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Street Votes - what's the big idea?

Everyone in the planning and architecture world has been trying to desperately get some insight into the approach that new Secretary of State, Michael Gove, might take to the vexed question of planning reform. There has been plenty of speculation and few actual pronouncements, but this week his comment that the idea of Street Votes - as proposed by the Policy Exchange , a thinktank - was a ' cracking idea ', gave commentators something to grab hold of. The concept of Street Votes is that residents of a street could band together to develop a 'street plan' which, if approved by a supermajority of votes in a mini referendum, would then permit whatever it contained to automatically gain planning permission.  On the face of it, how democratic and what a great way to avoid planners having to determine lots of individual planning applications! And how fantastic for the property owners, who could all stand to profit by building extensions or even whole new homes by subdividing

Weeknotes w/c 22nd Nov 2021

On Wednesday I went, with a HAT colleague, to Essex County Council's High Streets Business Summit at the decidedly un-High Street venue if Hoyland House,  as an opportunity to get back to in-person networking and hear some perspectives on where next for the High Street. Great to reconnect with some good people from across the area, and a few insights from the panel - pr should I say, disappointingly, the manel - they really could have done better on that, although it was great to have Holly Lewis from We Made That and other female speakers given short slots. Among some fairly predictable perspectives, it was good to hear Ojay Macdonald unpick the role of tax structures in shaping our town centres. With a good historical perspective on how we ended up where we are on tax, and the major issues regarding taxing immobile rather than mobile capital - bricks and mortar via business rates rather than the fluid money of online trading - he cut through a lot of guff effectively. He touched

Hofesh Shechter: Political Mother Unplugged

Yesterday we went to see Hofesh Shechter's Political Mother Unplugged - a reworking of his work Political Mother from over 10 years ago, for nine young dancers from his apprentice company, at DanceEast in Ipswich. We are so grateful to have such incredible work available for us to experience, in the intimacy of a studio theatre, so close to home. Some apprentices - the dancers were outstanding, and the piece intense, emotional, at times painful.  I spend so much of my time working with words - writing, reading, editing, sharing stories and using words to analyse and persuade. As often, it took some time for me to turn off my word-brain and allow the non-verbal world of movement to sweep me under. The wonder of dance and music is, for me, the chance to do without words, without analysis, for an experience that can mean something completely different to each person on the audience. Once in that world, it is hard to decompress afterwards and try to put words to what has been experie

Local beats remote

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This week has seen a lot of work at HAT on the new public realm projects we are working on for Colchester Borough Council and Colchester BID.  I can't emphasise enough how fantastic it is to work on projects that are literally on our doorstep. We are designing improvements for streets we walk through every single day.  Even so, looking at them through the lens of a project reveals things I had not known at all. Helena and Katarina, in our team, have done some amazing research into the history and the present day of these streets and spaces. Dredging up old photos from the library round the corner and paintings from the local museum archive, standing on street corners counting people, bikes and cars, taking photos of all the pavement types in the town centre has been totally illuminating. (My contribution was finding a couple of Nigel Henderson photos of our patch in the Tate's online archive - they must have been from when he was teaching at the Colchester Scho

Weeknotes for, um, the last 2 weeks...

Last week was certainly an eventful one as, at the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service, we launched our big Local Plan consultation on 1st Nov. This is the third major plan-making stage I've shepherded out into consultation at GCSP and slightly bittersweet as I'm moving on at the end of the year. But it also shows exactly why I'm moving on. The launch went really smoothly - and I know the team can now build on a solid foundation of engagement and communications practice that I've helped develop. We've got the interactive map which links through to the full digital plan , we've got three gorgeous videos  on targeted social media placements which have already had over 20,000 views, we've got great illustrations to show that planning isn't just blobs on a map, and we've got over 30 events , online and in-person, from youth club sessions to community coffee mornings and webinars that are actually interactive, not just chalk-and-talk. Already we

Weeknotes w/c 25 October 2021

One of the things about localgov work is that it doesn't often fit neatly with family life. There are limited windows in the year between elections to get stuff through member scrutiny and out to consultation between election cycles. Having spent all August getting a massive amount of planning work into Council scrutiny at the start of September, I've now spent all of half term preparing to launch a big Local Plan consultation on 1 November. Luckily our half term plans were blown off course anyway by a child catching Covid, so it was lockdown at home for one half of the family, while the other half went jollying up to Scotland 🤔 Last weekend I spent a lovely evening talking to with my old friend Ambrose Gillick for his podcast A is for Architecture . I talked about planning and participation and what it is I try to do. Then this week has been a flurry of logistical preparations, writing briefing notes about everything under the sun while overseeing printing, digital plan finet

For Gen-Z, by Gen-Z

  I was asked to give a 'provocation' last week to a workshop led by the Glass-House Community Led Design and Urban Design London on co-designing design codes. My thoughts below are not exclusively about design codes, but could apply to any co-design process in the built environment. I wrote this thinking about my own two Gen-Z kids and I was rather aware - when giving this provocation - that most of the audience were in their later years in life. What if the only people we should be co-designing with are Gen-Zs? The new National Planning Policy Framework asks Local Plans to look forward a minimum of 20 years, and that this should be at least 30 years if you are planning for strategic scale new developments – the kind of things for which design codes are intended – new communities, new villages, urban extensions, major regeneration sites, which take decades to build out. Someone who is 65 now – possibly the typical person who has the time and energy to

Seeing the end in the beginning

Over the last couple of years I've become slightly obsessed with thinking about how things end. How organisations, businesses, masterplans, policies and, of course, buildings come to the point where they are redundant: superseded by the change that happens around them.  Cassie Robinson's brilliant blog How do we help things to die?  crystallised a lot of those thoughts for me and I've been considering how this applies across a whole field of things ever since. I admired how FAT announced their disbanding rather than fizzling out through mediocrity like so many architecture practices. I've been involved with some charities and one came perilously close to shutting down, prompting a lot of thought about when a charity's mission is complete, or when it no longer becomes relevant.  I've watched buildings be built for all the right reasons, but with little thought to the sustainability of the organisation that they were built for, resulting in disillusionment in the