Planning matters

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On a recent trip to New York City I visited the High Line, a 1.5 mile-long former elevated railway line built in 1934 to carry goods to and from Manhattan’s largest industrial district. Its elevated position allowed trains to load and unload their cargo inside buildings, without disturbing road traffic. The last train ran along the railway in 1980, leaving its obsolete infrastructure standing above the Meatpacking and Chelsea Districts of the city. It was envisaged that the structure would be demolished and indeed that was the call from local property owners in the 1980s. However the structure was not demolished and in 1999, in true Jane Jacobs’ style, ‘Friends of the High Line’ was founded by Joshua David and Robert Hammond[1], residents of the High Line neighbourhood, to advocate the High Line’s preservation and re-use as public open space. The inspiration was the Promenade Plantée in Paris, an elevated linear park built on top of obsolete railway infrastructure in Paris which opened in 1993. Local support for the retention of the line grew and in 2004, the New York City government - spearheaded by the new business savvy mayor Michael Bloomberg - committed $50 million to help establish the proposed park. Construction began in 2006, with the design being led by landscape architect James Corner Field Operations. Whilst the initial idea was not that of urban planners, the project and the regeneration of the area were boosted by designation in June 2005 as the ‘The West Chelsea Special District’ by City planners - no doubt influenced by Bloomberg. This designation assisted in unlocking opportunities for new residential and commercial development, as well as facilitating the reuse of the High Line as a unique park and thoroughfare. The designation also set out regulations to ensure the preservation of light, air and views around the High Line so as to maintain the openness of the space.[2] Rather than destroying this valuable piece of our history, we have recycled it into an innovative and exciting park that will provide more outdoor space for our citizens and create jobs and economic benefits for our City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Today, the High Line is a hive of activity, not only a valuable public open space for local residents but a tourist attraction in its own right, especially for an urban planner like me! The public park weaves itself around and underneath high rise buildings and above the busy car-dominated streets below. There is even an amphitheatre looking down at the traffic on 10th The landscaping is brilliantly designed and combines vegetation with remnants of, and references to the old railway, to create a truly fascinating sense of place. Whilst walking along the route I couldn’t help noticing the scale and intensity of development taking place alongside the route and the fact that the High Line is being used as an unique selling point for a number of schemes. It became clear that the public open space attracts high density, private development and that homes in close proximity to the asset are using the High Line to justify higher house prices. For a project that cost approximately $260 million to build, it is estimated that tax revenues from the impact of the High Line due to new development and increased local property values was $900 million over a 20 year period[3]. An additional $2 billion in new economic activity[4] is attributed to the High Line. On top of this, millions of tourists (7.6 million in 2015[5]) visit the park every year and spend money in the local area. The public open space is clearly an economic success. Interestingly, the delivery of the project was financed by a combination of public funds, money raised by the ‘Friends of the High Line’ group (including monetary gifts from wealthy backers) as well as finance from a planning obligation-style deal that allowed developers at three sites to build additional floors in exchange for improvements[6] (to the value of $22 million) to the High Line. Whilst walking along the route I couldn’t help noticing the scale and intensity of development taking place alongside the route and the fact that the High Line is being used as an unique selling point for a number of schemes. It became clear that the public open space attracts high density, private development and that homes in close proximity to the asset are using the High Line to justify higher house prices. What Joshua David and Robert Hammond have done (with the help of some imaginative and persuasive residents, wealthy financial backers and New York City planners) is to successfully rethink the notion of traditional public open space by reusing leftover railway infrastructure. There is most definitely a lesson to be learnt for councils, developers and built environment professionals in the UK that public open space doesn’t have to be a swing, slide and roundabout and that open space doesn’t have to adhere to strict regulations such as the commonly-used FIT Standards in order to be successful. Similar schemes are now emerging across London such as the Peckham Coal Line, Southwark Low Line and Camden High Line suggesting that local authorities are starting to understand the benefits of alternative forms of open space. The notion of public open space is often thought of in the traditional sense as a play area or a playing field. However as shown in New York City, public open space can be inherently different and when done well can act as a key catalyst for positive change. It can have a substantial positive impact on the economy, in parallel with the more obvious social and environmental benefits that are normally derived from open spaces.   [1] http://www.thehighline.org/about[2] http://global.ctbuh.org/resources/papers/download/2463-the-high-line-effect.pdf[3] New York’s High Line Park: An Example of Successful Economic Development by John Rainey http://greenplayllc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Highline.pdf[4] New York’s High Line Park: An Example of Successful Economic Development by John Rainey http://greenplayllc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Highline.pdf[5] http://www.thehighline.org/blog/2017/01/10/high-line-magazine-b1g-da-a-and-parks[6] http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/108-06/mayor-bloomberg-friends-the-high-line-host-rail-lifting-ceremony-mark-start-of#/0

