I have just come back from an event in the beautiful highlands of Cumbria (no matter how many times I go to that neck of the woods, it never ceases to amaze me on how breathtaking the scenery is – in one word, beautiful!) which I can say, went quite well. The event topic was on ‘Using PPS3 to Create Sustainable Communities in Rural Areas. Whilst I do not know much about PPS3, I find the event quite insightful (given that it was one which I did not organise!) – it was quite good to go to someone else’s event and see how things run on the front end. Many a time, I have always been at the backend for so long organising events for PAS that most of the time, what goes on at the front end is lost on me! The content of the event itself I found quite useful and interesting. It was broken down into presentations, workshops and Q&A sessions and the topics covered were broken down into 3 areas:
- Promoting sustainable development in rural areas
- Using Viability assessments and section 106 to secure rural affordable housing and
- Using SHMAA, SHLAA and Viability to develop Core Strategy and Development Plan Documents.
The Speakers were also quite on the ball with the topics – specialists in their field. There was Cllr Heather Kidd who is the Scrutiny Chairman for South Shropshire DC – who chaired the day and ensured the smooth running of the event, asking questions, provoking new thoughts / ideas and challenging delegates to just go for it!
There was Alistair Bishop from GONW (Government Office fo the North West region) who talked mainly on the Government’s view of how authorities can use the PPS3 and PPS1 to achieve sustainable rural communities. I didn’t really ‘get’ his presentation as there was a lot of policy talk coming from him. (No offence to Alistair of course as he’s a really nice guy!!)
James Caird from Caird Consulting talked on sustainable rural development in practice with real life examples of how it’s been achieved on the ground which helped the delegates (certainly myself) see it in the context that it can be achieved. Also had Jenny Jaccobs from Harrogate BC talking about the use of viability assessments, how to do financial viability appraisals and how they (at Harrogate) use it to secure affordable housing in the rural areas of Harrogate. Finally, Louise Dwelly from Carrick DC talked about using the evidence base of SHMAA (Strategic Housing Market Area Assessment) and SHLAA (Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment) to shape policy that will be favourable to your area in terms of creating affordable housing.
She urged delegates not to underestimate the power that lies in gathering a solid evidence base, Illustrating with their own council (Carrick) about how they were able to adopt their DPD (Development Plan Document) without a ‘sound’ core strategy because they had a strong evidence base – saying that the government are now becoming more flexible in terms of housing delivery which is why they were able to pull it off with support from their Government Office.
Overall, it was a good event, well worth going to. For those who might be interested in attending. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details of where the next event will be (there are a few more planned for different parts of the country in the coming months).
For me, having been in PAS for sometime now and then attending this event, it raises some points in my own mind in that I see, albeit a bit more clearly why Strategic Housing should ideally sit with the PAS because the two interlink on so may different fronts – the need to provide affordable housing should start from the onset in the spatial planning process. I could also see the linkages with other parts of partner groups like LSPs, House builders (Developers), PCTs, local business reps etc and how they will all need to contribute to the wider planning process in order to really create a sustainable and viable community in which people live and work. I with my limited knowledge of planning do not quite know why these respective groups do not talk to each other from the onset as there seems to be tremendous value in doing so but then I guess I might never know…
What also struck me as interesting on that day were the differences between various parts of the country. Me, being a city girl of course had not realised the huge differences between urban and rural developments. How you can have a plan to provide affordable housing in a city like London for example and you’ll see high rise apartments and flats and confront issues like high accommodation needs for most residents, whereas in being in places like Cumbria, you’ll get single plot schemes and rows of houses and deal with issues like ownership of second homes and the lack of economic input into the area for the locals – amazing!
All in all, the event has helped to broaden my views of what’s really going on in the ‘outside’ world. Traditionally, those of us in the PAS programme office do not go to most of these events either organised by us or by others as we’re quite busy most of the time organising the said events and don’t have the capacity to attend or, we (I do sometimes) get put off by the fact that it’s a ‘planning’ event and will most likely be riddled with planning jargon which I do not understand half the time!
But then…maybe the trend is changing as sometimes it might be good to understand the planning and housing worlds in order to put the work that I do into proper context. It is also a good way to learn about the sector that one works in (I find) and be able to see first hand the contribution that one makes on the ground.
At the end of the event I mentioned earlier, the delegates all went away saying that it was very good and quite timely for where they are at in their own councils (some more ahead of the game than others of course!) and thanking us, the IDeA reps for putting it all together (organising, speakers, venues, accommodation, invites, final details etc).
Now, whether they will act on what was imparted to them at the event remains to be seen but their appreciation of all our combined efforts to put on a good ‘show’ and ensure that the event was a success makes it quite rewarding for us (in the programme office) to do the work that we do and seeing how everything comes together first hand makes it even more worthwhile…