BACKGROUND: Long-term decline in mining and textiles resulted in high levels of unemployment and physical degradation in Ollerton, Nottinghamshire.
WHO IS BEHIND IT? Sherwood Energy Village with Newark and Sherwood District Council.
PROJECT AIMS: To create a mixed-use development and restore prospects for a coalfield community.
SKILLS INVOLVED: Social enterprise, community involvement, sustainable construction, land reclamation, fund-raising.
Despite years of lip service to stakeholder involvement, local communities often complain that planning is done to them rather than by them. The top trophy in the 2007 RTPI Planning Awards, announced this week, goes to a scheme that departs drastically from this mindset.
The Silver Jubilee Cup and the award for town regeneration, sponsored by RPS, were presented to a decade-long project in which local people who were determined to retain control of their own destiny turned around a former Nottinghamshire mining town. Equally impressively, the resulting development has achieved exemplary standards of green construction.
Back in 1984, six mines in the district employed 8,000 local people, but three-quarters of those jobs had vanished by 1988. The closure of Ollerton Colliery in 1994 and two textile factories in 2000 left unemployment rates at 14 per cent, large tracts of contaminated land and shops and businesses struggling to survive.
Having consulted the community, local activists put regeneration of the 36ha colliery at the heart of their plans. Their vision sought to diversify the local economic base, rid the area of the polluting effects of mineral extraction and secure a full range of housing, employment, retail and recreational facilities.
Sherwood Energy Village (SEV) was established as an industrial and provident society in 1996 with a mission to rebuild Ollerton's prospects. With no commercial experience and little formal training in planning, SEV persuaded British Coal to sell it the colliery site, then secured its reclamation, obtained a positive local plan allocation and produced a planning brief.
"The relentless passion, energy and commitment of the core group meant that preliminary work such as feasibility studies, grant-seeking, engineering and legal support work, which usually involves considerable fees, was carried out by volunteers and others conscripted to the cause," the RTPI judges noted.
While SEV has pursued funding from external sources, it regards ownership as essential in delivering local aspirations. Profits are ploughed back into regeneration and development activities. Any concern that the model will fail as key movers and shakers depart is tackled by training up successors and limiting the number of investment stakeholders.
In less than ten years the colliery site has been transformed. More than half comprises commercial development attracting high-quality end users such as the head offices of Center Parcs and a brain injury unit. SEV's own building, the E Centre, includes small business units, catering and visitor facilities and a marketing suite. Around 600, mainly local, people now work at the site.
SEV is developing 4ha as a housing neighbourhood called SEVille, setting an eco-homes excellent rating as the minimum standard. This is linked to the main street, again fully occupied by shops and commercial businesses. Other housing and commercial sites are proving popular with developers and businesses.
SEV's operations are driven by sustainability considerations. Buildings incorporate energy-saving measures and local materials are used wherever possible. Sustainable drainage, wildlife habitats and recreational areas are integral to the site plan.
"The project was ahead of its time in that sustainable development was fundamental from the outset," says Newark and Sherwood District Council head of planning services Michael Evans. "The drive and enthusiasm of key individuals was crucial."