Planning and its practitioners are under the cosh. In some government circles, the system stands accused of delaying the essential development needed to revive the UK's economic fortunes. For others, it is seen as paying scant regard to the needs of communities or their environments.
Those who hold the planning profession in low esteem should take a look at the entries for the 2011 Royal Town Planning Institute Awards in association with Planning. The 34 schemes shortlisted for project awards this year showcase a plethora of ideas, pursued by an extraordinary range of organisations, that are helping places and communities realise their economic, social and environmental aims.
Britain's biggest current construction project, the Olympic Park in east London, would not have come together without a masterplan based on established strategic planning and regeneration objectives. The application approved in 2007 has been the Olympic Delivery Authority's key tool in managing a project billed as promising access for all, sustainability and design excellence.
Other projects are making the most of brownfield opportunities. Restoration of the Polkemmet opencast site in West Lothian involves extracting the remaining coal before reclaiming the site to open up development opportunities. A new access road, land remediation, landscaping and drainage improvements are paving the way for redevelopment of the Trevenson Park South tin mining site in Cornwall for 300 flats and live-work units.
Kendal's Riverside Place project involves transforming a rundown factory into a factory outlet centre along with restaurants, offices, flats, sheltered accommodation, a walkway and public spaces. A new public piazza is the centrepiece of Belfast's Saint Anne's Square mixed-use scheme, which also has cafes, restaurants, a gym, homes, a car park and an arts centre.
In Cardiff Bay, Igloo Regeneration's Porth Teigr project aims to create a mixed-use dockside community including a BBC drama production centre, a creative industries hub, homes, commercial and leisure space and new public spaces on previously polluted industrial land. A production workshop for the Royal Opera House is at the heart of the High House Production Park at Purfleet in Essex, which also includes business space.
A determination to boost growth underlies several finalists. The Scottish capital's local authority and chamber of commerce have joined forces on the Edinburgh Planning Concordat, which commits the parties to transparent joint working in assessing major development projects. In a similar vein, the Plymouth Market Recovery Action Plan aims to respond to the economic downturn by smoothing the application process for developers, providing more flexibility on planning obligations and offering a partnership approach to getting permissions in place.
Birmingham City Council's Big City Plan is designed to expand the city's core by more than 25 per cent in a development and regeneration programme focusing on environmental quality, heritage, the creation of distinctive quarters and a flexible approach to land use. Gradual change, flexible planning and consultation are hallmarks of landowner Shaftesbury's management of its property holdings in central London's Shaftesbury Villages, which the company says are creating jobs, shops and homes.
The drive to upgrade civic amenities is also evident. Southend-on-Sea's Victoria Gateway project has created new landscaped public space and eased pedestrian movement between one of its railway stations and the town centre. Similar thinking lies behind the Dalston Square scheme in east London, where a new rail station, bus interchange, homes, shops and a public library are regenerating a once-neglected area.
The Grassmarket public realm project, which has taken traffic out of the largest open space in Edinburgh's Old Town to create a pedestrian area with al fresco eating and drinking, has helped the city council develop its approach to place-making. Liverpool's Lime Street Gateway scheme has removed eyesore buildings to create a public plaza, opening up views of landmark buildings.
A partnership between Norwich City Council and regeneration and housing body the Homes & Communities Agency has restored the Norwich Memorial Gardens, which was previously closed to the public on safety grounds, and will create new homes and community facilities. Also in Norfolk, the grade II listed Stubb Mill is off the buildings at risk register following restoration by trainees on a Broads Authority bursary scheme that has preserved millwrights' skills.
Design quality is key to many projects. The only UK-wide entry in this year's shortlist is consultancy Urban Design Skills' Qualityreviewer methodology. This aims to put design quality at the heart of development management decisions by encouraging systematic thinking by planners and councillors on the issue.
Sustainability is central to several entries. Low Carbon Bath is intended to demonstrate how measures such as slimline double glazing, solar panels, draughtproofing and solid wall insulation can reduce carbon emissions from the world heritage city's period properties. The ten homes on The Crown Estate's Burnhill Green development in a South Staffordshire green belt village aim to marry green energy technologies with traditional design.
In central London, Greening Victoria sets out to demonstrate the scope for incorporating sustainability features in streets, walls and roofs designed to reduce flood risk, enhance the environment and make space for wildlife. Likewise, the Liverpool Green Infrastructure Strategy explores the character, distribution, function and benefits of green space in the city and lays down priorities for its protection and enhancement. The Argyll and Bute Woodland and Forestry Strategy is intended to maximise the role of forests in social, economic and cultural development and in coping with climate change.
Strategic planning skills are demonstrated by the TAYplan Strategic Development Plan for the Dundee city-region, which aims to uphold high standards of sustainable economic growth, place-shaping and climate change. The Greater Norwich Joint Core Strategy, prepared by four Norfolk authorities, is being followed up by cooperation on its delivery through the Community Infrastucture Levy, investment programmes and decision-making arrangements.
Four entries focus on waste management. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Minerals and Waste Spatial Strategy proposes a 40-year programme of sand and gravel extraction and waste management facilities alongside a programme to improve flood management and enhance an internationally important grassland habitat. Brighton and Hove City Council's Site Waste Management Plan Implementation project aims to show how better management of construction waste can contribute to resource efficiency and save contractors money.
National Grid's treatment centre at the Common Lane site in Partington, Cheshire, is cleaning up contaminated soil from throughout the North West while awaiting a redevelopment to provide a permanent soil treatment plant and employment development space. Viridor's Trident Park regional waste management facility in Cardiff Bay is due to process 350,000 tonnes of waste a year as well as generating electricity.
Finally, community engagement is at the heart of several shortlisted schemes. Over ten years, partnership working on the Chester Point regeneration scheme has overcome problems with inadequate maintenance and antisocial behaviour on hard-to-let properties on Chester's out-of-town Blacon estate, and resulted in new homes and open spaces.
Teignbridge District Council's Learning and Planning Together programme has involved primary and secondary school children and planning students in a range of activities and consultations feeding into emerging plans and policies. Bristol City Council has put together the web-based Know Your Place system to show the city's historic development, encouraging communities to use this knowledge in reaching views and making decisions at neighbourhood level.
Winchester City Council's Blueprint toolkit is designed to be fun as well as thought-provoking in helping communities put their ideas, concerns and aspirations at the heart of the council's planning and corporate agendas. Shropshire Council's Place Plans support localism by collecting the priorities and aspirations raised in parish and neighbourhood plans and community events and using them to inform local investment decisions.
The judges - Leonora Rozee, Donald Alder and Chris Couch - have some tough decisions to make from a field that highlights the strength of planning and the professionalism of planners across the UK. In the meantime, RTPI president Richard Summers says: "I am delighted to see this impressive response in these difficult economic times, amid the uncertainties of change in our planning system."
The award categories for 2011 are City and Metropolitan Areas, Heritage Arts Culture Sport, Local Regeneration and Renewal, Planning for Business, Planning Process, Public Realm, Rural Areas and the Natural Environment, Spatial Strategies, Sustainable Communities (sponsored by The Crown Estate) and Other.
Book your place
The Royal Town Planning Institute Awards, in association with Planning
Date: 23 February 2012
Venue: Lancaster London, Lancaster Terrace, London
For more details of how to book, visit rtpiplanningawards.com.