Putting your mouth where the money is

This blog is about a new initiative from the senior planning managers at Swindon Borough Council Called “Rising to the Challenge”.  They have rightly appreciated that to meet current challenges in local areas, it’s necessary that more than just the Planners and Economic Development officers understand the advantages of a managed, growing economy alongside all the other challenges of a healthy population and vibrant places.

Swindon Borough Council do have a strong wish to grow their economy.  They were the fastest growing area of the country in the 1970s and then had a bit of a decline in fortunes as the heavy industries that this blue collar town relied on moved away or died.  But now Swindon is back and hungry.

Swindon had an “Open for Business” peer challenge from PAS a couple of years ago.  They say that helped to make the step towards the planning service (officers and members) becoming more aligned to the needs of delivering investment growth through new developments and being responsive to the needs of businesses.  It also helped to foster an appreciation that success was going to be more assured if the development was high quality and aligned to a planned spatial strategy that set a framework for decision making.

The new initiative is to run a series of  seminars called “Rising to the challenge”.  The purpose of the Seminars is to help Swindon grapple with the big planning challenges ahead by getting in leading thinkers / practitioners to speak on the issues to help guide their approach.  Speakers are being brought in from a range of local and national organisations, other towns and other parts of the council.  The audience is as wide as they can manage from councillors, community voices , interest groups and people from a range of council services and public sector bodies and developers.  The seminars are hosted in Swindon’s great Steam Museum – a potent reminder of how heritage can be conserved and turned in the direction of the future – and a venue that made people feel good/valued at having been invited.

I went along to the seminar last week when the topic was  “Delivering Good Growth”.  Speakers included an inspirational talk from Peter Studdart about the Cambridge experience and a pithy talk about where Swindon is among the galaxy of similar (maybe competing) towns in terms of a range of indicators of economic health from Andrew Carter of the Centre for Cities. The afternoon sessions looked at working with the LEP and the work going forward in partnership with the HCA on a range of schemes especially delivering the necessary infrastructure for  essential town centre regeneration schemes and the housing urban extension at Wichelstowe (2 of several). The final speaker wrapped up the day with a great talk that pulled together all the threads of activity in their growth strategy, and set them in the context of the aligned local plan, business plan and economic development strategies.

The audience were clearly caught by the ideas judging by the animated discussion that followed.  I didn’t catch any whiff of NIMBYist “alright in principle, but…”.  There was plenty of talk about what was good design in terms of Swindon.

The seminar topics are

  • Good Design (presentations here)
  • Delivering Infrastructure to support growth  (presentations  here)
  • Delivering Good Growth (presentations here)
  • Planning for an ageing population ( seminar 15 December)
  • Planning for a Healthy Swindon
  • Citizen engagement in the Planning of Swindon

This was about a council really taking the time not just to do consultation with their community, but really pulling out the stops to change hearts and minds about attitudes to development – making the situation real, talking about consequences without shroud waving and showcasing the breadth of ambition across the whole local authority area… and it was being lead and coordinated by planners.





Do the landed aristocracy hold the key?

Mr Boles I have an answer for you : It is the land value that stands in the way of development- whether that is development accompanied by infrastructure, development accompanied by affordable housing, or in some cases just development in the spatially appropriate place.

In the PAS courses that I run on viability – viability is ‘all about delivery’ (my catchphrase). But in some places is this actually possible on paper, and/or in reality?

The existing community will do everything they can to Continue reading

Back to the future: Re-imagining Garden Cities for the 21st Century

Kate Henderson is Chief Executive of the TCPA and a guest contributor to the PAS blog

Perhaps as the world’s oldest charity concerned with planning, housing and the environment (we were founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard in 1899 to promote the idea of the garden city), it should come as no surprise that the TCPA is keen to re-make the case for new communities as part of the solution to the chronic housing crisis. We believe that the radical nature of the Garden City Movement ideals remain of critical relevance to the 21st century, providing a foundation for high quality inclusive places, creating new jobs and truly sustainable lifestyles.

The TCPA is not alone in recognising the benefits of bringing forward comprehensively planned new communities Continue reading

New models for housing

Just a quick note, to draw your attention to a thought-provoking piece on councils and their role in funding housing delivery (and/or ownership).

I’ve always been honest enough to acknowledge that I don’t understand how the housing market works. Just can’t get my head round even the basics. Supply ? Demand ? Value ? This didn’t really matter, and still might not apart from the zeitgeist building around housing delivery – particularly affordable housing delivery.

One idea is that councils find blue chip development partners and play their part in bankrolling a very long-term lease arrangement. Another is that councils become more active in funding people (‘owners’) to fund the building process itself. After reading this blog, I think I understand some of these ideas even less.  Fantastic stuff.

Impact and outcomes

It’s hard to keep up with this blogging thing. It’s been months since I managed to get fingers to keyboard to pontificate on the world of strategic housing. I apologise.

December was an exciting month for the IDeA Strategic Housing programme. We finally published our second skills and capacity audit which looks at the improvement in the sector over the past year in relation to strategic housing. Alongside, that, I did some internal reporting looking at how many authorities we have worked with and in what capacity to see if there were correlations. And….. Continue reading

Creating Sustainable Communities in Rural Areas – Strategic Housing Cumbria Event

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.

Continue reading