#AE17 | A placemaking manifesto for Northern Ireland

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Placemaking is the process of shaping and giving character to neighbourhoods, public spaces, towns and cities. It focuses on how people use and connect with place and how places adapt to changing needs over time. Placemaking is holistic and recognises that place is the essential infrastructure that supports economic prosperity, social justice, and health equity. Placemaking is rooted in public participation. Placemaking is experience- and user-driven. It involves a bottom-up approach, and requires partnership across public, private, non-profit, community and arts sectors.

We are used to thinking about our places in terms of development and developers; placemaking provides an alternative. Where development is big & slow, placemaking is human-scaled and dynamic. Where development is top-down and profit-driven, placemaking is collaborative with shared benefits – economic, social and environmental.

Placemaking recognises the intersection of planning with other mechanisms for resource distribution, and its potential to reinforce or mitigate existing forms of injustice. This movement seeks to build a broad coalition that is inclusive of ethnic minorities, women, LGBTIQ people, disabled people, people of all faith groups and none, and those experiencing economic or social exclusion for any reason.

With the Review of Public Administration that came into effect on April 1 2015, planning powers in Northern Ireland have moved from central to local government – closer to the places they impact. There is now enormous potential to change how planning happens, and how well it responds to community needs. We want to ensure that this potential is realised, by galvanising political support and public opinion behind planning that works in the service of community wellbeing.

To this end, we identify five crucial components of placemaking: housing, transport, built heritage, participation, and liveability.

These issues form the core of our Assembly Election Campaign. Based on the position statements on each issue below, we present every candidate standing for election with five simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions.

We will also be noting parties’ position on donor transparency, and giving them an opportunity to comment on their actions with regard to this issue.

The results will be published in the week prior to the election.

housing

Housing is crucial to effective placemaking. Places are not just destinations, they are where we live. Dense neighbourhoods, with mixed functions, different kinds of people at different stages in their lives, from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, make for vibrant, safe, and attractive places. Despite declining fortunes, town and city centres are still the economic, social and cultural engines of the region.

We call on the NI Assembly to adopt a ‘town centre first’ principle into housing policy, to reinstate their function as places to live as well as places to work and shop.

Our question to the candidates:

If elected, will you prioritise housing policy aimed at repopulating our towns and cities, encouraging affordable, shared development that reuses existing structures and brownfield sites rather than building in open countryside?

transport

Good transport infrastructure can enrich the entire region. Well connected, dependable, affordable public transit redistributes economic opportunity by making jobs easier to get to and by making more places accessible to people who want to visit, invest, or live there.

Car-centred infrastructure is terrible for places. It encourages social segregation, isolated land use and sprawl. It creates dependence on fossil fuels, and negatively impacts the air quality of our towns and cities. Creating places that require private car ownership exacerbates existing economic inequalities, and more roads lead to more cars.

We are calling on the next NI Assembly to champion transport policy that prioritises low cost public transport provision, and that focuses the planning and design of new developments around cyclability and walkability.

Our question to the candidates:

If elected, will you prioritise low-cost public transport provision, safe and expansive cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, to reduce of the need for private vehicles, particularly in our towns and cities?

Built Heritage.png

Built heritage enriches our lives and landscape with histories and memories that are difficult to replicate. It provides us with a sense of place and we must use it to sustainably reinvent our towns and cities. It is not too late to save the vacant properties that Northern Ireland has to offer; with proper investment and revised policy we have the ability to celebrate the heritage we have, sharing it with future generations.

Effective conservation policy should defend our architectural identity, act against those that harm it and inspire us to seek an alternative with responsible design intentions.

Our question to the candidates:

If elected, will you prioritise the protection of our built heritage, including robust conservation policies, penalties for those who contribute to the dereliction and demolition of listed buildings and introduce mechanisms to reduce barriers to occupation and reuse of vacant heritage properties?

participation

Participation is crucial to successful placemaking. However, people feel frustrated by their lack of opportunity to input into the decisions that shape their places. Often, participation schemes are box-ticking exercises that cannot take account of people’s real opinions, or understand the experiences and concerns that inform them.

We are calling on the NI Assembly to support improving methods of informing people about the developments in their areas. Plans should be made in response to people’s needs, and people should be offered clear and straightforward ways to express their support or concerns about design proposals at the earliest stage possible.

Our question to the candidates:

If elected, will you reform planning law to make it impossible to proceed to application stage without evidence of an open and in-depth process of pre-consultation with affected parties, establish Third Party Rights of Appeal, and sanction against failing to declare conflicts of interest on planning committees?

liveability

Liveability refers to the overall quality of the built environment, the provision of services and the equitable distribution of infrastructure and amenities, such as parks, libraries, community centres, health care, arts and cultural provision, public space and recreational opportunities.

Relocating essential social infrastructure like schools from the periphery back to the centre can have a profound impact on the experience of town and city centres for all users. Public space is key to accommodating democratic action and civil discourse.

A liveability principle ensures that everyone lives a walkable distance to the amenities they need to enjoy good health, wellbeing, and social interaction, and that the physical environment does not prevent the exercise of their rights.

Our question to the candidates:

If elected, will you prioritise the liveability of our towns and cities, ensure equitable distribution of amenities such as schools, libraries, arts provision, public space, and legislate for the management of vacant and unused properties to mitigate negative impact?

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Although the Northern Ireland Electoral Commission cannot release the local donor register, political parties here are free to name their major donors.

Scandals, such as the recent RHI, have been toxic to public trust in our democratic institutions. The many areas of secrecy surrounding just how intertwined business interests are with political parties is fuelling speculation and paranoia, most of it understandable in the circumstances.  The future release of the complete list of recipients of the RHI scheme will be useful, but not as much as it could be if we could cross-reference it with a complete list of major donors to political parties.

The same can be said for many other decisions made by elected politicians throughout Northern Ireland, especially councillors tasked with approving planning applications. Public participation in the planning system is vital to its success, but a system of secret party funding kills trust in the impartiality of the politicians making the final decisions.  

No political party has the excuse of hiding behind the unjust system of donor secrecy imposed by Westminster.  If you are not already naming your donors, you are complicit in an injustice that is harming democracy, especially in the planning system.  

To the candidates:

We will be stating whether or not your party has named your major donors, and if so, for how long.  We will not be commenting on your stated policy, only on your actions.  If you would like to add a comment with regards to your choices on this issue, please do so when you respond to the questions above.

*Click here for results*

Township is a movement for placemaking in Northern Ireland; composed of professionals, academics, & activists, campaigning for greater transparency and participation in how our towns & cities get shaped.

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