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Ljubljana: a city that is embracing the Green Agenda
First impressions of a city are important. Ljubljana, Slovenia is a treasure; it does not disappoint. The city has a variety of architectural influences, including communist era housing blocks (although few in number); however it is the meticulously detailed and maintained public realm that makes the city distinctive, constantly drawing one’s eye to new areas of interest. European Green Capital of the year, 2016, it is in transition and taking strides towards becoming an exemplar of environmentally friendly strategies and civic initiatives.

Figure 1: Ljubljanica river with the Joze Plecnik-designed three bridges in background

A little context: Ljubljana is centrally located within Slovenia, on the Ljubljanica river. With Roman origins, the built form of the city has significant Italian, Austrian and German influences. Jože Plečnik (1872-1957) is often credited as the designer with the most influence on the form of the city, with several of its cultural highlights designed by the much-admired architect and planner. However it is the high quality of materials and design generally that make this city distinctive. Design permeates each street and space, a common palette of materials helping to create a coherent whole.

Figure 2: Joze Plecnik-designed riverfront

Figure 3: Left to right – (i) Dragon Bridge, (ii) steel dragon on Ljubljana Castle wall, (iii) Mesarski Bridge (art installation) and (iv) water feature integrated within Kljucavnicarska ulica laneway

Approximately 275,000 people call the city their home, which is administered by a typical European municipal system led by a mayor. The current mayor is Zoran Jankovic, who came to power in 2006 and quickly started making significant changes. Responding to chronic traffic issues within a medieval street structure, a sizeable car free zone was established (approximately 10 hectares) within the first year of his four year term. Commercial concerns were quickly allayed, as people and businesses flocked to the calm, yet vibrant pedestrian environment.

Figure 4: Car free zone defined by bollards: collapsible bollards controlled by sensors denoted by white squares

The success of the car free zone has been supported by several complementary measures. Cycleways have been carefully and creatively integrated into the public realm of the city, using materials that complement the streetscape. Unlike other celebrated cycling cities, there aren’t high speed pelotons who can intimidate pedestrians. Bike share schemes are conveniently located within and around the car free zone and are fully integrated with the public transport system of the city.

Figure 5: Clockwise from top left – (1) Bicike(lj) bicycle hire station, (2) cycleway defined by simple red line approaching shared surface in front of Slovenian Parliament building, (3) bike access designed into stairs using granite setts and (4) cycleway delineated by flush kerb to carriageway and granite setts to pavement

Park and ride locations have been established on the perimeter of the Zone, to help commuters and a free hail and ride service of electric ‘Kavalirs’ (‘gentle helpers’) have been provided to cater for the elderly or less physically able who might struggle with the 15 minute walk from one side of the Zone to the other. On the theme of accessibility, the city has also provided a contemporary-styled funicular for visitors who don’t fancy the 15 minute hike up to the Roman castle which overlooks the city.

Figure 6: Left to right – (i) Free hail and ride Kavalir – an electric bus within car free zone, (ii) Funicular providing access to Ljubljana castle and (iii) the alternative hiking route up to the Castle

The mantra of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ can be seen in action all over the city. One instantly notices the variety of recycling bins provided throughout. The city separates 65% of its waste - exceeding targets set for 2020; its next target is a zero waste strategy by 2025. The city has also adopted underground collection, providing greater capacity for storage and reduced servicing costs.

Figure 7: Left to right – (i) Simple separation of waste within traditional waste bin and (ii) waste bins and underground waste storage

A sense of social engagement and initiative is noticeable whilst exploring the city. The Metalkova district is a haven for alternative cultures within walking distance of the city centre. What began as squatters taking advantage of a derelict military barracks has evolved into a thriving centre of alternative culture that has produced numerous spin-off enterprises. The city has been happy to let this alterative hub scene grow:
It’s a place for critical reflection, civic engagement – and with its activities it is establishing Ljubljana as an area where ideas of all generations can freely flow.

(Zoran Jankovic)[i].

Whilst Metalkova is an easily identifiable example, more subtle bottom up planning initiatives can be seen throughout the city. Groups such as Prostoroz have successfully used crowd-sourced campaigns to demonstrate how stagnant urban sites can be used for urban allotments and social engagement projects such as the Library of Things (think a mixture of a library and Argos).

Figure 8: Metalkova district of Ljubljana

Ljubljana is a city that has been carefully designed and creatively adapted at a variety of scales. Thoughtful consideration can be seen in each intervention - from the strategic level car free zone to the skilful integration of cycle lanes and detailing of the streetscape. The result is a fascinating and vibrant capital city.



