Strength Through Partnership

New Year – New Communities, naturally?

Released on 7 January 2018

I was curious to hear a group of political pundits on the first Newsnight of 2018 all agreeing that housing was the biggest issue concerning the British public at the moment.  Apparently even bigger than the B word……..

As a professional who has worked within housing and in particular new developments for over 15 years, I am not surprise; not simply because there is a clearly a shortage of housing, as anyone who walks the city streets at the moment will see from the number of people sleeping rough, but fundamentally there is a deficit of community which underpins this.  

In my work I have experienced that it is not houses that are needed, but homes.  A combination of lack of ambition from local authorities, a planning system that does not favour excellence and developers looking for short term returns has made for a heady mix of challenges to building successful and sustainable communities.

A value added approach, one that puts quality of life at the centre, not only can provide better wellbeing for all, but in the long term, better profit margins and enhanced reputation for developer, local authority and local politicians alike.

There has been a popular trend for many years in this country to take delegations to sites of our European neighbours to learn about master planning, placemaking and engineering sustainable living.  However, the irony is that in the midst of British society are places which use those very principles, which at times seem lacking in our own day to day lives. I speak of Centre Parcs, originally a Dutch initiative that revolutionised the holiday experience and has become a British institution and yet one that remains a ‘guilty pleasure’ and not to be admitted at the middle class supper table.  

Last Autumn I spent a very enjoyable weekend at Woburn Forest Centre Parc and experienced how careful planning and management of design has created places where people want to be.  Whilst I recognise that it enjoys an intensively managed and controlled environment than may not be possible or desirable in the wider world, it nevertheless demonstrates that a new paradigm is achievable.  One where the car is no longer king and needs of the community and individual come first; integrating cycling, walking and promoting healthy activities and wellbeing all, within the context of greenspace and trees..

With a view on the longer horizon, a more integrated approach to placemaking and greater focus on wellbeing than simply bricks and mortar, this country could be poised to build better communities that do indeed work for all.