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Young Planners Conference 2019 – Highlights from two Scottish young planners

By Ailsa and Jay, members of the Scottish Young Planners Network Steering Group

Ailsa Anderson
Senior Policy Planner, Planning and Environment Infrastructure Services at Aberdeenshire Council

Coming from a planning authority with a rich and diverse coastline, for me this was the most interesting topic presented at the conference.   

Wide ranging presentations highlighted how history and innovation together can reap rewards in terms of regenerating Stromness, one of Orkney’s major towns, with the aim of attracting people back into the town and giving the place a renewed purpose. One of the strengths in achieving this end goal would be delivery through a truly plan-led process, bringing all relevant stakeholders to the fold early in the project.  

Delegates were reminded that the coastline is a valuable but sensitive resource that has suffered from differing pressures over the years and that climate change was the biggest threat to our coasts.  They heard that the options available include:

  1. to ‘dig-in’ i.e. invest in maintaining what is there
  2. to ‘adapt’ and build in resilience to changing factors,or,
  3. to ‘relocate’ and attempt to pre-empt what the future risks may be. 

The session concluded with emphasis being made on the challenges and opportunities associated with regenerating coastal towns. The South Shields 365 Vision, a regeneration project worth £80million, attempts to address a fragile and failing town centre and connect it with the Riverside and Seafront, delegates were told. The project relies upon both public and private sector-led intervention that would expand town centre offerings and drive visitor numbers.

The coastal study tour visited Smith’s Dock in North Shields to look at the redevelopment of the former dockyard. On site were two very different housing developments.  We compared the pros and cons of developing modular housing to another designed to be sympathetic to the traditional smokehouses that used to line the nearby quays. We then visited St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay, a popular tourist attraction complete with a tidal causeway, where coastal processes affect the residents of the island on a daily basis. Adjacent was a wetland habitat created to support bird populations. Discussion focused on how the natural and urban environment can work together to support species whilst also allowing people to enjoy the environment available on their doorstep, which in turn contributes to good health and wellbeing.

Jay Skinner
Planner at Galbraith

Working in Edinburgh serves as a constant reminder to me of, not just the vibrancy that a city can offer, but also the ongoing balance which must be achieved between championing new development and respecting and protecting our historic built environment. A constant challenge for planners working within all sectors is to ensure that the provision of new development is not to the detriment of existing historical assets.

What first struck me on my arrival in Newcastle for the Young Planners Conference, was the extent to which the ‘urban core’ of the city has developed over time. For example the numerous examples of the re-use and re-purposing of buildings of a historic, industrial nature was apparent, with said buildings having been caringly restored to serve modern needs.

Such a high concentration of former industrial sites can present both challenges and opportunities. This includes how best to re-purpose previously industrial places so as to serve the evolving needs of the city’s inhabitants, in line with modern health and safety standards. For this reason I found the ‘The Stephenson Quarter: Industrial Re-revolution’ study tour of particular interest. The tour focused on a central site within the city with links to the region’s industrial past. Recent place-making efforts have been made to provide a mix of uses to meet growing needs, which includes new commercial, retail and leisure facilities. To date the re-development of the area has created 900 jobs and contributes circa £45m per annum to the regional economy. It is forecasted that, upon successful completion of future phases, job creation will rise to 3,000 jobs and a contribution of circa £150m per annum to the regional economy. Development sites and proposals such as these continue to champion imaginative re-use of spaces.

I gained many transferable lessons from the conference from the associated workshops, study tours and location. The approach to historical spaces in terms of utilising a flexible and pro-active approach concerning development was a highlight. Often there is an emphasis on wholesale re-development of former industrial sites. Whilst these options may appear more viable in certain circumstances there is an element of lost heritage. The approach as showcased within development sites in Newcastle demonstrated the benefits of retaining traditional, historic buildings within key sites that can serve the needs of a variety of users in the short, medium and long term.

 ***SAVE THE DATE: The 2020 Young Planners conference is being hosted by RTPI Scotland Young Planners on 30 & 31 October in Edinburgh***

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