Temperatures are creeping up, the mornings and evenings are getting brighter and there is a smattering of colour in garden – spring is on the way!

 

For us, like many others, the past year has been challenging in many ways. A large part of this has involved finding new ways to do things that remained quite physical until a year ago – from site visits and public consultations to the most commonplace of activities such as marking a plan, issuing a sketch or pinning up a drawing for discussion.

It is almost four months since writing an article for last quarter’s PBC Today about the role of the construction sector in the post-pandemic period and much has changed again.

 

As quickly as daily life withdrew in March, it has transitioned into something else – a quasi-state that is familiar on the surface but quite different underneath. While the kitchen table, spare bedroom and office have reverted to their pre-lockdown roles, empty commuter trains and commercial centres provide a clear indication that whole swathes of the economy are still in hibernation.

While the health and social care, food and transportation industries battle to get us through this period, the construction sector, like many others, watches on with a mix of concern, hope, nervousness and above all, gratitude.

In what remains a critical phase in the Nation’s response to COVID-19, it is difficult to think of anything other than the task at hand – simply to arrive at a post-pandemic period will be enough for now. However, with some positive signs emerging from Southern Europe and parts of the Far East returning to some semblance of normality, perhaps we can begin to think about what the ‘next’ phase might be and our role within this.

The first of the 1946 New Towns, Stevenage occupies a special place in urban planning folklore.


At the time of receiving the ‘New Town’ designation Stevenage was little more than a High Street off the London-Cambridge Road. Almost 75 years later, it has grown into a regional hub of almost 100,000 residents with further growth anticipated.

Last month’s figures show that the real High Street is losing the battle with the virtual ‘Marketplace’ – retail sales and occupancy rates were down compared with the same period last year while the ratio of internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales continues to rise (House of Commons Economic Indicators, Sept. 2019).

Of course, this is no surprise – we are getting used to hearing about declining sales on the High Street. However, the gradual break-down of our town and city centres has far reaching implications beyond shopping; less footfall and active frontages with passive surveillance leads to an increase in antisocial behaviour and a reduced sense of security. It is the beginning of a downward spiral that culminates in the ‘doughnut’ effect – a term that was used to describe the empty downtown of Detroit when the city declared bankruptcy in 2013.

The Localism Act of 2011 brought greater opportunities for community-led planning and for residents to influence their physical and social environments. Today, Neighbourhood Plans are being preparation for towns, cities and villages across the UK. According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), up to 700 plans have now been adopted and are currently being used to determine major planning applications and influence strategic planning.

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