Bigg Market: Night and Day

The Bigg Market Consultancy Project is work which has been undertaken by Newcastle University Master of Planning students in collaboration with NE1. The project provides in-depth research and analysis into various aspects of the Bigg Market, focusing on topics such as media influence, the built environment and the opinions of visitors.

Key contacts for the project are Loes Veldpaus, Research Associate in the School, and Gareth Neill, Bigg Market Project Manager at NE1.

In this post, the project investigates the disconnect between the night and daytime economies of the Bigg Market and the resulting impacts on the public realm.

The original post appears on the project website.


The Disconnect: Night and Day Usage 

A sense of place derives from the way in which a place functions. The area is home to numerous different uses but remains divided. There is a clear disconnect between the night and daytime economies which has lead to the formation of a hotch-potch use of space.

The daytime economy of retail, cafes and restaurants are mixed side-to-side among the evening economy of bars, pubs and takeaway food outlets. As a result, the public realm is suffering badly.


Before we commenced this project, we had all passed through the Bigg Market during the day. None of us had stopped to visit the shops and restaurants or taken stock of the built environment. Because of this lack of connection, we began this project with an open mind. What we observed was an area with limited attractions or staying power. To us it is merely a place to pass through. Throughout the day the area consists of unopened bars and takeaway shops that look rundown, large amounts of buildings to let are particularly noticeable. On our first visit to conduct the questionnaires, it was a sunny mild day as seen in the pictures below.

Bigg Market

Bigg Market

Bigg Market by Day

We noticed people stopped to eat their lunch on the broken benches and some used the Kafeneon restaurant, but only in limited numbers. We concluded from the first visit that we did not value the space as social meeting point in the day. The area lacks an anchor to attract people, meaning low footfall and suffers from a poor unkempt urban realm. We also visited at 9am, the space remained devoid of people but extremely busy with servicing and deliveries


As students, we use this space socially on an evening. We have all been to High Bridge Street and Pudding Chare for meals or drinks but only use the Bigg Market as a final destination the end of the night. The image below shows how the public space is well used and provides both a meeting point and an area to catch a taxi. This project made us more observant when out in the evening to see what type of people used the space at night and how they used it.

Bigg Market by Night

Bigg Market by Night

During the evening the shops and restaurants were hard to see next to the bright lights of the takeaway shops, bars and taxis. The area is mistreated with litter and people failing to care about the urban realm. The aftermath of the night-time economy is felt by people who pass through the area the next morning, creating an unwelcoming and dirty environment.


From our own observations we noticed the disconnect in Bigg Market from day to night. In our opinion, the day shows the area as a tired space that is underutilised and not recognised as people pass through. We believe that despite the negative reputation the Bigg Market receives due to its night-time events, it is actually the day time that is the biggest hindrance to its overall offer. Whether it caters to your tastes or not, during the night Bigg Market comes alive with people socialising, providing the area with a buzz. This cannot be said about the day usage, which is mostly typified by its tired urban realm, its poor retail and restaurant offer.

Would visitor numbers increase if the daytime retail/restaurant offer was improved, or would the night-time economy remain a barrier to attracting visitors?

To find out more about the project please contact Dr Loes Veldpaus: .


Working together on cooperative neighbourhoods

On Wednesday 25 January, the School hosted a participatory workshop reflecting on the use of communities within recent policy agendas. It considered the emphasis placed on “localism” over the last nine years, the forces driving it at the national level and how it has been interpreted in northern, urban locations. It also asked how a localism agenda might be reworked to better reflect the needs of these areas.

The event was organised by Dr David Webb of the School, with partners Greening Wingrove and the CHAT Trust, and funded by the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal and the Global Urban Research Unit.  This participatory workshop is the latest output of their collaborative partnership, building on their project Reclaim the Lanes which worked with residents of an area surrounding a back lane in the Arthur’s Hill area of Newcastle.

The workshop proved extremely popular, around 85 people attended from local authorities, charities, community interest companies, Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, consultancies and arts organisations.

The morning was structured around several presentations with time for panel and table discussions.  After an introduction to the themes from Dr Webb, he and Caroline Emmerson (CHAT Trust) presented their work on Reclaim the Lanes. Caroline Gore-Booth (Giroscope Ltd) talked about collaborating around self-help housing in Hull and after some initial reflections, Alan Barlow (WEA Greening Wingrove Project) presented Wingrove’s community innovation fund. Armelle Tardiveau (Newcastle University) and Cllr Marion Talbot (Newcastle City Council) talked about their experiences of co-designing Fenham’s Pocket Park.

Read the morning presentations at the links below:

The morning panel discussion was led by a presentation from Annabel Davidson Knight (Collaborate CIC) which reflected on early attempts in Oldham to use public services to support community action. She described their intention to create a virtuous circle, with learning and feedback generated from community hubs being used to adapt and update the way services were provided locally.

