“Before I start I want to say that what I say this evening I would ask you all to understand I say this as a critical friend.
In the recent Building Better Building Beautiful Commission report it quotes research on large developments, only 2 per cent of people trust developers and only 7 per cent trust local authorities.
We all here tonight, I suggest Chair, must help change this perception.
Team Look! are a group of unpaid volunteers from all walks of life who have come together to arrange and host design charrettes between willing landowners and developers and the people of the district on significant developments in St Albans. We each have our own views, but these are no louder than the rest of the community. Everyone’s views counts! We are passionate about collaboration not confrontation.
In June 2016 Look! were asked by the then Development Partnership to host a Masterplanning design charrette for the Civic Centre Opportunity Site which we hosted in the September. Team Look! put in excess of 320 hours of volunteer time ahead of the charrette and spent £2,774.89. The money was raised by grants and donations including a substantial donation by St Albans Chamber of Commerce and Kingston Smith.
We leafleted 36,500 premises in and around St Albans and much much more to publicise the event.
We were delighted, especially with the diversity of ages of the participants.
The fundamental principal of good community engagement is to carry it on throughout the process. If people see their ideas and concerns emerging through the design work they will tend to feel that their ideas are being responded to which builds trust, and often helps to build the basis of support for a scheme. If people feel they have contributed to a plan they are more likely to feel ownership and support it.
To attempt to keep mutual feeling of ownership of the scheme I urged the council to keep that community engagement going in October 2018. As the delays were a concern to the council instead of a mini charrette as had been previously proposed I did suggest a Community Design Review. This the council agreed to, however this time Look! St Albans would not be involved though we agreed to distribute the letter of invitation from the council. Members of Team Look! took part as individuals and adhered to the requirements of the Chair. After the project team sent back to panel members their action plan in April 2019 I heard no more.
Given the many reservations that the community had at the CDR I would have hoped that prior to submission of the planning application the opportunity should have been given to the entire community, not just one membership group to see if it was worthy of the huge investment people had made in this scheme.
In early September last year I started to receive many messages from people who had taken part in the charrette, asking where the recommendations from the charrette (which can be found on page 23 of the report) had gone in the planning application. Many were hugely disappointed that it was no longer landscape led.
I also started to hear the most derogatory and inaccurate comments coming from various sources trying to undermine the in excess of 1,000 hours the community had given at the Masterplanning design charrette.
It seemed someone had to be blamed for the failure of the planning application and the community who had taken part in the charrette seemed an easy target. Notwithstanding our charrette has been nationally and regionally recognised in excellence in plan making practice by the Royal Town Planning Institute.
If as suggested by Councillor Donald when answering my question at the recent cabinet meeting our charrette and design codes inspired Mr Williamson from Angle Property in his revised drawings for his planning application which gained permission so much the good.
It is a great sadness that the council’s team where not equally inspired when they had so much backing from many in the community, willing them on. Instead it seems they saw us as an extra unwelcome burden, an exercise that had to be gone through.
I hope it is re-found as the National design guide issued in October last year states “Local communities can play a vital role in achieving well-designed places and buildings and making sure there is a relationship between the built environment and quality of life. Communities can be involved in design processes through approaches such as co-design, design workshops and other engagement techniques, so that places and buildings reflect local community preferences, improve their quality of life and fit well into their surroundings.”
Look! St Albans is part of the prevailing wind nationally, St Albans, it seems, has turned its back on it.”
Link to the meeting here https://stalbans.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=518&MId=9871