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Planning matters

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Shifting sands and sea change: How can our seaside towns respond to the productivity challenge?
With the summer holiday season just around the corner, coastal towns up and down the country will be hoping the sun comes out to tempt the great British public to the seaside. It can be easy to forget that many of these coastal communities are in desperate need of regeneration and economic revitalisation, suffering from ongoing decline of their core industries such as domestic tourism, fishing, shipbuilding and port activities, and the challenges of seasonality. Their location on the periphery of the country places them on the periphery of the economy, creating a host of socio-economic problems and in turn, barriers to economic prosperity for their communities. The recent publication of a House of Lords Select Committee report on “the future of seaside towns” provides a timely reminder of the scale and complexity of this challenge, and sets out a series of recommendations for how seaside towns can once again become prosperous and desirable places to live and visit. Reflecting the different stages of evolution of these places, the UK’s seaside economy is far from uniform. Some locations, like Bournemouth and Brighton on the south coast, have benefitted from a model of reinvention that is not available to all. Meanwhile, many smaller coastal towns have seen their unique selling point diminish. Their sense of isolation has left small town, seaside communities overlooked and facing profound economic and social challenges. Blackpool for instance, which tops the seaside destination ‘leader board’ in terms of visitor nights, faces some of the most acute deprivation in the country. The national imperative to drive up productivity and earning power of people across the country – as set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy – provides a further incentive and pertinent backdrop to the Select Committee’s recommendations. Last week saw the publication of a new Tourism Sector Deal setting out how the government will work in partnership with the tourism industry to boost productivity, develop skills and support destinations to enhance their visitor offer. It begs the question: how can Britain’s seaside towns respond to the UK’s productivity challenge and contribute towards national prosperity? The development of Local Industrial Strategies provides the most immediate opportunity for ensuring that the needs of coastal areas are better reflected in local plans to drive economic development, with most well underway via Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Combined Authorities. Framed in context of the Industrial Strategy’s five foundations of productivity (ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and place), there seem to be a number of key areas of opportunity to boost the economic prosperity of our seaside towns: Economic diversification: coastal communities increasingly need to recognise, promote and support diversification of their economies where a sole reliance on tourism is no longer a viable option. Much can be learned from places like Folkestone in Kent, where a new Creative Quarter has been delivered through a regeneration strategy based on the arts, the creative industries, and education. Transport connectivity: is holding back many coastal communities and hindering the realisation of their economic potential. Sub-optimal connections (such as inadequate rail connections and road access via single lane carriageways) can limit the potential for investment in economic diversification, and improvements to transport will be vital in supporting further economic development in isolated coastal communities quite literally at ‘the end of the line’. The forthcoming Shared Prosperity Fund is likely to provide a key source of funding in this regard, alongside the next round of the Coastal Communities Fund. Digital infrastructure: improved digital connectivity presents a significant opportunity to overcome the challenges of peripherality in coastal areas, and would help existing businesses, encourage new businesses, and enable people to work more flexibly from home to achieve the all-important work-life balance; a core part of the offer. Skills and aspirations: limited access to education, in particular to further education (FE) and higher education (HE) institutions, is severely restricting opportunities, denting aspirations for young people in some coastal areas and having a direct knock-on impact on local economic productivity and growth. Recognising that there is never going to be a ‘bricks-and-mortar offering’ of HE in every coastal town, this might necessitate greater scope for flexible access both to FE and HE, such as online, part-time and distance learning. Maximising unique assets: what makes coastal communities different is their unique asset: the coastal and marine environment that surrounds them. Seaside towns that have been most successful at reinventing themselves are those that have identified their own special character and USP. Key to this is a long-term, place-based vision that is supported by local leaders and grounded in each town’s unique assets, whether this be a combination of inherent geography, history, geology and ecology, or created features, such as attractions and culture. Examples of such assets include a university arts centre in Aberystwyth, The Stade historic fishing area in Hastings and a specialist university for the creative industries in Falmouth. The Stade historic fishing beach in Hastings, East Sussex Some of our recent work in the Lichfields economics team has focused on the huge growth potential of our seaside economies and making the case for targeted investment in infrastructure and associated projects to unlock this potential; in locations such as Gosport, Worthing, Southend-on-Sea and Eastbourne. With around half of all LEPs comprising coastal or estuarine areas, it will be interesting to see whether Local Industrial Strategies are embraced as an opportunity for renewed focus on addressing the skills gaps, low wage economies and aspiration challenges faced by many coastal communities. Whether by drawing on existing assets (such as historic infrastructure) or technologies of the future (such as emerging green industries that harness wind and wave power), it’s time for our much-loved seaside towns to play a more meaningful role in the UK’s plan to drive innovation and growth across the country.  

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National Portrait Gallery to be transformed

National Portrait Gallery to be transformed

Lauren Ayers & Heather Marshall 24 Apr 2019
A culmination of an intensive and exciting period of work for Lichfields proved fruitful at Westminster City Council’s Planning (Major Applications) Sub-Committee, when planning permission and listed building consent were granted for the ‘Inspiring People’ project at the National Portrait Gallery. This £35.5m project, designed by Jamie Fobert Architects working alongside conservation architects Purcell, will transform the Grade I listed Gallery, making it more accessible and welcoming to the public as well as restoring historic features. At its core is a comprehensive redisplay and re-interpretation of the Gallery’s permanent Collection across 40 refurbished galleries, presenting a greater and more diverse selection of portraits; the return of the Gallery’s East Wing to public use as the new Weston Wing, including restoring the original gallery spaces and the creation of new retail and catering facilities; and a new Learning Centre for visitors of all ages with studios, breakout spaces and high quality practical facilities. Externally a new public forecourt is to be created on the northern side of the building leading to a new fully-accessible entrance in the north façade which is more open and welcoming to all and will create a step-change in the quality of the townscape at the southern end of Charing Cross Road. Image credit: Jamie Fobert Architects + Purcell For a high-profile central London site, the application ran particularly smoothly with not a single objection to the project received. The success of the project, while down to the Gallery’s vision and clearly articulated need for the alterations to take place together with the sensitive and inspired response of the architects, also lay in the strong consultative approach the project team took to the planning and listed building consent application. Our pre-application strategy involved working closely with Westminster City Council, neighbours, stakeholders and relevant consultees to ensure any concerns were taken on board and addressed in the design of the scheme. As part of the integrated design team, Lichfields led early engagement with Westminster City Council to establish a positive working relationship with the Council from the outset. In co-ordination with the Gallery and wider design team, we also carried out pre-application public consultation and engaged with statutory consultees including Historic England, the Victorian Society and the 20th Century Society, as well as local consultees such as the Westminster Society and the Irving Society. A series of design workshops were held jointly with Historic England and Westminster City Council to develop the scheme to a design that was supported in principal by all parties prior to the submission of the applications. We entered into a Planning Performance Agreement with the Council which covered the determination period. The committee date of 23rd April was agreed upon by all parties and a collaborative working relationship was established between the applicant team and the Council to ensure that the applications were submitted on time and any concerns and issues were dealt with speedily to enable the applications to be heard on the identified date. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the Council over the coming months to discharge the planning conditions and sign the legal agreement.

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