In the usual manner in which political debate proceeds, planning is often the site of a polarised ideological debate between state-led and market-led solutions to prevailing policy issues. Both approaches of course have their place. However, as the state recedes as a fulcrum of power within an increasingly globalised world, and the market has failed to fully meet many of our basic societal needs, many community groups have sought innovative solutions to the very real challenges that they face.
In many areas both the market and the state have failed to deliver affordable housing, low-cost business premises and suitable community, cultural and artistic space. Across the UK, community-led schemes have attracted plaudits for finding new and innovative ways to provide for their economic, cultural and housing needs.
Last year’s Turner prize was won by the Assemble Collective, who led a “ground-up” regeneration project in Toxteth, Liverpool. Working in partnership with residents, the Collective have helped to breathe new life into an area of the city that had become synonymous with derelict and abandoned properties.
In London, where high rents are threatening the City’s vibrant cultural scene, artists and community groups have found new ways to provide space for artists’ studios and exhibition and events space. Bold Tendencies, a not-for-profit, have retrieved widespread praise for the cultural regeneration of Peckham in South West London. Over a number of years, the group have converted a disused multi-story carpark into a venue for summer art and music shows – thereby taking a disused spaced and transforming it into a community asset.
In Mile End an experiment in affordable housing is underway. There, a Community Land Trust has been established to deliver affordable housing for local people. By holding the land within a community trust – to be passed down through the generations – local people will be able to buy houses for approximately half the market value.
The evidence suggests that there is significant demand for community-led working, yet at present, this is still a niche area. Understandably, there is some scepticism about the capacity of such schemes to deliver on a substantially larger scale. Nevertheless, the planning and development issues we face will not be solved by a single silver bullet and community-led planning can deliver bespoke developments commensurate to local need.
As their conception, planning and delivery is driven by the groups they serve, community-led projects can be more responsive to the specific context from which they emerge. They are often a source of local entrepreneurship and give local people an opportunity to participate in the production of their own built environments.
Given their potential, as a new space emerges for community-led developments we must nurture and support the efforts of groups who are endeavouring to deliver their own innovative and exciting projects.
Planners – and the planning system – should be at the forefront of this effort. More resources must be made available to support community groups in terms of expertise in planning and delivery. The planning system should work to bring forward more sites for community-led projects. This is particularly important with the issue of public land release currently on the table.
Planning Futures will be exploring these issues further over the coming year. Last week we announced that we are to produce a series of short films on best-practice in community planning. The films will feature individual schemes that have delivered innovation and extraordinary place making through community-led work. They will cover a broad range of projects, from housing schemes to artist spaces and community facilities.
The films will, in the first instance, be a resource for emerging community groups looking for inspiration and practical guidance for their own projects. They will also feed into a broader research agenda, which will seek to highlight current obstacles to community working and deliver new ideas for practitioners and policy makers to better support community-led planning projects. The will also seek to test the limits of community-led planning and establish just how much this sector can realistically deliver.
We must continue to work to make sure that “the market” and “the state” provide efficiently and effectively for our citizens, but where it can add value, we must also help communities to provide for themselves.
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