Old Market Quarter Neighbourhood Plan: a case study about neighbourhood planning and regeneration
Old Market Quarter is located close to the centre of Bristol and to the main railway station. But it’s tucked away and cut off by a major ring road, which has led to a feeling that the area has been “forgotten”. The area is very mixed both in terms of buildings (industrial buildings, social housing and the second highest proportion of listed buildings in the city) and people (a diverse community, of all ages and quite transient in nature). Old Market Street is the widest street in the city, with one of the last areas of low density housing in the city. You can find out more about Old Market Quarter on these websites: Old Market Quarter Future and Old Market Bristol.
Why a neighbourhood plan?
In 2009 ago a community group was formed to protect and enhance Old Market Quarter, hoping to raise its profile and gain greater influence over its future – something which had been hard to achieve without a community voice. When the new neighbourhood planning legislation came in, it offered an opportunity to influence the area in planning terms.
The vision is for a neighbourhood plan (pdf) which plans improvements to the area up to 2026 and beyond, raises the profile of the area and helps the community understand that by coming together they can achieve something. In fact, the work done already on the plan has helped raise Old Market Quarter’s profile: as the first group in Bristol (and not a Front Runner) to get this far they have attracted developers’ attention and are getting much more input from them than previously. For example, at a recent meeting with a developer preparing an application for a major site, the developer showed how they were looking to deliver in their application what the neighbourhood plan wants.
What’s the history of regeneration initiatives in the area, and how is a neighbourhood plan different?
“Old Market” used to be the old London Road and once was the main shopping street in Bristol. It received some damage during WW2, but not significant amounts; in fact, the biggest impact felt in the twentieth century was the construction of the ring road (which cut off the old shopping area from the new), and the demolition that took place in the 1960s-1970s.
In the late 1970s it was designated a Conservation Area and during the 1980s there were several local authority-run regeneration initiatives, as well as improvements funded by English Heritage. The area declined after the 1980s with a poor retail offer, boarded up shops and increased traffic flow all having an impact on its vitality.
The fact that neighbourhood planning is done by the community was appealing. The lack of community engagement in previous regeneration initiatives had concerned the community, who welcomed the concept of something that was not imposed from outside. Old Market Quarter includes a number of development sites which will contribute to the delivery of the key aims of the Neighbourhood Plan and section 7.3.5 of the plan sets out site specific policies and principles. This means that the community has set out a number of principles of development for sites, and developers will be expected to demonstrate that they have considered these principles when submitting a planning application for those sites.
The Old Market Quarter neighbourhood plan has attracted interest from Bristol’s Mayor and Deputy Mayor, so is raising the area’s profile. Also, having determined community priorities through the neighbourhood planning process, the plan has been used as a springboard to deal with other issues. For example, some the people involved in producing the plan are continuing their work to improve the area by moving on to a new challenge: pushing for changes to the traffic system. They bid for £40k from the council to put together a strategic road design for the area which will aim to rebalance the street. This project, like the neighbourhood plan, presents an opportunity to bring significant, positive change to the local community.
Challenges and how these have been faced
An area that faces planning issues like Old Market Quarter’s is just the sort of area that should be doing a neighbourhood plan. But there are some challenges that these areas may face. The transient community in Old Market Quarter is an example of this, as it makes engagement harder. People who are not necessarily planning on staying in an area long term are likely to be interested in seeing instant results, and this is difficult with a neighbourhood plan which is about planning over a period into the future.
Old Market Quarter found that their Neighbourhood Planning Forum meetings had variable attendance, often fewer than 20 people, which was demoralising for those involved, who felt like a handful of people were trying to keep the plan on track. They also found that neighbourhood planning-specific events or meetings didn’t attract people. For example, for the six week consultation stage meeting, despite sending many emails and producing 2,000 leaflets only about 17 people turned up.
What they did to overcome this, which worked extremely well, was take the neighbourhood plan out to the local community using a “Wish Cart”. Bright, eye catching and mobile, the Wish Cart travelled to local meetings, events, schools and anywhere people might be, complete with a stack of cards for people to record their ideas and suggestions on. It acted as a focal point and attracted attention in a way a meeting or leaflet never could. In fact, with the work almost done on Old Market Quarter’s neighbourhood plan, the Wish Cart has moved on to be used by another neighbourhood planning group in the same way.
Neighbourhood planning can feel like a long process, so the group would advise others to keep motivated and take up support where this is available: they found the direct support they received very valuable because it really clarified what they needed to do and when. They would also advise groups to get as much help as possible with structuring and writing the plan from people with technical knowledge who understand the planning system, as it can be daunting for a group to tackle this on their own.
- The Old Market Quarter plan’s vision includes for the area to be “An attractive mix of shops, cafés, bars, offices, arts and community facilities along Old Market and West Street will ensure that the area is well known as a great place to live, work and visit. The plan will help to promote a balanced and diverse community with a mix of housing types for people at all stages of their lives.” If your community has a vision for the future regeneration of its area, and changes they would like to see, it’s important to set them out clearly in the relevant section of your neighbourhood plan.
- Think about how your plan might link to other initiatives that are ongoing or are planned for your area. A holistic approach to regeneration often involves linking different initiatives, organisations and community groups together so that they can achieve long term change. For example, one aim of the Old Market Quarter plan is to improve the health of the population building on the recent Health Impact Assessment and Health and Wellbeing Strategy by promoting better use of “dead” green space, identifying a site for supermarket to promote access to fresh food etc (see section 6.5 of the plan).
- If your area has historic buildings (especially if some are at risk or falling into disrepair) think about how your plan could influence them being brought back into use not just to enhance the appearance of the area but also to provide the facilities, employment opportunities or housing your area may need (see section 7.2 of the plan).
- Think about what will work for your area: if, like Old Market Quarter, your area is a diverse, urban area with no community centre, you’ll need to make contact with people in places where they already go. Be careful with some of the more traditional methods of getting people involved, such as leaflets, as they may end up in the recycling bin!
- Be aware that neighbourhood planning is a long term process, and be prepared to discuss with local people the benefits and opportunities it offers on an ongoing basis. They may not see the benefits immediately, so keep them updated and informed, and answer queries they may have. If your community is transient, this is something you’re likely to need to do repeatedly.
Many thanks to Paul Bradburn, Old Market Quarter Neighbourhood Planning Forum, for his help with this case study. These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.
Photo credits© All photos are copyright Old Market Quarter Neighbourhood Planning Forum