Initiative engages northern neighbourhoods

A learning scheme run by Planning Aid North is enabling communities to shape masterplans for the renewal of housing, explains Kevin Lillie.

A learning programme organised by Planning Aid North (PAN) for local residents in the North East has helped them appreciate the value of good urban design and neighbourhood planning.

Gateshead Council is working in partnership with PAN to support residents in Felling, Teams and Bensham and Saltwell in the Bridging NewcastleGateshead housing market renewal pathfinder area.

PAN community project officer Andy McMillan explains: "When we embarked on our awareness programme, it was important that we shared information with a representative cross-section of the community and selected convenient venues and times. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of local people who attended and expressed an interest in participating in our learning programme."

The council was keen to establish community reference groups that it could support with the learning programme to help in the selection of developers and contribute to masterplans for renewal areas.

The initial programme involved two sessions outlining the principles, followed by site visits to local developments and a review session. The three sessions were held in each of the areas, with residents meeting on two full days of site visits.

The first session gave residents a flavour of the issues that would be encountered. PAN demonstrated the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment's Building for Life principles by taking residents through award-winning schemes such as BedZed and Poundbury. Residents then put their knowledge into practice by coming up with pioneering solutions for the regeneration of a fictitious town called PANville.

Residents attending the second session were split into groups to take part in five workshops, covering parking and roads, building design, layout, open spaces and urban character. PAN was supported by Living Streets and Northern Architecture in organising these.

Over a sunny weekend in October, residents visited regional examples of good neighbourhood design, including the Great North Park settlement and urban regeneration projects at Walker Riverside in Newcastle, Westoe Crown Village in South Tyneside and Highgate in the City of Durham.

During the third session, residents reviewed the programme and the future of their neighbourhood and gave positive verdicts. One participant commented: "I found the trip worthwhile and informative and met interesting people." Another said: "PAN staff are very willing to answer questions raised."

This programme has been supported by a series of information sheets outlining the principles of good neighbourhood design and providing case studies. PAN is happy to discuss opportunities to support communities in the region.

- Kevin Lillie is PAN co-ordinator. For more information, please email

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