Neighbourhood Plans

John Howell, MP for Henley and author of Open Source Planning (the forerunner of the Localism Bill) pointed out this week that when a locally lead system was first proposed in Open Source it gained many supporters. Thame and Woodcote are two neighbourhoods that are now pioneering the Neighbourhood Plan in Oxfordshire.

Woodcote is yet to really get out of the blocks, but Thame Town Council has already published the report of its first community planning events (open sessions, workshops, online consultation, Facebook etc).

However, the Neighbourhood Plan must generally conform with the housing numbers that are imposed by South Oxfordshire District Council. In other words, this is not quite the bottom up approach that gained so much support in Open Source Planning (see page 8 of Open Source regarding local decision-making).

There has been considerable support and engagement with the Neighbourhood Plan process in Thame, and there are strong efforts being made to seek the views of all residents and business owners. Although the consultants have been at pains to explain that the Neighbourhood Plan cannot allocate housing numbers to Thame many of the responses still relate to the amount of growth that might be appropriate in this market town.

In order for the Neighbourhood Plan to be ‘adopted’ (for use in planning decisions) it currently needs to be supported by 50% of those that vote in a referendum regarding the Plan. This is a high hurdle given that those who turn out to comment on planning applications are represented very heavily by objectors. Many who have engaged in the process already understand that the Plan cannot dictate the overall levels of growth in Thame. Consensus for growth is very difficult to form when the benefits of development are seldom understood or accepted by existing residents, and the objections (increased traffic, burdens on infrastructure etc) are well rehearsed. This makes the pioneering Plans an interesting and exciting prospect.

It remains to be seen, then,  whether at referendum time, the ‘no vote’ turns out in force to reject the Plan; or whether true consensus can be built at a local level. Watch this space.


Colchester urban village

Colchester urban village is a development of 2,500 homes or so (with employment and open spaces etc) in a slice of land to the south of Colchester town centre, based on the ‘urban village’ principles promoted by Prince Charles and the Urban Villages Forum since the 1990s.

These are some views of the area to the north of the development, just off Butt Road.

The entrance off Butt Road seems to be half-finished. There’s some interesting detail on the gable to the left of the entrance, but the rest lacks any fine articulation.

secondary entrance

This part of the development is pretty much based on Victorian architectural styles, with Poundbury-esque Victorian lamp posts (similar in many ways to the approach adopted in Fairford Leys). I wonder if these couldn’t have been low-level, particularly where there are no vehicles (and they are near to what look like bedroom windows on this photo). It’s a pity the opportunity was not taken to provide a more interesting facade to terminate this vista.

I like the use of the building line, with some dwellings straight off the footpath, others with small front gardens and a little planting, some with raised ground floors. Many Victorian streets have similar profiles, and suffer a similar problem – they were not designed for cars, or with bins and cycle storage. The problem of bin storage and collection is a long-standing one in many neighbourhoods.

At Colchester, cars are dealt with by providing rear courts. This provides the streets themselves with a much better environment, but as shown below, there are already yellow lines on the streets and people parking on the road in front of their houses.

Garland Road. The protruding gable detail at the end of the street terminates this vista. I like the gravel strip defining the edge-of-footpath on the left, incorporating steps up to front doors and gas meter access. Someone ought to design a gas meter cover that actually looks nice.

The use of decent materials, repeated porch and window details with well-proportioned openings creates a strong rhythm and feel of quality.

Part of the energy village. Good proportions, and facade, good use of materials.

Brighton seafront


Little boxes ... for about £12,000.

She sells sea cells on the sea-shore

Brighton seafront regeneration is a success story. In the late 1990s new boutiques, clubs, and studios began to open in the small spaces located underneath the promenade, generating a new vibe and bringing the seafront to life at night.

With new public spaces being generated along the seashore below the promenade, new opportunities for cafes, shops and sports clubs were opened up. It also, clearly, increased the price for a beach hut, now on sale at about £11-12k.The one fly in the ointment is the west pier, which stands as a beautiful monument to the dysfunctional planning system in the UK. In need of renovation and bought by a private company in 1965, then listed to protect it from changes, bankrupting the owners, and then passed on to a Trust, it was the late 1980s before any restoration work began.

By the time Heritage Lottery Fund scheme had been agreed, the pier partially collapsed and was burnt out in 2003/2004. Then the HLF withdrew the funding. Well done all round.

At least it makes for a romantic structure. And consent has been granted for the i360 at the base of the pier, designed by the London Eye guys.