RTPI President Stephen Wilkinson has seen first-hand how effectively working across council boundaries and building robust relationships are key to successful regeneration. His visit to members in the West Midlands highlighted the importance of planners working in partnerships to support regeneration, investment and growth.
In Walsall Stephen met with planners at their Civic Centre offices to discuss issues facing the council and the wider Black Country. Planning for growth against a backdrop of historical land availability issues (industrial legacy, remediation costs) and low demand is the key challenge. He saw for himself what this meant in terms of vacant or underused sites but encouragingly he saw a series of new projects and a scheme where new housing to meet the needs of a community was coming forward, known as ‘Waters Keep’ at Goscote/Blakenall. Here Walsall Housing Group and a private developer had come together to form a very successful partnership. He visited several regeneration sites including the excellent Waters Keep housing renewal scheme and the office corridor in Walsall and as a contrast he visited Barr Beacon where the Black Country becomes green.
“In Walsall, planning policy is shaped by the Black Country Partnership producing a joint Core Strategy covering the four boroughs. This shapes priorities for the area and provides a collective response to what are shared issues.”
In the evening, Stephen attended the RTPI West Midlands Annual General Meeting where he recognised the ‘tremendous contributions’ of members Paul Harris and John Acres to the region. Paul has been secretary of the region for 29 years and John, the editor of the regional newsletter Tripwire for 16 years.
In Stoke Stephen met with a range of elected members and officers who spoke passionately about the issues facing the Authority and what they are doing about these. It was clear that a joined up approach across different professions and supported by strong leadership was producing some positive results.
As series of site visits followed with Stephen shown how new and older refurbished housing was coming forward at Weston Coyney, an ex-mining estate. He also experienced the contrasts of a major redevelopment of the world famous Wedgwood site at Barlaston on the edge of the city. It features employment, leisure/recreation facilities and housing within the inner urban area. This contrasts with the £1 housing at Hanley where an initiative allows people on lower incomes to access the housing market.
The importance of key infrastructure to support new development was highlighted by Stephen being informed about proposals for a new link road in the Etruria Valley which will release employment land and address major transport issues.
Harking back to the history of Stoke, Stephen visited the Middleport Pottery and conservation area, including regenerated and improved terrace housing adjacent the pottery. Stephen was accompanied by Melanie Hughes (City of Stoke on Trent Council), Joanne Mayne (City of Stoke on Trent Council) and Elaine Moulton (Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council).
“In Stoke there is a clear will and desire to make a positive difference which should be applauded. Also recognising cross-boundary issues there has been a highly successful partnership with the neighbouring district council of Newcastle under Lyme since 2009. Work is currently underway to develop a joint local plan to replace the adopted joint core strategy to support regeneration, investment and growth for the wider area.”
Commenting on the President’s visit, Craig Jordan Chair of RTPI West Midlands said:
“It was good to show the President parts of the region which are often overlooked as either being too challenging or in the shadow of other locations. There is much going on in the Black Country and Stoke/Newcastle very much led by planning professionals and supported by other disciplines. Partnership working is the key”
Stephen next meets members in Northern Ireland in early April.
More information: RTPI West Midlands