The need for planning to facilitate the delivery of local need was at the core of recent work in Abergele for Conwy County Borough Council, with also the objective to manage change specifically in relation to housing allocations.
Whilst Local Development Plans (LDPs) provide periods of consultation, their long plan period and wider spatial approach does not always allow for local focus. Place Plans are therefore seen as complementing strategic frameworks that enable local conversations. In the case of Abergele, they also provide the opportunity to understand how land use allocations, specifically new housing can be accommodated, and how town centres need to respond on items such as infrastructure, transport and facilities. For new residents to integrate and belong to a place is important with the plan key to how section 106 monies are directed in the future to support necessary off-site works.
Conwy Council is one of six pilot areas under Place Plans that are being trialed by Welsh Government with the town centre study in response to several strategic areas across the town centre that are linked to employment and housing needs. A town that is a few miles from the coast and the A55 also faces a number of challenges in retaining activity and its sense of place, which other towns face as connectivity is improved along the North Wales coast.
Our work in Abergele was informed by the Abergele Placemaking Plan with initial evidence and wider consultation led by the Council. Ways of engaging at this stage are evidenced in the following link which shows the value of traditional face to face as well as digital engagement. http://www.planningaidwales.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/PAW-Presentation-Conwy.pdf
The Plan set out the context to the relationship of the town to strategic areas so that a holistic and integrated approach was adopted. The town centre work was also an action arising from town centre benchmarking and business engagement work undertaken by People and Places that highlighted some key priorities for town centre businesses.
A strong need to develop a Place Plan is therefore important to ensure participation and reach proposals that are relevant and help manage change. Chris Jones Regeneration, People and Places and urban designers Macgregor Smith had this foundation to start from in the summer of 2016 with a five month process to understand the town centre, develop thinking and ideas and worked to a suite of proposals. The final proposals have responded to immediate issues as well as the larger, strategic interventions that could receive support through section 106 monies. Through a series of open, public events and use of digital forums, the study brought together the views and local knowledge of Conwy planners, the consultancy team, stakeholders and the local community. In designing a process that was accessible, this allowed all participants to understand how planning and making changes in a place like Abergele can work. This specifically included:
- To reflect on the physical assets of a place that are often overlooked or forgotten; this was achieved through visual sketches, use of old postcards and archive images of the town centre.
- The use of large scale maps with key points of orientation for people to relate to, and use of simple flags to identify assets, issues and ideas.
- To understand the role of people in a place and that viable town centres need people to visit and support; this focussed on community buildings and outdoors spaces.
- To listen to views from specific groups of interest e.g. Town Council, business, community so that differing opinions are heard and a common ground is reached.
- To understand the role of Abergele in Conwy and why specific land allocations are needed and to find ways of accommodating these such as physical linkages, role of public transport, implications for amenity space, walking routes and how other town facilities such as libraries and community space need to respond.
- To bring people together and to find ways of making things happen in future delivery.
Place Plans are therefore about involvement and being able to guide and direct investment and change in a place that isn’t only about the built environment but how people perceive, use and belong to it. To find out more about how to engage and involve people in discussions on towns and places, some key learning points can be found with our associates People & Places at http://people-places.co.uk/how-effective-is-your-stakeholder-engagement/.
The Abergele Place Plan was completed in January this year, with the conversation now moving from the why to how? This needs a different set of skills, with the role of the Town Council central to bringing together partners, aligning resources and making small steps in delivering the simpler ideas through to dealing with larger projects such as traffic, public space, keynote buildings and growing community services to meet future residents’ needs.
If you want to find out more on Place Plans give us a ring us on 01873 880666 or drop us a line at email@example.com.