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Placecheck to become a major Civic Voice campaign

05th November 2012

By Rob Cowan

At its recent AGM, Civic Voice, the national charity for the civic movement in England, voted to make Placecheck one of its two major campaigns in the coming year.

Earlier English Heritage had commissioned UDS to promote Placecheck to the civic and amenity societies that are the member organisations of Civic Voice. As part of this project we have organised three pilot Placechecks – in Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire; Canterbury, Kent; and Marple, Cheshire; we ran a Placecheck in Coventry at Civic Voice’s AGM and convention; and with Urbannous we have made a short video promoting Placecheck. Watch it at http://www.urbannous.org.uk/Placecheck.htm

How can we improve our neighbourhood? How can we make the most of what is best about it? First we need to understand the place, and what the people who live here think is important. Where can we find out about the place? From the town hall? From reports? From consultants? Actually, most of what needs to be known about a place can be seen and understood on site. Or it is in the heads of the people who live, work or play there. That’s the principle of Placecheck. Placecheck is a quick and simple way of finding out what the place and its people can tell us.

People in the seaside town of Lytham St Anne’s in Lancashire carried out a Placecheck to find out how to protect the quality of their delightful residential streets. One issue above all seemed to be the priority for action. A great deal of the quality of the streets comes from the front gardens, their distinctive brick walls and their stone gateposts. Recently some homeowners have started taking down the walls and turning their gardens into hardstandings for their parked cars. That disrupts the streetscape, ruins the character of the area and cuts down the publicly available parking space. Before long the place’s character will have been irrevocably damaged. Discussion after the Lytham St Anne’s Placecheck focused on the idea of creating a conservation area. That would recognise the significance of the place, and could be a first step towards taking action to protect the area’s character. The next question for the Placecheck was how to create the conservation area, and who needed to be involved in the process.   

Placecheck is a simple method of taking the first steps in deciding how to improve an area. A Placecheck consists of one or more walkabouts, followed by discussion of the information and opinions they turn up, and some serious thinking about the next steps and who needs to be involved. Most other ways of taking these first steps need to be led by someone experienced in a particular method. A Placecheck can be initiated by anyone, without much preparation. It can help put local people at the heart of making a better place to live and work.

The Placecheck of a street in the historic city of Canterbury got to grips with the complexities of a city centre where tourists, students, shoppers and a residential community live side by side. Traffic congestion and the neglect of historic buildings were among the issues needing action. But the Placecheckers in Canterbury thought that an issue that they really needed to work on was anti-social behaviour. The place was completely different at night, they said. How could boisterous city centre behaviour at night-time be reconciled with the desire of local residents to have a reasonably quiet life? The solution seemed to lie in, among other things, licensing and policing, and in strengthening local democratic accountability by creating a town council. 

A Placecheck in Marple, a small town in Greater Manchester, took place against the background of a proposal for a supermarket on an out-of-town site. The council believes that there is a better site, in the town centre. What the Placecheck established in the minds of the Placecheckers was that it was not just a question of comparing the relative merits of two different sites. To make the most of a new retail development in the town centre, there needed to be careful consideration of town centre design, public space and movement. A wide range of issues relating to the success of the high street would have to considered along with the question of how best the new supermarket could be integrated into Marple’s economic and social life.

Placecheck: it’s the quickest and simplest way of finding out what we need to work on.

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  • Juris Grest... 6th November 2012

    Congratulations Rob. There is really nothing too complex in our urban world that careful looking and asking the people there cannot work out. We need to give up using big words (development, urban renewal, TOD, ....) and acknowledge that it is simply the stage set for the lives for most of us.

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