The afternoon presentations also focused on the use of community hubs, with Tony Durcan (Newcastle City Council) explaining the importance of digital for reducing the cost of service delivery in the city, and setting out Newcastle’s support offer for those who find it difficult to use digital technology unaided. Mark Cridge (MySociety) then explained the use of Fix My Street as a way of encouraging more efficient and transparent reporting of environmental problems. Rob Webb (Transmit Enterprise CIC) described the potential benefits of the Poverty Stoplight system and Pete Wright (Newcastle University) set out the work they have been doing to promote digital civic technologies in Newcastle. An interesting discussion was had on the use of digital to promote a culture change in public services, including the sometimes unseen benefits of face to face communication and the dangers that innovation might be driven primarily by austerity.

Read the afternoon presentations at the links below:

The event allowed for the sharing of experiences of community work from around the region, with numerous insights being offered during the morning panel session. Many of the themes raised were also relevant to Newcastle City Council’s policy cabinet meeting, which directly followed on from the event. Despite the huge challenges presented by austerity, it was interesting to reflect on the variety of responses being taken both by community organisations and local authorities. The experiences of Oldham and elsewhere show that creative ways of promoting joint working are emerging, and that future reflection on these may have much to offer for the way we seek to manage our cities and neighbourhoods.

Dr David Webb is Lecturer in Town Planning and Director of Engagement in the School

Exploring the Southbank Undercroft: heritage film wins national award

You Can’t Move History is an in depth account of the 2013 battle to save the Southbank Skate Park.  On Monday 14 November 2016 the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) awarded You Can’t Move History Best Research Film of the Year.

In this post project team member Dr David Webb reflects on what makes places valuable.

The campaign to save the South Bank undercroft revealed important insights into what makes places valuable, and why that value is often so difficult to recognise and legitimise. The recognition offered by winning the AHRC’s Best Research Film of 2016 award will help us explain these insights to a wider audience and champion the value of social and environmental campaigning.

Long Live South Bank

Today’s system of heritage conservation has its roots in a reverence of the past and its most majestic and well preserved remains. However it has evolved to recognise that our towns and cities have an in-built bias towards offering up the most durable heritage, which is often that of the rich and powerful. Twentieth Century bids to popularise and democratise heritage reacted to this by expanding and pluralising what counts as heritage, but left us questioning the basis on which we recognise and care for the past. The notion that heritage is not just given to us but actively created through our choices about what to conserve opens up questions about

  • why it is that we focus so much on place?
  • what would happen if we made place subservient to broader questions about how we should relate to the past?

The dominant approach to conservation planning rests on two assertions which, at first sight, appear self-evident but which, once we have broadened our thinking about how we relate to the past, can be seen to bias particular aspects of that relationship.

The first assertion is that some places are better than others. Some feel cold, windswept, empty, artificial or derelict while others invoke warm feelings of history, intrigue, social connotation or awe. This statement seems hard to disagree with; the next one takes it further. Because of the value stored up in good places, these places deserve to be protected from wholescale redevelopment or insensitive alteration. Places can be put in a hierarchy, with better places subjected to ever stronger legislative protection.

These two assertions may seem simple, even self-evidently right, but hidden with them is a battle for the management of the built environment. The idea that some places should receive privileged treatment depends on public interest justifications that appeal to the aggregated desires of today’s and the future’s public. If some places really are better than others then we need to understand why, collectively, we believe this to be the case. The use of precise and technical terms to define the valued characteristics of place has been associated with a concern for distributional fairness. Comparing places against fixed criteria, or universally agreed principles, can help to justify why certain places are privileged and help make decisions appear less subjective or less spurious. Such principles or criteria provide an immediate way of making sense of the built environment, one that offers the promise of advance judgement and with it the potential to support long-term plan-making. The use of criteria within a public interest framing seeks to provide transparency and accountability to political judgements about which places are better. Where policy makers have sought to move beyond fixed criteria, by instead asking what the significance of a place is, there has been a tendency to think about significance in line with established framings and practices and to underplay the importance of conflict in revealing significance.

Attempts to use the public interest to support the management of the historic environment can come unstuck at the point of contact with people’s direct experience of place. Such experience does not always fit easily into universal categories or predefined assumptions. It is infused with things that are not driven by a concern to differentiate one place from another: human behaviour, politics, cultural norms, imagination, emotional connection all go on within places and affect how people relate to them. Very often these phenomena occur in, and bring together, multiple places and times. For different people with different experiences, place might be central or peripheral to other concerns. Battles might be over places, or they might be larger battles which go on within or are caught up with places. Ironically, the depoliticisation and technicalisation of places that tends to follow the use of public interest based framings can have the effect of excluding the very social, political and community orientated dimensions that make places valuable.


