A reflection from Steve Ingram – Hyas Associate and previously Head of Planning at Huntingdonshire District Council.
If you are not familiar with Alconbury Weald, it is an emerging new settlement of 5,000 new homes and 300,000 sq ft of related employment space with impressive associated strategic greenspace and community facilities, which is being created on the site of a former RAF (USAF) base just to the north of Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. I, along with other colleagues in Hyas, recently had the opportunity to visit to the site to see how it has prgressed since planning permission was granted in 2014.
Having been very actively involved (when I was previously Head of Planning at Huntingdonshire District Council) in both its planning, and the initial stages of its delivery, it was pleasing to be able to revisit and to see for myself the quality of the place that is now being delivered.
Our visit was hosted by James Scott, Urban & Civic’s Group Director of Strategy and Planning, and it was enlightening to talk to James about how the new community is being successfully created and especially relevant was the learning can be taken away in order to help inform and shape other similar planning processes. Particularly pertinent was James reiterating the master developers’ need for appropriate flexibility within the planning process.
Thinking back, I consider that the planning authority’s appreciation of the need for such appropriate flexibility was indeed fundamental to what is now achieved at Alconbury Weald. When Huntingdonshire Planning Committee resolved to grant permission for the new settlement, it was brave of them to accept that the grant of outline permission was only going to be the start of the development journey (and that it could ensure the delivery of all of the required quality outcomes by creating a mechanism via the related planning conditions and obligations whereby each successive key phase of delivery could be appropriately re-evaluated).
Seeing the quality of the new development now coming out of the ground and appreciating the nature of the site’s relationship to the surrounding villages and rural communities, also reminded me that another key aspect underpinning the success of that original planning process was that Huntingdonshire District Council had already worked collaboratively to establish a clear vision and positive aspirations for the future for that strategic site. There was a general acceptance that the site would be redeveloped, but there was a related embedded commitment to ensuring the quality of what would be delivered.
Every successful strategic planning exercise that I have been involved with has been underpinned by an initial comprehensive visioning exercise with all of the participants being invited to proactively consider what sort of places they would want to see developed as their legacies.
To my mind, the establishment and embedding of such a clear vision allows for both an appropriate clarity of purposes and a shared commitment to the success of the local planning process.
All that reminiscing also got me thinking about how proactive Local Planning Authorities should readily look to anticipate the future needs of their communities and how some targeted support from the team at Hyas could help you do that.
I’m glad to be working with Hyas and its network of highly experienced Associates, and am incredibly fortunate to be able to continue helping Councils and other stakeholders as they bring strategic sites forward through the planning process, and to make sure that they deliver on the expected ambitions and objectives. The team have a tremendous amount of relevant planning expertise and experience, key to getting things right when there are sensitivties, concerns and expectations about strategic growth proposals, new communities, garden towns & villages all of which will be so important for meeting future needs and aspirations.