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‘The community was clearly in the driving seat’

As part of her recent virtual Presidential visit to the RTPI’s South West region, Sue Manns learnt about a regeneration project in one of the UK’s most deprived wards

by RTPI President Sue Manns FRTPI

12 June 2020

The South West is the largest of the RTPI’s nine English regions – it is larger than Wales! Extending from Cotswolds to the Scilly Isles, it is renowned for its environmental quality, its mild climate and spectacular coastline. With a population of around 5.5m, the region includes a number of major urban centres. One of these, Bristol, was the focus of my virtual visit to the region which took place on 9 June.

Regeneration journey

While the South West is often externally perceived to be a prosperous part of the UK, Southmead, which was the focus of the visit, is one of the UK’s most deprived wards. Located in north Bristol, it is an area of inter-war and post-war housing with distinct communities within each. Located between the two areas of housing is a district centre (Arnside) which provides shops and community and health facilities, and Glencoyne Square, an area of open space that was attracting anti-social behaviour.

Southmead Development Trust (SDT) led the regeneration of the area. As CEO Amy Kinnear explained, SDT exists to make Southmead a better place and as ‘people are the best solution to their problems’ so working with them from the beginning was key. The regeneration journey started with work on the Community Plan in 2012. Mike Murch, Chair of the Arnside and Glencoyne Steering Group, worked with the Trust to commission a residents’ survey. Doors were knocked at every home in the area and residents asked to respond to a survey – the information that resulted was very revealing with no positive comments about the shopping centre and revealing Glencoyne Square to be an underused and misused space.

Collaborative working

Nash Partnership and Streets Reimagined were appointed to develop a masterplan. Their team – as well as three others - were interviewed for three days by the community before being appointed. This process set the tone for the project. The community was clearly in the driving seat.

The other key stakeholder in the process was Bristol City Council. As Paul Owens explained, the Mayor of Bristol is keen to empower local communities in identifying their own needs. The city also has a target of 2,000 new homes per annum, of which 800 would be affordable and Southmead offered an opportunity to contribute to this. Paul Owens and the Bristol Housing Delivery team worked closely with SDT to help progress the project.

Intensive community engagement

Mike Fox, Fin McNab and their team took the masterplanning process forward. Three months of intensive community engagement workshops, structured sessions, street stall events and going out ‘to where people are’ provided a clear understanding of what would work and what would not. Momentum built and by the end of the three months – by September 2018 – a masterplan for 300 new houses and community uses had been produced.

A detailed planning application was submitted for Phase 1, based upon Glencoyne Square. 120 homes were proposed, 85% affordable, a local health centre, library and live/work flexible space at ground level. Difficult decisions had to be taken to keep costs down, but innovative solutions which put the community at the heart of the solution were found. Submitted in September 2018, it was approved the following May. 34 letters of support were received with only four letters of objection.

‘Difficult conversations’

Geoff Walker, Head Judge of the RTPI South West Awards for Planning Excellence, said that, when judging this scheme, the panel had been “very impressed with the community involvement and the way that the SDT and consultants had worked together to keep up momentum”.

Mike Murch, who had grown up in Southmead and lived there all his life was clear that difficult conversations sometimes needed to be had, but the result of this was a strong single voice.

My ‘virtual visit’ is available for everyone to view - I cannot commend it to you enough.

I want to thank everyone who was involved in this visit – Geoff Walker (RTPI South West), Mike Fox (Nash Partnership), Finlay McNab (Streets Reimagined), Paul Owens (Bristol City Council), Mike Murch (Chair of Arnside and Glencoyne Steering Group) and Amy Kinnear (CEO of Southmead Development Trust) for giving their time to showcase this community-led regeneration project and to Charlotte Daborn for organising the event and recording it for everyone to enjoy.

Planning is for and about people and the places where they live and work – this project truly put the community at its heart. I very much look forward to the day when I can visit Southmead in person.