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 Enabling the community to influence the design of its own town centre?

CymunedolImagine Gwynedd County council allowing the community a chance at influencing the development of it's own town centres. They could express their needs on developing the marina in Pwllheli, The Queens in Aberdaron, The dock area in Caernarfon or the Milenium park in Penrhyndeudraeth.

Is this too much like sci-fi?....., not if planners think outside of the box and follow the low-cost route shown by Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough council. The cost? ...£1,300 in staff time, using a software demo that would only cost £800. The benefits?.... engaging with it's citizens and enabling the community to influence the design of its own town centre.

Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council decided to make improvements to four key areas of public space in Ellesmere Port town centre and was keen to ensure that all stakeholders were engaged in the refurbishment process. To set the ball rolling the Town Centre Partnership, councillors and the council’s town centre staff, such as parking wardens, were given disposable cameras to take snaps of the things they liked and disliked about the town centre. The architects' department had the job of turning these ideas into design proposals. They decided to try computer graphics software they had seen advertised that could be used to prepare visual aids and which they believed would help people to visualise and better understand the proposals.


The council held public consultation workshops to display computer-generated artists' impressions and architectural plans of each of the design schemes. Eight image boards displayed pictures of different design elements: artwork, hard surfacing, seating, lighting, soft landscaping, steps, water features and paving. Visitors were asked to mark the pictures they liked with green dots, those they disliked with red dots and to leave those about which they felt ambivalent. The workshops were publicised through the local media and over 700 members of the public attended. The quality of the displays enabled people to understand clearly what the proposed designs would look like and feed back clear messages and opinions to the project team. Comments from visitors showed that the process had enhanced the sense of public ownership of the town centre scheme.

The information gathered from the public was then fed into workshops for the Town Centre Partnership and councillors. The clear responses enabled the professional and technical staff to finalise the detail of the designs, confident of public support. Les Lyons, Chairman of the Town Centre Partnership, said: “The improvements to the town centre are ones that the whole community will be able to enjoy and be proud of. It is excellent that they have received such a positive response from local businesses and the general public”. As a further boost to the project, the finalised scheme scooped the Merseyside ‘Buying Recycled’ Award at the Groundwork Merseyside 21 Environmental Awards 2005, because of its commitment to reuse 100 per cent of the excavated paving.

The process What’s the context?
The project was aimed at redesigning and refurbishing four major connecting public spaces (Civic Square, Rivington Road, Marina Walk and York Road) to create an attractive area in Ellesmere Port town centre, with water features, seating, public art, performance spaces, trees and other planting, as well as improved segregation of pedestrians and vehicles.

Who was involved?
The key players in the project were the council’s Technical and Property Services, building surveyors and architects, the Town Centre Manager, Lorraine Taylor, project architects and urban design consultants, Ferguson McIlveen, and a civic artist, Stephen Broadbent.

How important was consultation?
Consultation was a key part of the design process and involved the general public, local businesses, the Town Centre Partnership (consisting of members of the borough and Cheshire County councils, the primary care trust and the voluntary sector) and elected members. The project team believe that the method of consultation used – choosing from options illuminated by streetscape images produced by computer modelling – enabled people to understand the proposals and express their views more fully than would have been the case with a display of detailed architectural plans, which many find hard to interpret and visualise. Holding the displays in busy locations in the local shopping centre also increased the number of visitors and responses. The initial plan was to hold only one public display but the second was held due to public demand.

What lessons were learnt from the project?
The Town Centre Manager, Lorraine Taylor, says that although it is almost impossible to ensure that consultation is completely comprehensive, it is important to adopt a balanced approach that fits in with the scope, nature and sensitivity of the proposed works. Agreeing a consultation strategy at the outset is crucial to the success of the process and it is paramount that preferences can be collected in a way that allows practical improvements to the design to be identified.

How will the project develop?
The refurbishment work will cost £3 million and is being funded by the Liveability Fund. The work is underway and is expected to be completed by March 2006. The involvement of the local community is continuing with a project for schoolchildren to work with civic artist Stephen Broadbent to create narrow boat designs for tiles that will be sunk into the ground alongside the canal. This project is being sponsored by local businesses.

Could it be done in Gwynedd?
It should be done, but will it?
source -



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