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The place-based approach to infrastructure

Above: energy and infrastructure discussion at RPC at Tower Bridge House

At Future Cities Forum's 'Infrastructure, construction and energy' event last week, we discussed the role of the place-based approach and how the UK could and should use data to manage energy demand. Alister Kratt joined the discussion (alongside leaders from the IPA, National Grid ESO and EDF Renewables) to talk about the importance of design and regional connectivity .

Alister is an Infrastructure Director at LDA Design and National Infrastructure Commission design group member, who was involved in the expansion of Felixstowe port, as well as twenty development consent orders (DCO) involving major infrastructure. He commented:

'We are about to release a document on place-based design principles. This comes on the back of the National Infrastructure Assessment 2 published earlier this year. I think my life's mission, especially over the last ten years, has been to try and prompt a much wider awareness of spatial outcomes as in the past design thinking has often been focussed on the quality of design outcome of the product but not necessarily the process.

'The challenge with this wider spatial debate which is critical for place-based outcomes, is that local communities need to be better understood. The power of national planning policy statements is really important to stabilise the need case. so we don't get back to a situation like the Port of Southampton 20 years ago which prompted the DCO regime and where there were debates on the 'needs' cases for years. These 'needs' cases are clear in relation to energy, the Grid and so on.

'However, there is some behavioural change we need to sort out in relation to place-based outcomes and this means engagement with communities. As far as energy infrastructure is concerned most of the projects are privately funded with each project standing on its own two feet, so you tend not to get collaboration on pulling everything together so that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. National Grid and the new 'energy system operator' acronym (NESO) has a role to play in how those things are aggregated. As a design group - and we managed to get two to three pages into the assessment related to place planning - we thought long and hard about how this could engage with current government government policy but also for a cross party format. The idea is to encourage local communities to come together to operate like a form of regional planning base. This has now been taken forward by the spatial planning taskforce.

'The idea of place plans is to establish from a bottom-up basis, what is coming over the hill and how a community and those planning organisations co-ordinate and capture some of the value of the infrastructure project at a regional and sub-regional level. Some of the real challenges that Leicestershire and Suffolk are experiencing at the moment, are on energy generation in particular. Lincolnshire has 15 DCOs on solar coming in. That local authority is very stretched on what to do and to deal with scale of change.

'The idea behind place-planning is to understand what communities need to know - be a well-informed community, get on the front foot, have information at scale, prepare for change, accepting that change is coming. One of the biggest challenges at the moment in the planning system with all the increase in judicial reviews, is really about communities not feeling that they are being steamrollered. It's about making sure that these communities are being understood - socially. economically, from a place perspective -and you can plan infrastructure change appropriately. The design writ large is about a process you go through to deliver change which is contextually appropriate, and the visible manifestation of that should be as well planned and beautiful as possible.

'One of the big drivers for the LDA Design infrastructure group is that we will only work on projects where clients commit to positive a society. As a country we should be proud of what we are doing, but there are certain areas where we fall down, and often this is in the joined-up thinking.

Future Cities Forum would like to thank Alister for his valuable contribution to the discussion.


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