“Chesterfield punches well above its weight” was the collective view of many of the planners I spoke to on my recent visit to the northern part of the RTPI East Midlands region.
The scale of ambition and the determination to deliver were wholly apparent in my meeting with Chesterfield Borough Council’s Chief Executive, Assistant Director for Economic Development, and planning team members during my tour of the town.
I visited the characterful redevelopment of the former Saltergate football stadium into 68 houses by Barratt Homes that exemplifies the quality of placemaking sought by Chesterfield’s planners. Two parallel streets, marking the edges of the football club’s pitch, create a sense of intimacy for this well-designed scheme. Maturing landscape treatment, entertaining street art (delivered by the Council’s “% for art” policy) and careful house designs and layout all add to a genuine sense of place.
Nearby, a second recent housing development occupies an awkward triangular site at Spencer Street, providing the next phase of the Council’s vision for a sequence of sites in close proximity to the town centre.
A further stage is envisaged with the relocation of a current timber yard, while close by, part of the former offices of North East Derbyshire District Council is to be replaced by an elderly persons’ housing scheme. Housing need, placemaking and sustainability are being addressed in combination.
Simultaneously, the Council is bringing forward the Northern Gateway development, starting with a new and controversially designed car park that has just been completed. This in turn has enabled the redevelopment of its former site for the new Chesterfield Enterprise Centre, bringing new jobs to the town.
A new Premier Inn and retail units occupy the site of the former Coop store on Elderway, opposite, and the Council has serious ambitions for public realm works to complement this important entrance to the town centre.
There are even more ambitious proposals underway at the eastern edge of the town, where Waterside, a 16 hectare site, is due to deliver new homes and offices along the reopened Chesterfield canal and new canal basin, with access improvements between the railway station and the town centre (a short walk away). Masterplanned for over a decade and held up by the financial crisis, the new canal basin and ground works have now been completed and the first phase of new homes is due to be underway imminently.
Planners have also submitted their new Local Plan, developing further their vision for future work. The scale of ambition of Chesterfield’s councillors and planners – and their sheer grit and determination to succeed in challenging circumstances - can only be applauded.
Peak District National Park
A day of contrast followed in the Peak District National Park meeting the Park Authority’s Chief Executive and Chairman, both of whom clearly understood the importance of planning to realising the purpose and vision of the Park.
While the scale of individual developments might be modest (the Park delivers an average of only 11 dwellings a year), the attention to detail by the Park’s planners is admirable.
At Hathersage Hall Business Centre, the listed outbuildings to the Hall have been lovingly converted into business space, generating high quality employment in the centre of the village.
This was achieved despite challenges posed by the listed status of the buildings within a conservation area; the high conversion costs; a forced start (in order to secure grant funding); and economic downturn that started in 2008. Whilst the centre is now fully occupied and showing a profit, it will be some 20 years before there is full return on capital. But the completed scheme is a credit to the owners and Hathersage village.
So too is the Parish Council’s Heart of Hathersage public realm project - a community-led, award-winning scheme that endured major funding challenges and is a tribute to the perseverance of those who championed it.
At Stanton Moor the Park Authority has worked hard to secure the agreement of communities and landowners to protect the moor and the Nine Ladies stone circle – a scheduled ancient monument – from planned stone quarrying. (The stone of Portcullis House, London originated here.)
The Park’s planners stood firm to negotiate the revocations of quarrying rights on the moor in return for extended rights at the edge of the moor in the face of local opposition and landowner resistance, an achievement that won them an RTPI award in 2018.
Vision, perseverance and ambition are clearly the mark of planners in the East Midlands!
Ian Tant is President of the RTPI.