Sealing the Deal: the Cardiff Capital Region needs homes
This blog forms the first in a series on the implications of the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal on planning for housing in South East Wales.
With the Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) City Deal programme now underway, there are compelling reasons to believe that South East Wales is an area on the up.
The City Deal, worth £1.2 billion, aims to provide a 5% uplift in GVA and create up to 25,000 new jobs by 2036, representing a 40% increase above forecasted levels of growth. However, by taking a step back and viewing the CCR in its wider UK context, we see a less confident picture – one of a region with a smaller, more fragile economy that has the potential to fall behind in relation to the rest of the country if care is not taken to support its future growth. As we explore in this series of blogs and in our latest Insight Focus, a vital part of this support is the provision of a sufficient number and appropriate mix of new homes in the right locations.
Cardiff is part of the Core Cities Group, which represents the ten largest and most economically important cities outside London. Each of the Core Cities is, in fact, a city region, which includes a number of local authority areas (see figure 1). These city regions have been identified as comparators by the Growth and Competitiveness Commission (established as part of the CCR City Deal). In this blog, I compare the economic performance of the CCR against these other areas and identify the initial implications for housing policy.
Figure 1 Core City regions

Source: The Core Cities Group

Economic status
With an annual GVA of £28.3 billion in 2017, the CCR has the second smallest economy of the 10 UK Core City regions. Taking into account its size, the CCR currently has the third lowest level of productivity, at £41,192 GVA created per workforce job, whilst Bristol has the highest at £47,129 per job (see figure 2). Interestingly, despite having the largest economy at £64.7bn, Leeds has the second lowest level of productivity at £40,718 per job. This highlights the importance of considering both indicators in assessing the economic well-being of an area. The fact that the CCR performs poorly in relation to each is troubling.
Figure 2 Total GVA / productivity by Core City region (2017)

Source: Lichfields analysis of Experian data (March 2017 release)

The CCR achieved the second highest level of GVA growth among the Core Cities between 1997 and 2006. However, by 2014 its GVA growth had fallen to the lower half of the Core Cities group and it took nine years for its economy to recover to pre-recession levels following the financial crisis in 2007, such that by 2017 it was only middle-ranking in terms of GVA growth (see figure 3).


Figure 3 GVA all sectors: indexed to 1997 levels

Source: Lichfields analysis of Experian data (March 2017 release)

Similarly, the CCR experienced the highest level of workforce job growth of all of the Core Cities between 1997 and 2006 but had been overtaken by half of the other Core Cities by 2017.
If current trends continue, the CCR’s economy is expected to remain in the middle of the group of Core Cities in terms of GVA, workforce jobs and full-time equivalent (FTE) job growth in the period from 2017 to 2037 (see figure 4). However, its productivity is anticipated to remain at the lower end of the Core Cities group, with the smallest increase (31.5%) of all of the city regions, compared to an average increase of 32.9%.
Figure 4 Forecast productivity

Source: Lichfields analysis of Experian data (March 2017 release)

High tech sectors

As key drivers of productivity and sources of well-paid jobs, the high tech sectors are an important indicator of economic health. Between 1997 and 2017, there was a 10% increase in high tech jobs in the CCR (the third lowest across the Core Cities), compared to the highest increase of 43.1% in Sheffield. From 2017 to 2037, the CCR’s high tech sectors are expected to grow by only 8.6%. This indicates that a continuation of current conditions will not be sufficient to deliver the desired boost in highly skilled jobs.


Figure 5 Index of high tech jobs by city region

Source: Lichfields analysis of Experian data (March 2017 release)

Part of this issue relates to the difficulty faced by the CCR in losing graduates, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, to other areas – despite benefiting from internationally competitive higher education and further education institutions.


Economic headlines
Current economic status:
  1. 2nd smallest economy of the ten UK Core City regions, with an annual GVA of £28.3 billion in 2017 (see figure 2).
  2. 3rd lowest level of productivity (GVA per workforce job), with £41,192 GVA created per workforce job, whilst neighbouring Bristol has the highest productivity at £47,129 per job (see figure 2).
  3. Nine years for its economy to recover to pre-recession levels following the financial crisis in 2007.
  4. Experienced the third lowest increase (10.0%) in high technology jobs across the Core City regions between 1997 and 2017.
If current conditions continue:
  1. Expected to remain at the middle of the group of Core City regions in terms of GVA, workforce jobs and FTE job growth in the period from 2017 to 2037.
  2. Anticipated to continue at the lower end of the Core Cities group in terms of productivity, with the smallest increase (31.5%) of all of the regions between 2017 and 2037.
  3. Only 8.6% growth expected in high tech sector jobs between 2017 and 2037.


The need for the CCR City Deal is clear. Without appropriate support and investment, the future success of the CCR economy is uncertain. It is also worth bearing in mind that a number of the other Core Cities have their own City Deals, and all will be seeking to improve their future economic performance.

Even with the City Deal in place, meeting its goals will be challenging, particularly given the modest projected growth in high tech sectors in the CCR. In order to increase high tech growth, it will be important to address the issue of retention of graduates, particularly in STEM subjects.

Making the link between the economy and housing: we need workers

The vibrant economy of the CCR City Deal needs a vibrant and growing population, including young people and highly skilled workers. The CCR can only hope to attract and retain workers with these characteristics if it can offer a sufficient number of homes of the right type and quality in suitable, accessible and desirable locations. There is also the moral duty to accommodate the area’s ageing population and those who are unable to afford market housing, many of whom (in both categories) will still be active contributors to the local economy.

The City Deal programme is taking place amid a complex policy landscape of adopted and emerging Local Development Plans and Plan Reviews, the proposed Strategic Development Plan at the regional level and the National Development Framework for Wales. There are a number of key questions which will need to be debated over the coming months, including how to coordinate the next set of development plans and their policies, how to boost housing delivery, and what constitutes an appropriate distribution of new homes across the region.

We will explore these issues and what they mean for housing policy in South East Wales in our forthcoming blogs in this series.


© Lyndon Griffith / Alamy Stock Photo