. Personal highlights of the workshop included meeting and hearing the inspirational Ana Carolina Carmona, a landscape architect at the University of Sao Paulo, who talked about raising awareness of vegetation amongst her students in her presentation ‘See the green’. Students had spent time drawing in Nature, creating a drawing resource for the future. Ana Carolina introduced me to fellow landscape architect Mariana Siqueira. Mariana is working in Brasilia to raise awareness of the value of the native cerrado ‘campo’ (meadows) for flood mitigation, biodiversity enhancement and human enjoyment, and we are now developing future research possibilities in the UK, Brazil and more widely.

The UK-Brazil group outside the University of Brasilia

1 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866716305489

2 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S161886671730780X