After a really creative day yesterday we were keen to keep up the enthusiasm, interest and energy levels! People were keen to get their ideas out and the format for today was designed with this in mind and to allow people to explore their own ideas for the site.
At the same time people’s appetite for more information, evident throughout, should be satisfied on Day Three with an expert panel presenting on a wide range of topics including planning, health, education, heritage, open space and transport.
So what happened?
The day began with a review of the objectives for the Design Enquiry, in response to a question the previous evening. This underlined that the process was not about getting to a single solution or finished masterplan. There might be many different ideas and that’s fine. Equally if there is agreement on how best to respond to the challenges of the site that’s fine as well.
The issues of MEDS (Major existing developed site), a planning policy area within the Stockport Council part of the site, was raised again with people questioning whether these areas set key constraints for development on site. Our team’s response was that this is a planning policy which can be interpreted in different ways. It is possible to think about an option which restricts development within the MEDS. But there could also be another option which takes a more flexible approach to where development might go. There is then the question of what development happens on the Cheshire East part of the site. The group have different views on these issues. But one thing that was agreed on was that the site needs to be designed as a whole.
Mick Timpson then gave a presentation to the group on ‘The Magic and Mystery of Place Making’. This aimed to help attendees understand what makes a good place and the qualities that successful places exhibit, all of this through a series of his favourite paintings. This novel approach provided an inspiring and thought provoking talk. There was much which could be applied to the site including the need to create a sense of place and belonging. To create spaces where people feel at one with nature, where there is both distinctiveness and also belonging and where there is beauty, fun and a rich experience of place. Mick’s message was that a place-making approach is about much more than laying out houses or the architecture of buildings.
Following that brief flirtation with art history and high culture the discussion started to refocus on the site itself. And I provided some thoughts about both the scale of the site and the layers of thinking which need to be included in any site brief or masterplan. Clearly it’s a big site. So much so that at the same scale on a plan, two local villages Mottram St. Andrew and the core of Adlington are easily accommodated. Showing the group these superimposed plans, brought home the scale of the site and the opportunity. The village scale is one which the group is keeping in mind and has been a recurring theme so far. One attendee suggested we think about whether we are extending Woodford village, and maybe bringing new facilities and a village green? Or creating a new village altogether
I also described my own approach to designing sites of this scale, and how I try to think about different interlocking layers to development including the natural landscape, the connections to be established, the buildings and their arrangement and the activities that go on in a place. The dominant layer on this site, now and in the future is the landscape layer! Everyone seems agreed on that. But that was enough of us talking about design. At that point we handed over the felt pens to the group and got them designing for themselves.
The task was for attendees working individually to start to layout the site and to establish clear design ideas. We wanted cartoons of the site which set out the routes and connection – drawing using the black felt pen, the development areas – using the red pen, and the green spaces – you guessed it using the green pen. It was not long before people were asking for a blue pen as lakes; wetlands and the like began to be considered. At first the room was quite as people worked quietly deep in thought. Then the room came alive as people began to look at each other work and debate their ideas. So we have 40 different plans for the site. All were pinned up and reviewed as a group. I was struck by the quality of the thinking. All these plans will be pinned up on Saturday from 12-2pm. There were many creative leaps and I particularly liked the idea of retaining striking views towards the peaks and creating new wetland and water spaces.
Some people were concerned that we didn’t have sufficient information to start to design the site. But this concern way promptly addressed by a technical panel review covering a wide range of topics. This started with a view from the landowner BAE Systems design team. They made clear that generating a commercial return for the site is a priority; but that they do also value the legacy of the site and that they want to do a proper job and create a high quality place.
From education and health it was good to see the two Councils working together to present a clear agenda. A primary school is likely to be needed with major new residential development. In terms of health, the picture is not so clear cut with existing health centres having a key role to play. Healthy lifestyles and general wellbeing were also underlined as important. For example, places to play outside and to exercise and the ability to walk and cycle through the scheme, could all be supported by the design.
The landscape perspective was also set out and the need to work with existing ecology and habitats was underlined. The development could also create improved conditions for wildlife. As yet there have been no detailed surveys and this will be addressed going forward by the landowner.
Heritage and the special history of the site were also described. Whilst none of the buildings on the site are architecturally valuable or protected by listings the original AVRO hanger and heritage centre were described as being important. There will also need to be orientation and a way of telling the storey of the site even if buildings and the runway are removed.
The transport position was also described by the land owners design team and whilst there is no traffic modelling available yet the key principle is that there should be no increase in peak hour traffic (based on when the site was fully active) without investment in new or improved infrastructure.
The need for sustainable development was underline in both the planning and regeneration presentations. The site has a development future and that was not in question. The nature, scale and type of development, needs to be explored and this will include a requirement for affordable housing for local people. It was noted that this is a major inward investment opportunity and that the involvement of local people in the Design Enquiry reflects the Governments Localism agenda and the Councils will take the outcomes of this very seriously.
OK… so another intensive day with a lot of ground covered. We have lots more information and the basics of the planning and infrastructure requirements. We have 40 different site designs and lots of great ideas. And the intention on Thursday is to take all of this work on to the next stage.