London Southbank

In February 2014 a group of researchers with backgrounds in media studies, heritage and town planning came together at a research sandpit and began to think through these issues. How could unorthodox, marginal voices be heard by those involved in the heritage system? We found relatively little research into the views of young people on heritage, and noted that the research which existed tended to assume a common definition of heritage. Joining up with film makers BrazenBunch, and the Long Live South Bank campaign, we set out to explore how skateboarders, BMX’ers, musicians and graffiti artists made use of the undercroft space beneath London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and what it could tell policy makers about the meaning of place. By producing a short documentary and holding a workshop, we then sought to legitimise and convey understandings of place that are too often side lined.


Southbank undercroft

Our film You Can’t Move History is the product of our collaboration. It describes the connections between young people and place, and together with the project report, it explains how these meanings differed from conventional ways of understanding the place which centred on its architectural history and role within the Thames riverscape. Quotes such as “the space is also within the people” revealed the integral nature of humans in making and reproducing the value of heritage and places. Links made by participants to wider processes of gentrification highlighted the inevitably political nature of the campaign and references to the sound of the space and its emotional role as ‘home’ or ‘the vortex’ emphasised its central importance within a culture that emerged from street skating.

While the battle about how best to manage our historic environment is unlikely to go away any time soon, we hope these insights will spark people to reflect on what makes places valuable and on the importance of community, politics and attachment to our lives. The question of authenticity will remain central to ongoing debates about how to support these values on the Southbank.

You can watch the film via our website which also provides a guide to the project, an archive of campaign-related materials and the interim report Engaging Youth in Cultural Heritage: Time, Place and Communication.


David Webb is Lecturer in Town Planning and Director of Engagement in the School.

Creating a shared vision for the Northumberland National Park Local Plan

In this post, Dr Paul Cowie explains how an innovative piece of theatre is helping shape Northumberland National Park.

The next phase of the Town Meeting project starts with a dress rehearsal of the new version of the Town Meeting play. Over the past year, Cap-a-Pie and I have been working with Northumberland National Park to create a version of the play that will help the National Park start the consultation process on the new Local Plan. The new version of the play aims to link the Local Plan being developed now with the actual planning decisions it will affect over the next five years. Often communities do not see the need to get involved in the process of framing the Local Plan as they see little direct relevance to their lives. Only when, a few years later perhaps, an actual planning decision has to be made using the plan do they get involved.

Clennel Street

Clennel Street

We hope to change this by creating a fictitious planning application set within the National Park which takes place in the near future. The scenario aims to test the community’s views on certain planning principles and their vision for the National Park. The new play also has a secondary aim, which is to highlight the limits of planning. Many issues that concern communities do not fall within the domain of the Local Plan. For example issues such as better public transport links or more community activities. In the statutory planning process these are often seen as a distraction. However these ideas need to be developed and encouraged. It’s hoped our new co-production process can also capture these non-planning planning issues and connect them to resources and people that can help.

As far as we know, this is the first time this method of theatre as a tool for planning has been tried so there will be a more traditional consultation process running in parallel to the theatrical events. However we hope this will be a fun and engaging way to get involved in what can be a quite off-putting process.

If you’re in Northumberland and are interested in framing the new Local Plan for the National Park in a new and innovative way we will be holding events in Elsdon Village Hall on the evening of the 18th October and in Harbottle Village Hall on the evening of the 28th October. See the Northumberland National Park website for more info.

Dr Paul Cowie is a Research Assistant in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

Governance and Self Governance

In this post, Jenny Crawford reflects on a  seminar held earlier in the summer as part of the ESRC Series Neighbourhood Knowing and Working.

The Ultimate in Self-Governance?

Our seminar took place during a momentous week in UK politics. Two days later, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were to find themselves facing the immediate economic and social fall-out of Brexit. The ‘Leave’ campaigners were claiming a victory for the principles of sovereignty and self-governance. ‘Remain’ campaigners were lamenting the loss of, among other things, hard-won institutional mechanisms of international co-ordination underpinning the functioning and regulation of markets in the pursuit of public welfare. Even more fundamentally, individuals were revisiting assumptions about their own citizenship and self-identity.

Self-governance implies self-empowerment. Are we caught irrevocably in the belief that the ultimate in self-governance is a state of sovereignty based on exclusive occupation/ownership of territory and decision-making powers and rights? Although our seminar was addressing this question at the scale of the neighbourhood, it seemed to bridge the scales in such debates. Indeed, as Simin Davoudi illustrated in her introduction, both the UK’s European referendum and the practice of neighbourhood planning involve the rhetorical opposition of ‘big state’ versus ‘small state’. While “the smaller the state, the greater the self-governance” may be the dominant discourse, what assumptions underlie this assertion and what cul-de-sacs may it lead to? What do we actually mean by neighbourhood self-governance and empowerment in the context of hugely complex and significant interscalar connections and interdependencies? Such questions lie at the heart of our understanding of a liberal democratic state.

