Hi Julia, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. What is community-led development?

Community-led development is where local people come together in response to a local need or opportunity to collectively design or manage their own new housing development. There are lots of ways that groups can do this, including forming a cooperative, co-housing groups or Community Land Trusts (CLTs). Groups usually aim to meet a local need, such as providing more affordable housing locally and often have a range of social and environmental objectives they want their project to achieve, such as low-energy homes.

Our Community Led Design and Development programme particularly focuses on tenant and resident communities living in social and affordable housing. It aims to encourage all involved in designing and developing new housing – housing associations, developers, local authorities and residents – to work together on the design of new homes and neighbourhoods through co-production. The programme is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government Tenant Empowerment Programme.

What are the benefits of involving the local community in the planning process?

From both its historic work with communities and research from the CLD programme, Design Council Cabe believes that involving residents early on in the design and planning process can have significant benefits to the quality of the new homes, neighbourhoods and communities being created. We have found significant evidence to suggest qualifiable benefits from resident involvement:

  • Pride and identity: places feel more loved; sense of belonging.
  • Stability of population: people want to stay, neighbourhoods develop a good reputation.
  • Long-term maintenance: responding to resident feedback can eliminate maintenance problems later
  • Safety: tenants feel safer
  • Local economy: the attractiveness of an area will influence potential investors, eg in local shops or services.

Is there a risk that projects could be slowed down by involving more parties in decision making processes?

When all parties, including community representatives and residents, are involved early on in the process, they can then collaboratively shape the project and identify concerns and opportunities thereby mitigating any problems or issues earlier on in the process, preventing delays further down the line. Changes later on, when the design is close to completion, can result in severe delays and substantial extra costs to those throughout the development and construction chain; architects, developers, engineers and suppliers.

Many community led projects are supported by local people because of their understanding and experience of the area, with the opportunity to contribute to and apply this knowledge at every stage of the planning and design process. For example, Somerleyton Road development in Brixton, London, led by Brixton Green community group, had no objections to the planning application thanks to the extensive dialogue it held with local people and businesses from the start.

With increased devolution across the UK, particularly in the north of England, will this approach become more commonplace?

Some communities in the north of England already have a strong track record of community leadership which can act as beacons for others. Liverpool, for example, has a history of local community action and leadership in neighbourhood planning, focusing on and promoting the future of housing, streets and spaces in the city. Examples of this will be demonstrated at Design Council Cabe’s learning event in Liverpool on 1 March, where attendees can hear more about projects involving residents, such as the Community Interest Company We Make Places and local charity Housing People Building Communities.
To find out more, and to book tickets to our free event on the 1 March, click here. (Please note, places are limited).

What are the main challenges of bringing forward well designed development?

Community groups sometimes lack knowledge of and expertise in design and therefore design quality can be overlooked while groups are getting to grips with project viability and finance. It can help to involve a design facilitator early on to enable groups to work out what their aspirations for the development are. Some architects also specialise in working collaboratively with communities and future residents on the design of new homes (whether the project is led by a community or more conventional housing developer).

How can events like North England Build support communication between relevant stakeholders?

The North England Build Expo can help showcase the role and relevance of all involved in the planning process. Communities and neighbourhood groups are crucial in the planning process and engaging them at the earliest stage helps build trust and confidence for all.

Julia Wallace is Programme Lead at Design Council Cabe. David Waterhouse, Assistant Director of Strategic Development at Design Council Cabe will be giving a presentation at North England Build on April 28th on the topic “How to Embed Quality in New Development in a Changing Planning Context”.

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