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It’s good to talk – our five point plan for smarter engagement!
Public participation in town planning is not new and for plan making this has been a statutory requirement for a long time. However, in relation to development proposals, whilst not mandatory in England[i], there is now a greater emphasis on public engagement early on in the planning process and before a planning application is submitted[ii]. Pre-application consultation with the public and stakeholders is mandatory for a wide range of projects in Scotland and Wales (and in Northern Ireland) and for ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects’ in England; at some point in the future, pre-application consultation may become a legal requirement for a much wider range of projects in England. The Conservative Government’s 2010 manifesto centred on the ‘Big Society’, which in part sought to devolve power to local government and encourage people to take more of an active role in their communities. The Localism Act 2011, the National Planning Policy Framework and national Planning Practice Guidance all set out how this should be achieved: they have put community empowerment and engagement high on the agenda.  Many local authorities also have their own requirements for consultation which they set out in their Statements of Community Involvement. In response to this, developers are increasingly expected to carry out community engagement and pre-application discussions, particularly for major schemes. In our experience, they willingly do so in the interests of securing a better development and a more streamlined planning process. The central message is to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to engagement. For too long, community engagement has been perceived as a costly and time-consuming tick-box exercise. But if targeted properly and fully integrated into the planning process, it can be cost-effective, improve a scheme and help achieve a successful planning outcome.   Lichfields' five point plan for smarter engagement Our aim is to develop an engagement strategy that suits our client’s business objective, their project and the budget. Building on this, we develop a strategy which draws on a range of tools and a wealth of project experience, to help secure support for a scheme and neutralise potential objections.   Lichfields is at the forefront of effective engagement and has a dedicated team of experts who are on hand to provide advice and help tailor appropriate engagement strategies. Our five-point plan for smarter engagement sets out simple but important steps which we follow for clients. I consider this below. Point 1. Define objectives From the outset it is important that we understand our client’s objectives: what needs to be achieved, by when and within what budget. From our wide understanding of the planning and development sector, we can help define objectives and through smarter engagement, achieve them. Point 2. Identify the stakeholders and determining issues It is important to understand who we need to engage with and why, so that the ‘Smarter Engagement’ strategy can be shaped accordingly. We have a range of tools to assist with this stage, including stakeholder audits to help us to fully identify all relevant statutory and non-statutory consultees, and our ‘Positive Engagement toolkit’ (PE kit). PE kit uses sophisticated mosaic modelling to help us to understand the demographics of an area and identify those who have most to gain from a new development. Garnering support can be helped by targeting those easy-to-reach groups but also through proactive engagement with the silent majority, by which we mean those who stand to gain most from a development but who would not ordinarily engage in the planning process.   Point 3. Formulate and implement the smarter engagement strategy We have experience of applying a range of communication methods to help appeal to different target audiences, including hard-to-reach groups.  For example, this might include web-based consultations, pop-up events, traditional exhibitions or i-surveys.   Positive support from the local community and other stakeholders can improve the prospects of planning permission being granted; opposition can be a barrier to new development. The key to securing support for a proposal is for us to gauge local opinion early on, so that we can identify and respond to any perceived shortcomings from the outset.   Drawing on our range of project experience, we aim to identify in advance the potential concerns that the community and other stakeholders may have. By doing this for our clients early on in the pre-application stage, we can ensure that these possible concerns are taken into account as part of design development and addressed where appropriate. Considering such issues early is important, as it is easier and more cost-effective to respond to legitimate concerns and issues when a scheme is being formulated, than it is later down the line. Point 4. Articulate the response Throughout the process, we ensure jargon-free communication so that proposals are clearly presented and our responses to feedback are easily understood. Supported by our in-house graphic design expertise, we can produce newsletters and websites to help keep the community up to date.  We can also monitor social media platforms so that we understand the feedback being generated by a proposal as it happens. In addition, we also prepare applicants’ Statements of Community Involvement, to accompany planning applications and to explain the engagement process, and how this has helped to crystallise the benefits of the scheme and mitigate potential impacts.  For projects in Wales and Scotland, we similarly prepare the mandatory Pre-Application Consultation (PAC) reports.     Point 5 Deliver objectives Strategies to secure development plan allocations and planning permissions must put community engagement at the heart of the process, if they are to deliver success. Lichfields’ five-point plan can clearly help, whatever the nature of the project, the engagement strategy is designed to provide the support, endeavour and expertise to deliver our clients’ business objectives. Our success is measured by our clients’ success; we have an established track record across many different sectors and are well-placed to lead on and assist with engagement needs. If you have a project that you would like to discuss, please drop us a line or give us a call as we would be only too pleased to assist. Footnotes: [i] With the exception of the pre-application consultation required for 2 or more proposed wind turbines of 15m or more in height.[ii] PPG, paragraph: 010 Reference ID: 20-010-20150326  

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