Neighbourhood Renewal is Dead – Long Live the Neighbourhood!

Keith Shaw (Northumbria University) helped us calibrate our deliberations by comparing the New Deal for Communities, launched in the late 1990s, with the present situation. The New Deal promised central government intervention to ensure that “no-one is seriously disadvantaged by where they live”. In contrast, current government policies result in the state no longer being a pro-active player or investor in local regeneration. Instead “neighbourhoods” are being enjoined to wrest resources from market processes through their own policy and ownership interventions. It is hard to see how deprived communities that have been economically and/or socially excluded from such market processes can invent and coordinate such activity without, at least, considerable supporting resources from external sources. Rather, they face ongoing “empowerment to fail”, investing too little to make a difference, in the wrong places to achieve looked for outcomes, and at too great a cost to individuals and local institutions. Indeed Keith argued that, since the New Deal ended, the real rescaling of power has been to city regions and the emerging combined authorities, by-passing local authorities and elected members and constricting empowerment mechanisms for the most local of scales. Public services and investment overall have been cut. Thus the shrinking state shrinks public space and abrogates responsibility for public services to a disempowered voluntary or “community” sector.

Where there are community interests in taking over public services or public policy-making at the local level, the issue of whose interests those are remains difficult to clarify. Inclusive and representative government is designed to counter control by elites at all levels. This has been an issue of bitter debate at the level of EU membership and has played a distinctive role in the outcome of the referendum. Yet it is at the level of the neighbourhood that questions about what mechanisms are in place to balance prejudice, vested interests and outright exclusion of other valid interests, remain most unanswered.

“Don’t tell me I’m in a deprived community!”

The shift in focus from public welfare to citizenship rights and responsibilities holds out new possibilities for public policy and research. In this context, Keith suggested that there is potentially much to be gained from focusing on an asset-based approach as opposed to a deficit model (which can elicit negative responses from those citizens who understandably do not identify themselves as being “deprived”). Rather than citizens being constrained to define their boundaries and what they need (lack) within those boundaries, an asset-based approach encourages innovation in “soft spaces”. Such space can be focused on shared well-being (e.g. affordability and quality of housing or open space), ecological health (including low carbon living and restoration of ecosystems) and creative capacity (through e.g. education, communications and mobility).

Peter Biggers, planning co-ordinator for the production of  a neighbourhood plan for ‘front runner’ Alnwick Neighbourhood Forum, discussed what can be achieved in terms of outcomes through what he described as “empowering communities” and “doing everything at the lowest possible level”. He argued that it is the neighbourhood, not the local planning authority, that should decide what a plan contains. However the overall focus remains on the outcome of creation of “better places”.  This recalls the tension between a focus on boundaries and identities associated with notions of “place” on the one hand and the exploration of soft space emerging from social and environmental values and relationships. The development of new projects and services, as part of the supplementary community action plan, and improved dialogue with the local authority, described by Peter as being successful outcomes of the neighbourhood planning process in Alnwick, involve such “soft space”.

“Is this our plan or are we being manipulated?”

However, Peter described concern that the new statutory neighbourhood plans have become dominated by complex and centralized rules set by national and local government, which effectively alienate local contributors and require (sometimes expensive) technical help. Among the most challenging aspects for a neighbourhood forum, such as Alnwick’s, are constraints on what can be legitimately included as a “planning matter”. Indeed the Alnwick draft neighbourhood plan faces the loss of twenty policies as a result of its examination, largely on the basis of whether or not they involve “planning issues”. This suggests that at the scale of the neighbourhood plan, hard land use issues and related soft issues of community activity and management interact to such an extent that it does not make sense to separate them artificially.  Indeed, separating them could lead to a completely different set of outcomes to that intended by the neighbourhood participants. What is clear, however, is that innovations at the neighbourhood level are being explored, even if these are also the focus of considerable resistance and conflict, e.g. around the focus on affordable housing and the location and design of new housing developments in relation to green belt and open space.

The treatment of conflict in such arenas offers particular research interest as its management gives insights into the capacity of governance infrastructures at the neighbourhood level and their implications for wider decision-making. Community planning approaches embrace techniques that supplement campaigns, voting and referenda, in order to reach out to the otherwise excluded in an important development of representative democracy. Liz Juppenlatz’ study of the neighbourhood plan for the rural area of Tarset and Greystead in Northumberland revealed a process of renegotiation of local governance space between the parish council, the neighbourhood plan steering group and the local authority. Both Peter and Liz argued that neighbourhood planning groups have the capacity to be more representative of the broad spectrum of interests, assets and needs than has hitherto been the case in either local or parish council structures. This is not a cheap option for government, but it reframes the relationship between the state and society to reflect a growing understanding of the meaning of self-governance. It also suggests a greater focus on a recognition of planning as an integral aspect of citizenship, challenging not only market-driven but “feudal” and class-based exclusions in active engagement for change.

