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Six distinctive features

The process is all about delivery – so it uses a creative and visual approach which engages everyone, but is highly selective when it comes to project scope and outcomes.

Cleveleys New Wave sea defences and promenade (2004-2008)

Cleveleys New Wave sea defences and promenade (2004-2008): Addressing environmental and economic challenges through an inclusive and creative process. Designed by Birse Coastal.
© Faber Maunsell

There are a number of defining characteristics of the new large scale design approach which make it distinctive from masterplanning, local development frameworks or recent English regional and sub-regional planning.

1. It is selective in its interests

A project based on this new approach begins with a specific problem and focuses on providing answers to that problem. Restricting the remit to issues that are of genuine cross boundary importance for a natural economic area, and cannot be tackled at any other spatial level, keeps the approach effective and efficient. This selectiveness applies not only to the scope of the project but also to its outcomes -a limited set of strategic themes and projects.

2. It is spatially led, three-dimensional and visually rich

The new approach goes beyond land use planning – which is generally two dimensional – and deals with the physical characteristics of a place in all its complexity and in three dimensions (hence the use of urban design in the label). It results in proposals for specific projects and sites. Even though the final product – a spatial strategy – may show these proposals in a diagrammatic way, the process grounds them in the physical context of a place. Detailed examination of specific issues and proposals may be necessary to ensure viability of the strategic concept. The results are highly visual, synthesising complex ideas in a way which communicates to a full range of people.

3. It takes an integrated approach to analysis and design

Improving the quality of ordinary places is as important as new landmark places and spaces. The new approach considers how the physical, economic, environmental, social and cultural aspects of a place all contribute to its success, and how its natural assets can be protected and capitalised on. It integrates analysis and proposals, across all boundaries and defines an overall vision. This is achieved by translating strategic themes or options into a set of manageable projects.

4. It is an engaging and inclusive process

At the heart of large scale urban design is a creative process which actively engages everyone. It is compressed into a number of workshops where key players  come together, assisted by an expert team, to scope the work, input data, prioritise areas or themes, consider scenarios, draw up preferred proposals and projects and finalise plans for delivery.

5. It is focused on delivery

An integral part of the approach is developing an implementation plan that sets out a programme of what to do now, with the future in mind. By providing a clear policy and delivery framework, it stabilises, coordinates and directs development activity and, in areas with low values and little or no developer interest, creates more attractive conditions for developers and investors. It makes clear to key partners their part in funding, investment, the provision of land, public services and infrastructure.

6. It is flexible

Implementing a large scale strategy takes a long time and the context may change, sometimes radically. The new approach accommodates new data being included, and proposals being re-tested and revised. While being capable of providing flexibility and change, the process and its outputs provide nonetheless enough guidance and detail to ensure quality of the final projects, and effective decision making and delivery.

Example of the features

Next: The outputs from large scale urban design