Planning for Belfast | have your say.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 16.30.15

One of the goals of Township is to change how people think about, and participate with, planning. Primarily, we want to shift from planning as a regulatory tool to thinking about its importance as a tool for resource distribution.

Traditionally, the role of planning in Northern Ireland has been to ensure that development happens, but within certain parameters. That’s planning as a regulatory tool.

Its alternative is planning as a distributive tool. Put simply, that means development of things we want (schools, parks, thriving public spaces, affordable housing, accessible workspaces, jobs, efficient transport, cultural provision, healthcare), where they are most needed and can do the most good, while the things we don’t want (pollution, dereliction, dirty industry, car parks, motorways, sprawl, privatised space) are located where they do the least harm to the least vulnerable people.

To make these judgements confidently, we need to better understand how planning intersects with other forms of resource distribution, and how planning decisions can either exacerbate or mitigate existing inequalities, particularly around issues of gender, class, and ethnicity.

For their part, the planning functions within local government should be figuring out how to work better with non-statutory partners, to get better information on how planning is intertwined with health outcomes, educational attainment, crime and safety, employment, environmental quality, cultural participation, and other social justice indicators.

These topics are on my mind more than ever – I’m currently preparing Township’s response to Belfast City Council’s Agenda and Local Development Plan. These documents represent incredible possibilities for how planning and other statutory services get delivered. They also represent our first real opportunity to enshrine planning as a distributive tool into policy.

The Agenda is Belfast’s community plan. It is a strategic planning tool that deals with service provision, rather than spatial planning. It is a major part of the reform of public administration (RPA), which came into effect in April 2015, and each of the 11 new councils are required to prepare one.

The process is a statutory one, whereby the council sets forth a vision and a set of outcomes for the council area, obtains a consensus from the other planning partners and from the community and, over the life of the plan, they work together to ensure its delivery. Its implications are far-reaching, impacting on everything from tourism to housing.

The Local Development Plan, on the other hand, sets forth the policy parameters of spatial planning for the next 15 or so years. Once adopted, it will replace the old BMAP, and will be based on a series of preferred options, a set of priorities for planning and development in they city.

The plans are largely forward looking, inclusive, and ambitious, but there are weaknesses and omissions. If you work in the community and voluntary sector, have a low income or are precariously employed; if you depend on or simply care about the arts and culture in Belfast, including space for it in the city, these weaknesses and omissions will impact you the most.

The last day for responding to both these documents is Thursday 20 April.

If you share the conviction that our places should meet the needs of the people who live in them, that planning should be a tool for achieving that, and you happen to live in Belfast, please – set aside an hour before Thursday to respond to these consultations.

Click here to respond to the Agenda and here for the LDP

#SaveCQ | What’s wrong with the Belfast City Centre Regeneration Proposal? (Part 1 of 3)

As a member of the newly formed Cathedral Quarter Action group, Township is currently campaigning for drastic improvements to the new [formerly Royal Exchange] Belfast city centre regeneration proposal currently in pre-planning consultation.

There is a paucity of information on the PR company’s  website, and little critical coverage in the press. A lot of people have been in touch looking for more information about the proposed plan. Given the scale of this (12 acres) and the fact that it is primarily for large retail and Grade A office in the city’s cultural quarter, people rightly suspect it will be bad for the city, but want something more substantial to say on the matter, to be able to make a robust objection.

Well, Township has been compiling info sheets to give you just that.

There is a LOT wrong with this proposal, but we have to start somewhere. We’ve decided to distill the main issues down into three categories.

1. Form: how the development will impact on the built heritage and character of the area; access to public space, and the connectedness of the area with the surrounding city.

2. Function: how the development will impact on the Cathedral Quarter as the city’s cultural hub, what effect it will have on existing businesses in the area, and how viable the retail-led development is when we face the highest vacancy rates in the UK.

3. Process: how well the developers are meeting their statutory obligation to consult with stakeholders and what evidence basis there is that this development will benefit the city.

Here is the first of three simple graphics outlining the major problems with the *form* of the development. The issues are summarised to fit on a single page, and we’ve tried to limit ourselves to those that have a clear policy basis (that’s what those letters in brackets are).

Remember, you MUST email your concerns to CHagan@savills.com before 3 April.

SaveCQ_Form

AE17 Survey Results

townshipae176121111121111On 13 February 2017, Township launched its placemaking manifesto, outlining the key issues to improve Northern Ireland’s built environment. In that manifesto, we identified five crucial components of a thriving built environment, to make Northern Ireland a healthier, greener, and more equitable place.

We then wrote to every candidate standing for election to the NI Assembly in 2017, and asked them if they support our policy positions.

To read some of the thinking behind the questions, click here.

Now for the results.township_ae17The overall response rate (17%), though disappointing, is also instructive. The survey was emailed three times, and we used Twitter to directly engage with candidates who use that platform. It is clear from the results below that the smaller parties are more responsive generally, and broadly support our policy positions.

Here are the questions we asked:

1.Housing: If elected, will you prioritise housing policy that repopulates our towns and cities, encouraging affordable, shared development, reusing existing structures and brownfield sites rather than building in open countryside?

2.Transport: 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?

3. Built Heritage: 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 reduce barriers to occupation and reuse of vacant heritage properties?

4. Participation: 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?

5. Liveability: 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?

Additional | Transparency: 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.

Select a constituency to see detailed responses from local candidates.

 

 

 

 

 

We’re happy to update these results, so if you’re a candidate and would like to let voters know your position on these issues, email townshipni@gmail.com and we’ll add your response to the tables.

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.

#AE17 | A placemaking manifesto for Northern Ireland

townshipae17

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?

screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-11-39-05

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.

Introducing Township

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-14-53-39

A quote from Jane Jacobs‘ definitive and unapologetically polemical 1961 The Death and Life of Great American Cities is a good place to start.

Neither an architect nor a planner, Jacobs was an unflinching trouble-maker. Shrewd and sensitive in her observations, her prescience about the direction of urban development has become more apparent with the passage of time.

What motivated her writing, more than anything, was the centrality of community to the health and resilience of cities; dense, diverse, slow-changing, well-connected neighbourhoods, and the citizen participation they facilitate, are the essential components upon which the success of the city depends.

Township is based on those same principles. It has come from anxieties similar to those that propelled Jacobs, more than 60 years ago, to wade uninvited into a conversation usually had behind closed doors, about what – and who – our city is for. 

As I write this, we’re little over a week old – a nascent group of academics, professionals, activists, city-dwellers, friends, who want to do something. A snap Assembly Election was the motivation we needed.

Right now, our focus is squarely on our AE17 campaign. We want to clarify candidates’ position on a range of crucial built environment issues, and make the information publicly available and easy to understand. There’ll be more about that soon.

Our bigger ambition, after 2nd March 2017,  is to galvanise a public movement around issues that impact us in all kinds of profound ways. We hear, on social media, from friends and family, a lot of anger and frustration around things like affordable housing, the destruction of built heritage, or just the feeling of having no say in the changes that happen to our towns and cities. We think the first step in changing that is defining the issues, and giving our elected representatives the opportunity to take a firm stance.

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

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.

Launched February 2017