It is in this context that the capacity for local planning authorities to assume a bespoke mentoring role in relation to neighbourhood planning processes and products could be integral to the redefining of governance and self-governance. Such a role would involve both technical and communicative input, which in turn would require coordination, quality control and reflexive monitoring. This could be a critical aspect of the role of local elected members, positioning local authorities as enablers, first and foremost, of democratic representation and civic action, rather than primarily of services or, as has been increasingly the case, of service markets.

John Sturzaker of Liverpool University suggested that while wealthier (and predominantly rural) areas, which have dominated neighbourhood planning activity to date, may be coming up against the limitations of neighbourhood planning for securing control over local development, poorer/urban areas are increasingly seeing the potential of neighbourhood planning in the context of hollowed out, disempowered local authorities. Using examples from Liverpool and the Wirral, he described how some urban areas appear to be beginning to use neighbourhood planning as a legitimating focus for building social capacity and engaging disempowered voices with new networks and resources.

Reclaim the Lanes

Reclaim the Lanes

Hard space – soft space

Newcastle’s Greening Wingrove initiative, as described by Nigel Todd, pointed to the type of neighbourhood planning approach that could emerge in such urban areas, building on community development initiatives for both hard and soft space. Wingrove is described as a mixed urban area, of some 10-15,000 people, that is not only the most ethnically diverse area in North East but also among its most economically polarized populations. Using some financial help from Newcastle City Council’s participatory budget, the initiative has responded to the area’s dubious honour of receiving a Grotspot Award to develop “a different way of looking”. This involves a predominantly environmental lens, focused on activities such as litter removal, gardening, recycling rainwater etc, with a particular focus on shared civic space in Nunsmoor Park (described as “the heart of our area”). The award of Big Lottery Communities funding with a focus on combating climate change has opened up new possibilities for the leading residents group and a nascent Community Cooperative Group (CIC) to develop business planning and the further development of ambitions for local self-governance.

Among the objectives of the residents’ group in Wingrove is the engagement of the hundreds of private landlords in the area, currently subsidised by housing benefit of around £2.5 million per year but often with little expertise in management, in improving both environmental and social performance. Such ambitions for advocacy through environmental change, as described by Dave Webb, open up potential for what he termed a “critical praxis” that seeks new approaches to planning using action research. Dave referred to Lydon and Garcia (2015) in their book Tactical Urbanism describing the task of “breaking through the gridlock of what we call Big Planning” by working with popular discourses. He introduced recent work in the Reclaim the Lanes project in which marginalized groups of residents in part of Wingrove have been encouraged to engage in action and the early stages of planning for the use of environmental management resources, through events and activities designed to build trust and deliver immediate and tangible value for local people.

The core contribution of social learning based on action to local governance was also illustrated by Julia Heslop’s description of self-build housing initiatives. Again this involves a combination of hard and soft space. In this case such space is that of homes that work for the social and economic circumstances of particular groups, as determined by those groups themselves, whether working in Tirana in Albania or in a Crisis-led initiative for homeless people in Ouseburn in Newcastle. Roger Burrows’ research into the “super-rich” neighbourhoods of London provided a challenging and revealing contrast. It underlined the trump cards held by wealth, land ownership and largely free markets in land and fixed assets. Sixty-two individual billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of world’s population. Around half a million of the world’s “High Net Worth Individuals” now choose to live around the great parks of London. Against such a hand, even “powerful” communities, with high levels of social and economic capacity have struggled to have a voice in the leafy environs of Highgate. The inequalities and exclusions generated by these markets can all too clearly be seen to require intervention at the level of national and international governance.

London skyline

London skyline

Enter Doggerland

The seminar presentations and discussions were followed by a participatory performance of The Town Meeting by theatre group Cap-a-Pie, devised in collaboration with Paul Cowie  to explore group processes in community planning. The performance introduces participants to issues of power, representation and policy-making in the context of acting out decision-making about constrained and conflicting options for the development of a small industrial town in the windswept countryside of an imaginary Doggerland.  Those who took part rapidly found themselves railroaded into well-worn pathways and communication cul de sacs recognizable from real-world explorations of development governance.

