Urban Animation, WMUD, Dhu Rural and I have recently completed the Haddington town centre vision – a fascinating six month project which we believe offers a model for other town centres around the country to make the most of their assets, and get public, private and community sectors working together in a way which builds better places and empowered communities. Right on target for the direction that the Scottish Government’s community empowerment, community planning and land use planning agendas are all going, in fact.
The document is short, easy to read and colourful. Take a look (please reload the page if the document is not visible below):
Visualisations, like the below, show how Haddington’s High Street could be the best town square in Scotland. Areas for future action – including marketing, a community trust, fostering youth enterprise and transport – are clearly explained. A simple action plan maps out what needs to be done and by whom. The essence of the vision is that everyone can understand it.
Behind that vision lies much amount of graft by local stakeholders (particularly local community groups) and our team. Engagement with residents, business, groups, young people and the public sector was at the heart of the project. The visible output of the project may be the vision document and a suite of longer accompanying reports. But the invisible output was to build trust and relationships between the community and the local authority, to the extent that discussions are now well advanced on establishing a community development trust to implement the vision. That might sound like a bit of organisational bureaucracy, but it is in fact the crucial piece in the jigsaw for implementing the vision. And it represents a massive change from the stalled situation just a few months ago.
In other words, the collaborative process of creating the vision – of bringing people together and agreeing actions – was just as important as the document that was produced.
From my point of view as a planner, there is also the added value that the Council (which part-funded the project) is intending to use the vision to guide its future community planning and land use planning in Haddington, in a way that fits very closely with the government’s broader community empowerment and placemaking aspirations. That’s why I believe this relatively light touch model of collaborative-visioning-leading-to-action is such a good model for other town centres.
Credit for this success should go not to our consultant team, but to those members of local community groups who have volunteered their time and energy to drive this forward, backed up by senior Council members and officers. They know who they are. Without the leadership that each of these individuals have shown, Haddington would have not got this far – nor would the next phase of its town centre’s history have so much potential.