A record haul of 103 entries in this year's RTPI annual award scheme has given the judges a feast of riches to appreciate. The high quality of the planning work and the vision and determination of the planners who brought the schemes to fruition is evident among the 17 finalists.
Entries had to set a model, with planners playing a key role. But the organisations submitting entries were also encouraged to demonstrate collaboration with other agencies and the community. This week's selection highlights this theme.
In the Surrey town of Staines, Spelthorne Borough Council has transformed an uncompetitive and uninviting town centre into a match for its prosperous neighbours. Regeneration and pedestrianisation of the high street, reorganisation of traffic and conservation of the cultural heritage have created a modern shopping and business centre.
Staines now has a vibrant heart with a high-quality environment, effectively linking a new mixed-use shopping development, the Market Square and a Thames riverside park. While the masterplan driving the vision forward came from the council planning department, partnership with external bodies has been crucial.
Significant contributors included English Heritage on design in the conservation area, the Environment Agency and the Surrey Wildlife Trust on ecological restoration on the Rivers Colne and Wraysbury, Surrey County Council on transport and archaeologists at development sites. Community involvement has been generated in many ways, including a town centre consultative group.
Newcastle's Grainger Town had been declining for decades, with many shops and offices drawn away into more modern premises. Much commercial space was vacant, historic buildings were in disrepair, the property market was weak and traffic congestion made a poor environment even worse.
Work by planning consultancy EDAW resulted in a project partnership drawing in English Partnerships, the single regeneration budget (SRB) challenge fund, English Heritage and the city council. There are residents' and business forums, 90 stakeholders, a newsletter and a website.
The Grainger Town Partnership's extensive support framework led to a dramatic revival of the area while retaining and enhancing its fine-grained urban character. Under the project, 277 businesses, 1,500 jobs and 270 homes were created, with more in the pipeline. More than 100 historic buildings have been revived and many improvements made to the public realm.
Small towns as well as big cities suffer decline. Littlehampton, on the Sussex coast, had faded as a port, losing its fishing, timber and aggregates businesses. This particularly affected the six wharves on the east bank of the River Arun.
Arun District Council resolved that revitalising the East Bank was key to linking the seafront with the harbour and town centre and could provide much-needed housing, jobs, visitor facilities and space. The regeneration of the environmental, economic and social fabric of the town has hinged on this scheme.
The harbour strategy was devised by the local authorities, the Environment Agency and the harbour board. A development brief for the East Bank followed extensive public consultation and was endorsed by the Littlehampton 2000 Partnership. This organisation was awarded £2.1 million from the SRB and council funds and has raised four times as much from private sources.
Finance is always a problem. In Stratford-on-Avon, developers are expected to contribute towards the cost of schemes to mitigate the traffic impacts of their projects. A revised method for calculating developer contributions has been set out in supplementary planning guidance from the district council.
The guidance outlines two types of contribution - a capital payment towards the wider transport strategy and revenue and capital funding for public transport, walking and cycling requirements. To avoid uneconomic negotiation over small projects, thresholds of five homes or 250 sq m of commercial floorspace have been set.
The methods of calculation are set out and a model section 106 agreement has been published. The new approach, fair in conception and transparent in operation, overcomes the previous lack of consistency and delay often evident in ad hoc section 106 negotiations. It has been devised through detailed consultations with a range of business and community interests.
The restoration of just a few buildings can act as the catalyst for the revival of a much larger area. In Wolverhampton, the renovation of a row of premises on Snow Hill has become a flagship for the developing St John's urban village, where after years of neglect a heritage economic regeneration scheme has sprung into life.
The scheme involved exceptionally wide collaboration between funding sources, including the European Regional Development Fund, the SRB, English Heritage and the Architectural Heritage Fund, as well as close working with experts from the Buildings at Risk Trust.
Snow Hill exemplifies the best kind of conservation-led regeneration.
It has saved derelict listed buildings, enhanced the character and appearance of a conservation area, introduced new city centre housing and provided refurbished business premises. Co-operation between the local authority and its partners was vital to this successful resolution.
The RTPI Planning Awards are sponsored by the Countryside Agency, English Partnerships, Macdonald & Company and the Planning Officers Society.