20 June 2019

Benoy, Holmes Wood and Uncommon Land host round table discussion with Mark Prisk MP: The evolution of mixed-use town centres and residential in creating place

Tom Cartledge, CEO of Handley House, invited leading figures from across the property world including developers, land agents, business owners and thought leaders, to reflect on the future of the high street; specifically the challenges around the evolution of mixed-use town centres and the role of residential in creating place. You can read an overview of the key points of the discussion below:

What is the future for high streets/​town centres? How can previously successful locations re-invent themselves? How can existing communities be strengthened whilst still being attractive to outsiders?

Key issues:

-The regulatory environment

-Recognising the cost burden: bricks and mortar versus online retail

-Dealing with fragmented governance – no clear ownership of the agenda

Ultimately government cannot will the change, it can only create the opportunities for others to deliver change. You need to create the benign environment for placemaking to happen, ‘ Mark Prisk MP

What is placemaking?

Placemaking is about creating places where people want to go, where they actively choose to go and be. These spaces must be accessible, convenient and encourage activity and meaningful connection.

How do you do it successfully?

Successful placemaking must be a collaborative process and should be informed by a multidisciplinary stakeholder group including community leaders, business leaders, surveyors, planners and architects amongst others. Denmark do this well via a tradition of community charettes;’ an intensive, collaborative process that brings together, community members and professionals to develop innovative solutions for complex issues. 

There needs to be strong civic leadership on the ground which gives people confidence and brings everyone (community and private sector) together on the journey.

What does good placemaking look like? 

-Places should be easily accessible.

-They should feel welcoming with a relaxed atmosphere and be somewhere people feel safe.

-They should encourage people to be active – space where people come together to take part in activities.

Successful placemaking is about putting people first – providing environments for intergenerational living where people can come together in meaningful ways. It’s also about creating the means for local people to drive this sense of place. Communities with a strong brand’ will be more cohesive and more attractive to those who might be looking to join in the future.

Above all, creating a sense of community is critical; it will help provide a feeling of safety, reduce crime and ensure better long-term sustainability and integration. 

Design for successful placemaking

Should we ultimately be aiming for town centres which are focussed wholly on walkability and are free of cars? How can we encourage more people to live in towns? Have our town centres become too similar and formulaic — how can we create environments which attract entrepreneurs/​a start-up culture, which in turn will help restore energy and interest to town centres and high streets? 

Sustainability and respect for heritage are also key. Parks and green spaces encourage meaningful interaction. 

Housing complexes which encourage casual interaction through their design can help integrate less mobile members of communities. 

Developers need to take a more holistic view and move away from simply creating assets.

Regulation and government policy

Is government/​local authority agenda too fixated on economic/​fiscal value when thinking about town centre regeneration? Criteria for recent town centre renewal funds’ has skewed thinking and outcomes towards short-term gain. 

Funding should be much more focussed on the longterm and ideally offered in 3 – 5 year cycles. This would allow for true innovation/​transformation in terms of infrastructure planning/​design.

Residential density is the key to town centre success – there needs to be more flexibility around planning and definition of use. Traditionally planning regulation has centred on zones – we need to shift away from this, useage’ is increasingly less relevant. 

Every town should take ownership of their Town Plan.’ This would make planning decisions much easier and less antagonistic, with people already informed and aligned with the wider agenda. Do enough people know about the existence of town plans?

Work with Benoy

We offer global expertise in placemaking and masterplanning — our Victoria Square project in Woking is just one example where our design thinking is contributing to a wider regeneration of the town. Read more here.


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Mark Prisk MP event
Mark Prisk MP
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