Two recent examples in Sheffield show how social media can quickly mobilise and energise people’s opposition to challenge an apparently indifferent planning system. The Save Devonshire Street and Save Our Cultural Industries Quarter campaigns helped amplify concerns about how our city is being developed, but they also show that we need practical solutions to deliver […]

Two recent examples in Sheffield show how social media can quickly mobilise and energise people’s opposition to challenge an apparently indifferent planning system. The Save Devonshire Street and Save Our Cultural Industries Quarter campaigns helped amplify concerns about how our city is being developed, but they also show that we need practical solutions to deliver long-term positive outcomes.

Sheffield is not alone in experiencing this. There has been an upsurge of opposition against development, with campaigners, community activists and architects getting themselves in a social media lather wrestling with an ‘insensitive’ planning system and development industry. London is undergoing massive development pressure, resulting in Susie Clapham of the East End Preservation Society stating recently: “The public has realised that terrible schemes are being given planning consent. If we want to keep the buildings and areas we love then we are going to have to fight for them.”

Those same frustrations can be felt in Sheffield. We need to channel this, moving our focus from campaign and crowd funding tactics to achieve lasting solutions. I want to chart a path towards helping mobilise independent technical expertise for communities to deliver welcome development.

Sheffield bought into the optimism of the 50s and 60s, producing some the UK’s more elegant contemporary housing estates, civic buildings and modernist infrastructure. It planned and built new innovative social housing, schools and health centres, investing heavily in a confident vision of the future, but by the late 70s this was fast disappearing.

Throughout the 60s and 70s, our cities underwent great change, embracing new forms of residential, retail and business accommodation. Too often these were foisted on communities via compulsory purchase, dramatically remodelling places with little or no consultation.

Despite these improvements in our cities, this top-down, wholesale modernist re-engineering of our communities all too often ignored people’s social, cultural and domestic histories, relationships and identities. Anyone who raged against this progress was seen as out of step.

Today we all enjoy the outcomes of these campaigns led by Betjeman, Nairn, Pevsner and Jacobs, saving St Pancras, Covent Garden or Borough Market, to more localised examples in Sheffield with the growth of community-led housing associations such as North Sheffield HA, now Arches Housing, set up in the wake of community campaigns. These campaigns looked to breathe new life into much loved community buildings or housing threatened with wholesale clearance and demolition across many parts of city.

So what? What has this got to do with today’s campaigns? For me it’s about recognising that out of this turbulence, meaningful outcomes emerged. Today we have more tools at hand, thanks to the past. We should use them, especially those afforded by the Localism Act 2011, in shaping our places.

A neighbourhood plan provides local people with an opportunity to develop a plan for their area, and with it take greater control over the nature of development. It enables people to decide where new developments should be located, what they should look like and even, in some circumstances, grant planning permission for the developments they want to see go ahead through Neighbourhood Development Orders. It is not a NIMBY’s charter, but it could promote QIMBY – quality in my backyard.

Neighbourhood plans can be created by town and parish councils, but in areas where no town or parish councils exist, a Neighbourhood Forum – which must consist of 21 people who live, work or have an interest in the area – can be created to steer a plan. The exact boundaries of a neighbourhood are subject to agreement with the local authority and the plans will be subject to a public consultation and ballot, but once in place, these plans form part of the statutory plan.

Why not neighbourhood plans for both quarters? Let’s set up forums for both, placing them at the heart of a planning process that could start to heal some of the scars opened up by the recent campaigns. Let’s use the momentum from the campaigns, increase civic pride, social and business participation which may, over time, lead to better informed design solutions that are more sympathetic to both quarters’ ambitions. A neighbourhood plan could bring forward localised planning policy to ensure heritage, accessible business space and other concerns are properly addressed.

integreatplus.com

Richard Motley