As a ward councillor, you are a community leader. You represent local people and can involve them in decision making. You can press the council to improve the quality of buildings and spaces.
An understanding of good design and planning will give you the confidence to challenge the information you’re given and ensure that your area gets the buildings and places it deserves.
What ward councillors can do
- Who is better placed than a ward councillor to know what local people want for their neighbourhood? Encourage community participation and help people understand how good design can help change things for the better. Be the link between the different tiers of local government and liaise with colleagues at county, district, town or parish level.
- Think about what makes your neighbourhood or town special and help to develop a vision for its future. Think about the wider imperatives for your community and where it sits in the wider geographical area.
- Support planning applications that feature good design and oppose applications that don’t. To do this you need to get to grips with the principles of good urban design and influence the council at different levels to get the best for your community when a new scheme is proposed. Ways to do this include:
- helping to ensure there is real public consultation by promoters of new projects and that they are not just paying lip service to the idea.
- using Building for Life criteria to ensure that all aspects of new housing are considered
- using CABE’s 10 key criteria for school design to help you assess school applications
- using the Department for Transport’s Manual for streets to assess road layouts in masterplans and residential areas
- finding out if there is an architecture centre in your area – they may run events or exhibitions on design
- Think small as well as big. High-quality places are not just about large new developments and big budgets. Consider how:
- improvements to the streetscape could make it more pedestrian friendly – find out how in the Manual for streets
- improvements to the grounds of the local school could make it a better place for staff and children
How do you know if a proposal is any good? Use our seven principles of good urban design to help.
Resources for ward councillors
The national standard for well-designed homes and neighbourhoods led by CABE and the Home Builders Federation.
CABE guide to delivering good design through core strategies. An accompanying film will help you plan for the future.
CABE website offering advice on how to tackle climate change through planning, designing and managing sustainable places.
Ward councillors in action
Jewish Community Secondary School, Barnet: the honest broker role
Ward councillor Robert Rams helped bridge the gap between local residents and the developers of a new school in the London Borough of Barnet.
The problem: The council wanted to consolidate East Barnet School on one site. It approached the promoters of the new Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoSS) with the idea of developing the site occupied by its upper school. It successfully persuaded the government to bring forward funding for the project. However, local residents were opposed to the idea of a bigger school on the site and opposition focused on planning requirements for a new access road running along the edge of a green belt area.
The response: Cllr Rams represented the views of local residents and spoke against the road but in favour of the school at the planning committee meeting. However, he was also able to act as an honest broker respected by both sides. He explained the concerns of the objectors to the developer and helped to influence the scheme in ways that would make it more acceptable to residents. He took up issues such as the exact route of the road, tree planting and community access. Planners told the committee that the school could not go ahead without the new road and that members had to balance the environmental impact against the social benefit of the new school.
The result: Planning permission was granted and Cllr Rams was instrumental in helping to build a continuing relationship between residents and the school ahead of opening in 2010. He became the local authority representative on the governing body.
Soham: getting a town behind change
Cllr Mark Duckworth, ward councillor for Soham South, was instrumental in developing a masterplan vision for the Cambridgeshire market town and winning public support for it.
The problem: Soham was a town that had been literally bypassed: by the main road between Newmarket and Ely that goes around it; by the railway line that goes through it without stopping; and by economic trends that left it a market town without a market and with a high street in decline. Yet it was also in a growth area with plans for an extra 1,100 homes by 2025. East Cambridgeshire District Council seemed too remote and unwilling to look at Soham as a town and the town council seemed too parochial to take the lead.
The response: Cllr Duckworth set out to win public support for a look at the whole town, one that built on its strengths of great architecture and period properties and the unique network of commons and green spaces within and around the town. He won support from officers and other members for a masterplan vision. He explains: ‘A masterplan could be construed as just a planning matter whereas vision speaks of getting people behind it. That gave people ownership – the town has their signature on it.’. The district council formed a Soham masterplan vision working party chaired by Cllr Derrick Becket, a planning committee member who had been to school in Soham and is a farmer in a nearby village.
The result: The masterplan is helping to establish Soham as a place with the potential to play a significant role in the sustainable growth of the wider district. Plans include a new eastern gateway with direct access to the town centre and a network of integrated green spaces that retain Soham’s links to its historic landscape setting. Talks are continuing with rail operators about re-opening a rail halt or station as part of the new gateway.