Communities up and down the country are daring to dream and thinking big about how their neighbourhoods can and should be improved - and politicians are starting to realise this.
In London, funding is to be allocated for major community backed schemes to transform neighbourhoods. The Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) have recently announced a new multi-million pound funding programme to transform town centres and neighbourhoods into more attractive, accessible and people-friendly public spaces.
The new £85.9 million Liveable Neighbourhoods programme gives borough councils the opportunity to bid for funding for schemes that encourage walking, cycling and the use of public transport, in line with the Mayor’s Healthy Streets approach.
This is a long-term funding programme and boroughs can submit bids at any time. Submissions for each financial year will close in October (20 October for 2017) with announcements of the successful bids made each December.
The recently elected Metro Mayors in England and other politicians may follow suit, or announce similar initiatives themselves (see my blog on the powers of new Metro Mayors); Mayor Andy Burnham has recently followed London’s Sadiq Khan in appointing a Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester - Chris Boardman - coupled with a recent pledge to spend £17 a head on cycling in the city region, matching the figure proposed in London.
Following discussions with local authority leaders, the National Infrastructure Commission has tasked Andrew Gilligan, the former Cycling Commissioner for London, to work with local councils and local organisations to create a vision for cycling to become a ‘super attractive’ mode of transport in Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. The Scottish Government has also recently announced the doubling of Scotland’s funding for active travel to £80 million.
Significantly, with the new Liveable Neighbourhoods programme, the London Mayor and TfL are looking for a wide range of community-supported projects, potentially including the creation of green spaces, new cycling infrastructure, redesigned junctions and the widening of walking routes to improve access to local shops, businesses and public transport. Projects demonstrating a large amount of popular support are most likely to receive a grant.
This is because getting community backing is the best way of capitalising on the wealth of local knowledge and expertise that exists in local groups; it encourages dialogue and collaboration and – crucially - community buy-in for schemes early on, often with much better outcomes. The London Mayor and TfL know this.
So community schemes can help London boroughs attract this Liveable Neighbourhoods funding year on year. They would support the Metro Mayors and other politicians and councils seeking to emulate London and improve our neighbourhoods in this way.
Community devised schemes
Communities are also promoting transformational neighbourhood schemes.
Funding is available to help translate ideas into properly designed and costed interventions, through the neighbourhood planning process. Neighbourhood planning was introduced in 2012 under the Localism Act 2011 and updated by the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017.
Communities can set out a shared vision for their neighbourhoods, devising their own policies and proposals rather than commenting on those of others. Well over 200 neighbourhood plans are in force and many more in preparation - with more than 1,800 designated neighbourhood plan areas - making them an already well-established part of the English planning system.
Supported by an evidence base, a neighbourhood plan describes how a community wants to shape its local area, whether it’s placing the public realm at the heart of communities, proposing better streets and public spaces, or improving local green space and connectivity. It gives power to local people to come together and really influence how local areas develop.
Other proposals can include:
- prioritising walking and cycling over motorised vehicles in residential neighbourhoods;
- creating better walking and cycling networks to key destinations such as schools, train stations and the high street;
- reducing the need to travel, by resisting the loss of sites which are currently used for important local facilities and services.
There are many other advantages to getting involved in neighbourhood planning:
- local authorities are obliged by law to help communities and support the process from the very beginning, sharing baseline information for example;
- the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has made funding available: as of today all groups writing a neighbourhood plan will be eligible to apply for up to £9,000 in grant, with packages of additional technical support and money where needed;
- this money can be used to translate ideas into reality, to plug gaps in technical expertise within communities;
- 25% of local authority Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding raised from development in an area with a neighbourhood plan in place can be spent on local infrastructure such as walking and cycling measures and improved green space;
- following a successful referendum, a neighbourhood plan which will be made carries real legal weight as part of the statutory development plan, enabling communities to have a much stronger role in shaping local areas.
By way of example, the Holbeck community in Leeds has dared to be bold.
A number of major schemes are identified in the recently submitted Holbeck Neighbourhood Plan (2017-2028), including a new pedestrian/cycle bridge over a railway and the creation of a greenway, using a disused viaduct to connect to the city centre. These are ambitious proposals, intended to bring about transformational change.
Holbeck is a densely populated, inner-city area, encircled by motorways and railways. With industrial estates next to tightly-packed terraced streets connections to the city centre and neighbouring areas are difficult.
Amenities are limited and the local centre is not well used by pedestrians due to heavy traffic flows and narrow footways. Yet the Holbeck neighbourhood plan is focused on overcoming these barriers and making the area a more attractive and healthier place, with policies to link and improve local green space, reduce through traffic and improve the attractiveness, accessibility and safety of pedestrian links and cycle ways.
Sustrans can help
Sustrans specialises in community led design. We work with communities to create people-friendly places, helping to transform them into attractive, lively neighbourhoods that are safer and easier to travel through on foot and by bike, improving health, wellbeing and air quality - see our Liveable Neighbourhoods webpage.
Our Community Street Design with Lewisham Borough Council for Rolt Street, Deptford, has been nominated for the Healthy Street Proposal of the Year Award 2017. The scheme addresses fast-moving traffic, poor visibility and sight lines, park guard railings and a lack of safe crossing points. The community inspired design has reimagined Rolt Street as an extension of Folkestone Gardens – a local urban park – with a one-way traffic calmed boulevard to create a better place for people to walk, cycle, play and stay.
Local communities can have the power to push for change
The planning system helps decide what gets built, where and when – decisions that can make a big difference to our quality of life. Neighbourhood planning gives local communities the power to push for schemes that will deliver major improvements. Proactive action can be taken at grass roots level. In London, community supported schemes have the potential to attract millions of pounds of funding through the Mayor’s Liveable Neighbourhoods programme.