At the outset of the seminar, Simin had summarised the underlying question for local governance as being what type of government do we have/want in order to achieve what ends? The presentations and discussions outlined the potential for researchers to work with development policymakers and practitioners, at and across all levels, to engage with complexity and diversity. This challenges simplistic perceptions of community identity and belonging, while forging new assets and capacities that can be realized by citizens at every level. The nexus of knowledge generation, knowledge exchange and policy development can be argued to be at its most creative as part of learning, collaborative planning communities. The instability of current governance relationships is opening doors to different and potentially more inclusionary kinds of conversation about social imaginaries of space and identity, as well as more exclusionary and destructive practices. These present a clear and urgent programme to be undertaken by such planning communities.

Jenny Crawford is a chartered town planner with extensive experience in strategic and environmental planning policy at all scales from community level to national.

She is currently studying full-time for doctorate at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Her focus is on governance, planning and ecosystem management, using coastal case studies.


Fenham Pocket Park

In this post, Fenham Ward Councillor Marion Talbot reflects on her experience of working with the University and other partners to develop and build a Pocket Park in the heart of her ward.

The Pocket Park came about almost by accident!

Fenham ward, in the west end of Newcastle, had received some funding for a DIY Streets Project to involve local people in improving their streets and making the environment people, rather than car, focused.

The project was coordinated by Sustrans, working closely with Newcastle University’s Architecture, Planning and Landscape Department.

As ward councillors we were able to build relationships with lecturers from the School, particularly Armelle Tardiveau and Daniel Mallo, which gave us access to expertise, skills, knowledge and a degree of challenge, which was such an advantage and pretty unusual.  To be honest I didn’t know that academics got stuck in and got their hands dirty. Literally in this case!

Our joint discussions helped shape the consultation for the DIY Streets and ensured that residents played a significant role in the final design.

Many residents had commented that the library, swimming pool and doctors’ surgery on Fenham Hall Drive formed a community hub, but that there was nowhere to sit, wait for their kids, or just generally hang about. The temporary intervention, designed, built and installed by Armelle, Daniel and their students, proved very successful. It showed, better than a map or diagram could ever do, the way in which people could change their environment for the better.

There was not enough money to change the temporary to permanent, but we had a sense of what could be done if we could identify more funding.

Then DCLG announced funding for Pocket Parks and, in a fit of enthusiasm, we applied.

We were successful and awarded £15, 000, of which £10,000 was revenue and £5,000 capital. We were pretty excited…then reality kicked in.

The timescale was very challenging.  We had to produce plans, check land ownership, agree a steering group, design the park, source and cost materials and plants, find a project manager, build the park, produce and deliver a communication plan, all the while remaining calm and reassuring DCLG and local residents that we could deliver.

It was fraught and the budget was tight but we had planned for contingencies, the project manager was brilliant and the park opened on time on May 21st. It looks like an oasis in a sea of concrete and is really popular.

Pocket Park Opening

Pocket Park Opening

This Pocket Park not have happened without the relationships we had already built up over the 18 months we had spent working together on the DIY Streets Project. Those relationships built trust, joint commitment and a better understanding of what we were trying to do.

Ian, Karen and I, as councillors, really appreciated the practical implementation of the theoretical and had seen how that had already worked so well.

We could not have delivered this without the skills the University contributed.

Cllr Marion Talbot, Fenham Ward, Newcastle upon Tyne
Cllr Ian Tokell, Fenham Ward, Newcastle upon Tyne
Cllr Karen Kilgour, Fenham Ward, Newcastle upon Tyne

To find out more about how the Pocket Park was developed take a look at the Storify for #FenhamPocketPark


YES: Planning with Young People

It is often said amongst the planning profession that it is hard to explain exactly what town planning means.  During this last academic year, 15 undergraduate planning students at Newcastle University have been rising to that very challenge.

Volunteers for the YES Planning project have been learning how to discuss planning issues with young people, to help them understand the processes that change our planned environment, and to allow them to feel that their opinion about the environment is important.

In October 2015, Kevin Franks, from Youth Focus North East trained the student volunteers to work with young people using engagement and participatory techniques.

Building on the tried and tested planning activities that the YES Planning project had developed over the previous two years, this year’s volunteers have worked with around 100 young people in schools and youth councils on local planning issues.  Projects have included a controversial planning application for a hot food restaurant; town centre provision for young people; designing an eco-town; and research funded by the Catherine Cookson Foundation which has explored young people’s visions for Tyneside in 2030.

The sessions have been well received by the young people and their leaders.  As one youth leader explained:  “The sessions were centred around them and their future which is great; their opinions were really valued”.

Yes Planning

Yes Planning volunteers trialing their resources

The student volunteers have also enjoyed the experience of being involved in the project. One volunteer shared: “I enjoyed getting younger people involved in discussions around planning – and gaining their opinions on planning topics”.

YES Planning will continue during next academic year, offering young people in the region the chance to take part in exploratory planning projects relating to their local area; and for the student volunteers, an opportunity to develop skills of working with the community, which are after all, a large part of what being a town planner is about.


