With Cardiff’s local development plan being withdrawn it was with interest that planners, students and interested civic groups gathered to hear what a ‘Master Planner’ had to say about urban development.
Roger Evans of Studio Real was at Cardiff University to take part in a series of lectures about planning and regeneration. He is the man behind the award-winning Newhall development near Harlow, Essex.
John Punter, professor of Urban Design at Cardiff University, opened the talk with: “In Cardiff we need to shift our attention to quality of local development. We need to provide more family housing and we have a big challenge ahead of us.”
Evans talked the audience through how they went about developing the Newhall site, building on greenfield land and planning a completely new town.
“We struggled to find examples of good big developments,” said Evans, “there was a real issue with finding bulk builds of in the region of 5,000 to 8,000 houses.
“Why should we dumb down when it comes to residential developments? We looked to cities like Bath, Oxford and Venice for inspiration when planning Newhall. We asked ‘Why can’t we build somewhere that people would like to visit?’
“We know that places which attract people will attract investment.”
At Newhall lots of different developers and architects were recruited to work on separate parts of the site, creating a mish-mash of styles and buildings.
Evans had some lessons from Newhall, particularly about community management.
He said: “All the best projects aimed high in their quality. We found there was no point developing until we knew who would manage the community, in terms of adopted roads, looking after tree planting and the drains. We found that a Residents’ Assocation were happy to take on all the trees and greenery of the site, before they’d even moved in. This proved to be really important as the local council refused to take responsibility for the trees.
“The Victorian’s when they built grand projects had civic ambition and we need to see that return to these projects, however the economic argument can’t be ignored and we meed to make sure developments are economically successful.”
Speaking after the lecture, Evans had some wise words for Cardiff as it looks to re-start the local development plan.
He said: “If you look at the last 20 to 25 years there has been a huge amount of change in this country. There is no reason to suppose in the next 25 years we won’t see even more change. If you do nothing and just fiddle with what you’ve already got then you lose the ability to create the environment that you actually want.
“It’s important to remember with greenfield sites that new development can create new natural habitats if it is done right. A lot of greenfield land isn’t actually that useful anymore and instead of being agricultural land it can become a useful green space with the right development.
“All of this requires strong political leadership, vision and you need to talk to all stakeholders and make sure everyone is onboard with the development.”
John Punter was critical of the Council’s idea to only build lots of smaller developments on brownfield sites.
He said: “If you just build small developments you miss the long-term plans. If you build new neighbourhoods and create meaningful new facilities then you will get good developments. If you go small and infill you tend not to get the community facilities that you need.”
Elaine Davey from Cardiff Civic Society, who were critical of the Council’s local development plan, said: “We’d love to see a development like this in Cardiff, it’s all hypothetical at this stage but something like Newhall shows just what is possible.”
At the full meeting of Cardiff Council last week a question was asked about the progress of a new local development plan.
Councillor Margaret Jones replied: “Work is currently underway on producing the proposed process and timescale for preparing a new draft LDP. This is a complex process where a balance needs to be struck in order to secure good progress whilst minimising risk from legal challenge. The LDP Regulations state that the timetable must be set out in a document called the Delivery Agreement.”