Scotland charrettes support production of local plans

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The most recent charrette series has engaged with local communities and other key stakeholders across a range of contexts to consider how better place-making outcomes might be achieved and how the charrette process can support the production of Local Development Plans (LDP).

Events in Wick and Thurso have contributed to The Highland Council’s preparation of the Caithness and Sutherland LDP. In Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (LLTNP), the National Park Authority has focussed on issues concerning local communities and their strategic inter-relationship with the Park to support the development of the National Park LDP. In South Wishaw, an analysis of housing typologies is helping to inform the production of the North Lanarkshire LDP.

The design team for the Wick and Thurso Charrette, led by John Thompson & Partners (JTP), invited local participation in the process, and illustrated emerging ideas as part of a joined-up approach to planning and regeneration, to deliver development, attract new investment and jobs, and bring wider benefits to the towns and the surounding area.

The LLTNP charrette, headed by 7N architects, considered settlement specific issues:
In Arrochar, Succoth and Tarbert issues centred on a desire to connect communities, and link with the train station; make the most of gap sites to support the tourism economy, connect communities and create more integrated places; address transport concerns and heighten the visitor and resident experience through more positive links with the landscape, water and views.

In Aberfoyle and Strathard principal issues relate to: flooding and improving the image of the High Street and public realm; potential to make better use of space bordering the river; and, stimulating the weekend visitor market and supporting Aberfoyle as a hub for Strathard and the wider area.

In Drymen and Balmaha possible responses to transport pressures include investigating different transport modes (e.g. water taxi), road management at peak times, and creating a new pathway that engages people with the loch. New housing should support the existing sense of place.

In Tyndrum there is scope to improve the overall experience, by encouraging motorists to recognise they are passing through a built up area where local people live, and through developing the unique, largely undiscovered and untapped potential.

The LLTNP charrette also set out to develop a conceptual framework to sustain the wellbeing of settlements and inhabitants. Key considerations from an evolving ‘parkwide strategy’ include:

  • recognition that certain place specific issues are best addressed through a strategic approach
  • an opportunity to change perceptions and promote the Park as a destination – instead of major through-routes, a spatial strategy is being investigated where key settlements serve as local satellite centres for activities, and hubs from which to access the interior of the Park
  • possibly heighten the experience and strengthen identity (e.g. Norwegian tourist routes have re-thought how roads are perceived through wild places to enhance the drama of the experience)

The design team for the South Wishaw charrette, headed by Austin Smith Lord, focussed on how new housing might best be accommodated and integrated with existing settlements, through analysing a range of housing typologies (from small urban through to large edge-of-settlement) and assessing them against a set of appraisal criteria:

  1. Locational – e.g. proximity to town centre, public transport, etc
  2. Policy – built and natural environment designations
  3. Technical constraints – e.g. ground conditions, flooding, etc
  4. Infrastructure and remedial – who will fund; realistically provided by developer?
  5. Marketability – can sites be developed and delivered?
  6. Support existing communities
  7. Community infrastructure and employment opportunities (not just housing)
  8. Sustainability and green networks –low carbon placemaking and enhanced natural habitats

In focussing on housing, it was apparent that the South Wishaw charrette was grappling with a challenging set of issues related to the provision of ‘effective housing land supply’, e.g.:

  • the current market’s desire for “prime sites in the best locations with the least constraints”
  • challenging perceptions and/or stimulating a ‘new’ market; creating a new ‘offer’
  • a need to provide ‘serviced sites’, in an area that is arguably full of serviced sites!
  • satisfying housing market drivers, when the market is focussed elsewhere (e.g. Ravenscraig)

Further challenges were also evident in: dealing with a legacy of decision making from previous planning processes, e.g. handling housing allocation numbers in a depressed market; delivering Community Growth Areas in a changed context; accommodating strategic allocation of housing unit numbers versus delivering appropriate housing according to local circumstances that can contribute to mending and supporting existing communities; frustrations about a ‘single land use/housing-led’ approach – best summed up by one attendee: “Nobody wanted to live there… you had a house and a bit of green, but nothing other than that – absolutely nothing. They took down the flats.”

The events provided an opportunity to offer some initial observations about how charrettes can help to inform the development planning process:
one participant noted that the charrette process was a chance to ‘do proper planning!’

  • having consultants engage with communities and develop ideas was beneficial as any Council presentation would have invited different [more negative] response
  • the charrette provided a chance for people (and council departments) to talk to each other
  • the process explored spatial consequences of policy initiatives; i.e. what it looks and feels like

The process also revealed a number of challenges to placemaking:

  • there is a tension between delivering a long term vision and catering for short term pressures; piecemeal growth, that results in leapfrogged sites and a lack of any discernible settlement pattern led one person to remark that we would ‘never set out to plan communities in this way’!
  • there is a tension between delivering a long term vision and catering for short term pressures; piecemeal growth, that results in leapfrogged sites and a lack of any discernible settlement pattern led one person to remark that we would ‘never set out to plan communities in this way’!
  • there is a challenge between providing ‘viable and deliverable’ sites, and a desire to locate development in locations that achieve low carbon futures and create sustainable places; delivering development where it’s technically possible (e.g. land ownership; technically possible; etc) may inhibit larger policy ambitions and overlook the experiential qualities of what is being proposed – there is a need to properly ‘promote and resist’ in order to deliver a bigger picture
  • whilst incremental growth and infill of gap sites may be the most appropriate approach (particularly in smaller communities which have grown organically over time) the delivery of major infrastructure often requires a critical scale of development, with ‘trigger points’ having consequences for the proper phased integration of infrastructure investment
  • focussing on a numbers-based approach to delivering new development may be counter-productive to strengthening, repairing and retrofitting existing places
  • the charrete process deliberately engages with local people – consequently, community expectations need to be managed

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