The Yes Planning project was initiated and directed by Teresa Strachan,
Lecturer in Town Planning in the School.

For more details please contact

Reuniting Planning and Health

On Thursday 7 April Dr Tim Townshend chaired an event that was jointly the FUSE Quarterly Research Meeting and the 4th in the ESRC funded seminar series entitled Reuniting Planning and Health.  In this post he reflects on the day…

Reuniting Planning and Health was the culmination of quite a few months of preparation and though it’s not the first such event I’ve organised it’s always a bit nerve racking on the day.  Will all the speakers arrive? Will the participants enjoy themselves? Will lunch be any good?!  As it was I needn’t have worried about a thing.

The day kicked off with a great overarching review of the need for planners and health professionals to work more closely together from Laurence Carmichael, Head of WHO Collaborating Centre for Health Environments – showing that while there is a lot of momentum behind the initiative there is much work still to be done. We then went north of the border with a presentation from Etive Currie, Glasgow City Council, who has been working on healthy planning initiatives for many years.  Etive’s presentation was full of amusing anecdotes about how local communities are not always initially receptive to such ideas!   However there were also lots of really good news stories about individual lives that had been turned around. This was followed by Lee Parry-Williams, Public Health Wales, who gave a very informative overview of progress with HIA in Wales – and also some insights into how political rivalries can stand in the way of real progress!

After a short coffee break, we had three further keynotes, Prof Ashley Cooper, University of Bristol, gave an excellent presentation setting out the complexity of linking children’s activity patterns to the built environment – it clearly demonstrated that for planning to deliver environments that are more supportive to healthy lifestyles, the research behind interventions need to be extremely robust. Lesley Palmer, Chief Architect, Stirling University’s Dementia Services Development Centre, gave a really thought provoking presentation on how to design with dementia in mind – highlighting sufferers’ altered sense of reality – while showing elegant design solutions that could be incorporated into any environment that seeks to be age-friendly. The final presentation came from Gary Young, Director at Farrells, exploring the NHS Healthy Towns Initiative, including some of the initial housing at Bicester, a great talk to end with as it brought together so many key strands.

In the afternoon there were four interactive workshops: The Casino, a theatre based workshop run by local group Cap-a-Pie, explored how a proposed regeneration project for a run-down seaside resort might impact a local community by actually asking participants to step into the shoes of the community themselves.  An experimental methodology, it seemed extremely well received by those who took part. Jane Riley, Joanna Saunders and Carol Weir, a team based at Leeds Beckett University, gave a great workshop on the ‘total systems approach’ to obesity prevention – with participants asked to think about how they could make a real difference in their own work – quite a challenge! Douglas White of the Carnegie Trust did an excellent presentation on the Trust’s Place Standard tool – which I’m sure participants will be using in future projects. Finally Pete Wright’s team undertook a kind of speed dating event for participants to become familiar with various aspects of the MyPlace project based at Newcastle University’s OpenLab.

I was really impressed by how participants became quickly absorbed – all the workshops were clearly thoughtfully prepared and the feedback overwhelming positive – so my huge thanks to all the organisers.

All round it was a fantastic day and all ran very smoothly – thanks very much to Terry, Ann and Peter the FUSE support team for all their help! And to The Core – it’s an excellent venue.

Tim Townshend is Director of Planning and Urban Design and Deputy Head of School.

The Future of Cities: Newcastle and Gateshead as a case study

This blog post is an amended version of the essay written by Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones for the programme for the Northern Stage production of Get Carter and his pre-show talk given on Thursday 25 February.

In this post he presents his original thoughts on Newcastle and Gateshead in the 1960s and explores how current city leaders are faced with a similar question: How do we want to live in the future?

Get Carter

The 1960s are often referred to as a pivotal time in Britain’s history and the decade saw profound changes in the North East. The older industries that had formed the mainstay of the region’s economy were dying; the closure of the Rising Sun Colliery in Wallsend in 1969 was the last pit on the north side of the Tyne, while six shipyards had already closed between 1960 and 1966.

But the spirit of change was underway too. T Dan Smith, Newcastle’s council leader for the first half of the 60s, embarked on a radical modernisation programme. Subsequently dubbed The Brasilia of the North, the plan was ambitious but reflected Smith’s determination to make Newcastle a world renowned 20th century city.

Smith revolutionised local government by introducing Britain’s first ever Chief Executive (in place of the Town Clerk) and Chief Planner (Mr, later Sir, Wilf Burns), and even Cabinet style government. Among the projects he set in place at this time were: the removal of remaining slum housing, the building of new flats, the development of a higher education campus in the city, the building of Britain’s first indoor shopping centre at Eldon Square, the construction of the Tyne and Wear Metro, the expansion of the airport at Woolsington, and the plans for the construction of the Central Motorway to remove traffic from the congested city centre. Traffic was so heavy on Northumberland Street, the main London to Edinburgh A1 road, that footbridges had to be built over the road to allow shoppers to cross safely from one side to the other. New towns were developed in Cramlington, Killingworth and Washington.

