By Steve Quartermain, Senior Associate
Whether you live in a small village, a market town, the suburbs, or the city, the extent to which you can walk to the local school, shop, or indeed the pub can, and does, impact on your social and economic wellbeing.
What if everything you need in life could be found within a 20 minute (or even 10 minute) walk? This concept is often promoted as a “20-Minute Neighbourhood”. In the past, the 20-Minute Neighbourhood has been more of an urban ambition than a lived reality, but the way we have been required to live our lives for the last 15 months has accentuated our awareness of just how important our local areas, and the services they provide, are to our health and wellbeing; as well as to the economic prosperity of an area.
While we have been working from home, we have probably rediscovered the corner shop, or even our local high street, with its electrician, grocer, butcher, or local leisure centre, and we have learned to live “within” our neighbourhood. The notion that people can have a well-connected and walkable place in which to live, supporting lifestyle choices to stay local whilst still allowing them to access daily needs, is a simple one – and one which we can all relate to. But it is not so simple to deliver.
Such thinking is not new. Planners and related professionals have long talked about healthy places – for example, parks and schools within 800 metres of the home. But having lived in North Yorkshire I am well aware that the thinking is not universal, there are different mindsets regarding the necessity to travel and, in places, a lower expectation that everything will be on your doorstep. Despite this, where services and amenities can be planned for and delivered locally, doesn’t it make sense to do this?
Getting investors and developers to think local has been rehearsed before (remember Agenda 21… “think global act local”…) and it has been argued that success in this concept needs a change in attitude. But the opportunity to do just that has never been more compelling and potentially attractive to developers as they respond to, and get financial return from, a different market expectation; bigger gardens, home offices, and access to open space. Some will clearly see the debate through the lens of a (potentially temporary) post-covid adjustment and there is much that supports that (access to parks/ open space, closer shopping and even working locally albeit connected via the web), but others will rightly see this as more than that.
We can plan for places where young people can be more engaged in shaping their environment; we can have better access to the facilities we all need. Places can be safer for young people and for women, children can play unsupervised and, in doing so, we can create greater social cohesion and help address the challenge of a net zero-carbon economy. If we can cycle and walk to get what we need, if we can work (even for some of the time) at home or in local hubs, and if we shop locally we will help revive the high street or the local parade, and create healthier places. What’s not to like?
This can be achieved not only through local or neighbourhood plans, but through investor decisions on permitted development, and through planning applications. Where communities are involved in such thinking, the view is they will support development and will have a stake in overseeing the place where they live. And yes they may even learn a lesson from North Yorkshire and be prepared to talk to each other at the bus stop!
Of course, the existing planning system allows for some of this but I think we are on the threshold of this rationale being more widely supported and the barriers to delivery being gradually eroded by the very fact that people want this change. Furthermore, they are prepared to behave in a way that will bring this change, and this is attractive to investors. Many years ago I learnt all about “desire lines” and the need for planners to think about putting paths where people want to walk; well think of this as a “policy desire line”. We should rise to the challenge and deliver it. It’s hard not to see this as a win-win debate.
For those who might struggle there is always help at hand. Some people have done it before; so phone a friend. There are people who can give you advice; so reach out. You are not alone.
At Cratus, Steve leads on planning reviews for local authorities to improve performance. To find out more about how a planning review can help your local authority, email [email protected] or search for Advisory on our website.