22 Nov 2011 – Writing Local Streetscape Guidance

Louise Duggan (Previously led on street design at CABE)

Nick O’Donnell (Assistant Director, Transport & Planning, LB Ealing)

Liz Kessler (New Deal for Communities EC1)

Valerie Beirne (Bankside Urban Forest)

Summary Report

Delivering effective streetscape guidance requires a context sensitive design and implementation approach at both a strategic and detailed level.  This practical session focused on how local priorities and skills can be used to develop guidance which aligns planning policies and regeneration strategies, to design streets appropriately.  

Louise Duggan opened the event and emphasised the importance of working in partnership with businesses, politicians and the wider community to deliver a clear plan for integrating streetscape interventions.  This approach has been seen in the City of London, where private funding has been leveraged to create multiple funding streams for ‘street scene challenge’ projects.  Establishing a strong vision and clear set of principles, identifying the key characteristics of an area and categorising the streets according to character, place and movement function, are essential steps in generating design briefs for a particular locality. A strategic context and criteria based specification are necessary however, for the successful implementation of projects which deliver the wider vision for an area. During the draft preparation of guidance documents, it is important to consult stakeholders and agree on the way forward, working in partnership to phase and review streetscape projects as they progress.

A number of streetscape manuals were available for review and a discussion ensued regarding how well these documents present a strategic plan and clear set of design principles.  The following conclusions were observed for each of the manuals from the 6 selected London Boroughs (no criticism intended):

City of London – The streetscape manual links well with the community strategy and the document is concise.  Area based details are provided and a clear strategy highlights key principles.  There is a lack of technical specificity, although some details are covered with unnecessary depth.  Furthermore the document is missing safety related guidance notes.

Bromley – It was noted that there is too much writing on specification details and a lack of strategic policy.  Without a clear vision it was difficult to understand what the manual is looking to achieve and there is little mention of where and why to use the specific materials mentioned.  The manual is clearly presented, however there is no context or design thought provided.

Westminster – A decision matrix is provided in the appendices to assist in prioritising strategic issues.  It was noted that the manual is not dissimilar to Ealing, however there is no mention of costings or a system of reviewing the document.  There is also a poor balance of details; for example too much dedicated to tactile paving.    

Richmond – This manual appears to be designed for actions at the scheme level, with a clear list of ‘procedures’ and ‘ingredients’.  It assumes that other documents cover the strategic framework.  There was also some confusion regarding the ‘simple’ (e.g. floorscape) and ‘complex’ (e.g. riverscape) ingredients, and that the guidance appeared to be more of a character assessment.  It was good to see that costings were given in this case.

Haringey – The guide was considered a ‘missed opportunity’ as it is largely engineer based and acts as a specification catalogue.  There is no clear vision set out in the document and it appears to lie in between strategic and detailed, without committing to either. 

Hereford – The Hereford example was considered to offer a good, succinct set of principles.  Its visual style was commended, although some delegates were concerned that it was like a brochure with no relation between national guidance and details.  It was viewed as a ‘snapshot in time’ and was misleading in describing itself as ‘strategic’.

The results of the discussion suggest that few existing streetscape manuals successfully incorporate both a strategic and detailed aspect; they often focus just on one scale, or lie somewhere in between the two.  Nick O’Donnell of LB Ealing presented an approach to deliver streetscape guidance which seeks to overcome this problem by following a top-down process of implementation.  The significance of ensuring corporate acceptance was reiterated, and it was noted that the manual needs to remain a ‘living document,’ receiving regular review.  Establishing a clear series of principles, incorporating: character, activity, quality, simplicity, longevity, inspiration, deliverability and governance, enables a comprehensive strategy to be developed and provides a common approach for implementation.

Case studies were then used to look at recent streetscape strategies in London and Liz Kessler introduced the EC1 New Deal for Communities (NDC) public space strategy.  This area of Central London was designated an NDC in 2001 and a public realm strategy was developed to provide a holistic approach.  By 2004 a clear strategic vision had been developed, working in partnership to create safer neighbourhoods through projects such as Old Street’s ‘Promenade of Light’ and streetscape improvements at Whitecross Street.  Valerie Beirne of Bankside Urban Forest presented the Business Improvement District strategy for the South Bank and showed that keeping funding streams diverse helps to achieve goals.  Coordinated development can help to link communities and a good streetscape manual can provide a valuable tool for ensuring that collaboration is embedded in the strategic design and regeneration of a place.