On the Gateshead side of the Tyne, change was no less dramatic, with significant road building schemes, the opening of the Tyne Tunnel in 1967, and new modernist designs for public buildings and housing. The construction of the 29 storey Derwent Tower in Dunstan, dubbed The Rocket, and the Trinity Square shopping centre and car park (made famous in the film version of Get Carter) in the late 60s, signalled the height of both planners’ and architects’ frivolity with the urban realm. The professionals treated the city as a machine but at the expense of the need for human scale and a sense of place.

Local architects and construction companies all benefited from the reconstruction and regeneration ethic. But some of it was too good to be true. The utopia, like Smith’s own career, didn’t live up to the hype: developers built quickly and cheaply, and were too ready to dispense with anything that smacked of an older age. And for most, the loss of coalmining and shipbuilding cast a long employment shadow.

Smith’s legacy is fiercely contested and whether you think he was a crook or an inspiration, few can argue that he held a vision for the future of his city.

Newcastle and Gateshead are, in common with other cities around the world, now looking to the future once again and asking vital questions about how our citizens are going to survive – and thrive – in a society facing challenges including climate change, economic austerity, global migration and an ageing demographic.

Universities are well placed to help cities address these questions and the national Foresight Future of Cities project developed a methodology in the Newcastle city region to bring together the intellectual capacity of universities and local stakeholders to identify and address future potential challenges and opportunities.  This methodology can be adopted by cities all over the world.

The resulting report, Newcastle City Futures 2065, is a broad and overarching look at the next 50 years using Newcastle city region as a pilot.  It aims to demonstrate that universities can work more proactively with and for the cities in which they are located, and use both creative techniques and their expertise to foster civic engagement and articulate a vision for the future of the city.

Mark Tewdwr-Jones is Professor of Town Planning and Director of Newcastle City Futures at Newcastle University.


Working together for better planning

The School hosted a day workshop on 15 January, organised by Dr Dave Webb, focusing on how planning academics and practitioners can work together to respond to the crisis currently facing planning in England.  In this excerpt post he reflects upon discussions that took place.  The full version is available at Planners’ Network UK.

On 15th January 2016, Newcastle University played host to an energetic day of debate, centring on Michael Harris from the RTPI‘s provocations about the current state of academic research on planning and the areas where more work is needed. The essence of Michael’s argument is that planning research has become too closely aligned with qualitative sociological inquiry to the extent that very few scholars would now identify as economists. This was a point he made in July 2015 at the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) conference; one that led to a question being asked of the 200 or so academics who attended the AESOP AGM. Of those, less than a handful admitted to having a full training in economics. This has not always been the case, however, with many planning schools up until the 1970s offering a more balanced range of social and economic training. The question which was raised was therefore about whether we should we restore this balance.

Alex Lord and Simin Davoudi both presented passionate answers to this question. For Alex, one way to challenge those versions of economics which depend on a view of individuals as rational, calculative and self-interested actors is to demonstrate the contribution of alternatives such as behavioural economics (Lord et al, 2015). Simin, however, emphasised the narrowness of all economistic framings, their tendency to privilege axiomatic and reductionist conclusions and the fact that, all too often, government tends to seek instrumental, quantitative evidence once key policy decisions have already been made. Perhaps, then, it is more important that research challenges the values and ideological assumptions which underpin political decisions rather than being confined to a debate about which economic “answer” is the correct one.

I found myself being convinced by all three speakers, perhaps because there can be no clear-cut solution to this question. At the heart of these debates is a judgement about strategy in a context where, as Michael so rightly points out, academic research has been largely ejected from political decision making about planning issues. The idea of trying to re-enter decision making circles by acceding to economic framings of research is tempting for two reasons. The first is the suggestion that, by failing to do so, academics only offer one half of the possible response to neoliberal research and policy: by only challenging these at the level of their discursive construction and social effect we may fail to persuade those who are not amenable to qualitative arguments. Secondly, the issues raised by qualitative accounts may simply be seen as inescapable by those who believe there is no alternative to neoliberal economics. But these compelling arguments for more economic research in planning can be set against a reading of the changing nature of universities which warns of privatisation and of increasing pressure on academic research to be instrumental to the needs, and often the framings, of policy makers. By challenging policy makers “on their own turf” there is a risk of giving up the hard-fought institutional ground on which academic research agendas have traditionally been set….

[Read the rest of this post at Planners Network UK]