Look! St Albans

St Albans

Your story

Facilitating collaborative planning so everyone can be proud of St Albans’ developments

Group introduction

Concern about the quality of the built environment can be dismissed by some as something for the middle classes to worry about. In reality, our environment has a huge impact on all of our lives, including importantly our health, our wellbeing and the prosperity of the whole community.

Look! St Albans is an inclusive community group that actively promotes community engagement on major developments in St Albans City Centre. We began in 2011 and our aim is for a collaborative approach to be taken so that developments are something that the community can be proud of, as well as being practical for developers’ interests. Look! St Albans remains impartial, expressing no opinions of its own, but facilitates the incorporation of all opinions through the charrette process and public meetings.

We are run by a volunteer committee and a ‘representatives group’ of local people, mostly representatives of residents associations or other voluntary local groups. Anyone living in the district can be an active part of Look! St Albans, whether formally or informally. During the year, a series of open sessions are held to discuss and debate how we develop. Our chair stays in active contact with wider developments in neighbourhood planning, and helps to promote Look! St Albans to local decision-makers.

Look! St Albans is concerned ultimately with the welfare of everyone who uses central St Albans. One barrier to quality design is that, typically, consultation takes place at the wrong stage of the process. The wider community is often ‘consulted’ on proposals that have already been formulated, thereby excluding them from the creative part of the process, when local knowledge and a diversity of skills could help realise designs that everyone can be proud of. The result is the familiar cycle of opposition campaigns, delays, compromises, wasted resources and a final outcome that misses its full potential for all parties.

The Look! St Albans’ charrette process is a collaborative event that engages planning professionals, developers and local people with independent expert facilitation in co-creating designs. It puts local engagement at the beginning and heart of the design process, and results in quicker, less acrimonious progressive developments that build community, improve overall health and wellbeing and leave a legacy for the future that we can all be proud of.

How would this funding have an impact on your community?

We have recently received a grant through the Hertfordshire County Council Locality Budget scheme for £900, our first significant piece of funding. A further grant from Skipton’s Grassroots programme would augment this grant, giving us the confidence and resources to plan ahead, and include many more local stakeholders than we have to date.

In late January 2012, with help from The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, Look! St Albans produced, via the charrette process, a first set of draft design codes. Our aim for the District Council to adopt stronger design principles that would be consulted when considering all applications for city centre developments. A Skipton Grassroots grant would help us to develop these through full engagement with our local community. This would have a lasting and fundamental impact on the wellbeing of local residents and visitors alike.

One option we have is to set up an Urban Room PLACE (PLACE stands for Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering) where professionals involved in development and local people can engage, discuss and debate how their city should develop. Urban Rooms are equipped with scale models of their area and put on speaker events and debates on a regular basis so that all residents with an interest can drop in and contribute. The more events and activities, the more the public can contribute to the creation of design codes that everyone accepts. This is critical to the evolution of a city of which future generations will be proud. The number of people to benefit will be countless. The work of Look! St Albans should have a positive impact on the 141,000 district residents, not to mention the 1.6m visitors received each year.

Funding will be used towards ensuring the impact of Look! St Albans reaches as far as possible. We will make use of inexpensive tools to increase our reach and impact, but we will could spend funds on pop-up or permanent sites for the Urban Room PLACE, catering for events there, any external speaker costs, as well as creating a scale City model and other visualisation materials.

It is also important for us to have funding to ensure that we can remain independent of any local stakeholder in the District that does fund activities in the capacity of a developer. We need to demonstrate our independence in active ways, and not being financially dependent on developers will enable us to do that, thus maintaining our impartiality and the confidence of all our community.

"“Many people want a genuine say in how their area develops and feel frustrated by the seeming complexities and lack of a real opportunities within the planning system.

Look! St Albans has found a way to cut through all that. As an ultimate Grassroots organisation, our approach ensures local people, working together, can make a positive contribution and have a real influence on their local environment. A Skipton Grassroots award will go a long way in realising this ambition.”

Vanessa Gregory Chair Look! St Albans"

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