Getting the right ideas in Place

Simon Neilson, president of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), outlines the focus of this year’s conference and discusses some of the great work the association’s members have been recognised for.

The ADEPT 2017 Annual Conference ‘First for place, fit for the future’ on 23 and 24 November at the Radisson Blu, Manchester Airport brings together place directors, corporate partners, local enterprise partnership members and delegates drawn from the civil service and professional agencies across the country.

We will discuss the changing political and economic landscape and how investment in place is intrinsic to building a successful post-Brexit future. Our speakers come from key national agencies including Adam Cooper, director of the National Infrastructure Commission, and Marcus Stewart from the National Grid.

This year we are fortunate to have a rich variety of guests who will provide insight and analysis into some of today’s most pressing issues, including Andrea Lee from Client Earth on air quality and Nabil Abou-Rahme, Mott MacDonald’s head of smart infrastructure.

We will examine many key aspects of place – the challenges of delivering a sustainable future including ‘energy smart‘ places, infrastructure investment and our ambitions for a better environment. We will be looking at how local government can harness the power of big data and digital innovation and tackle the crucial issues of air pollution and housing.

As well as debating the future, we will be looking at the present – how to build on the industrial strategy, how to get emergency planning right, particularly in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, and how devolution is developing in key areas of the country.

Conference is also a time where we come together to share best practice and to celebrate the work and successes of ADEPT members, particularly through the President’s Special Recognition Awards.

Launched in 2015, the awards recognise the work of ADEPT members in three key categories: ‘Long Term Funding to Prevent, Prepare and Respond’, ‘Meaningful Devolution for all Communities Across the UK’ and ‘Powers to Plan and Grow Successful Communities’.

Recent award winners perfectly illustrate the critical importance of partnership for local authorities in achieving successful outcomes, whether with the private sector, the Government or local communities.

The Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme Phase One (pictured), led by Leeds City Council in partnership with the Environment Agency, Arup and BMM JV, was the 2017 winner in the ‘Long Term Funding to Prevent, Prepare and Respond’ category.

One of the largest flood defence projects in the country, the £50m scheme will reduce the risk of flooding and its severe economic and physical consequences, while encouraging investment and supporting wider infrastructure.

In the first phase, flood risk was reduced for 3,500 properties, key access routes and over three hundred acres of land, as well as telecommunications and electricity sub stations. In addition, it has created 150 jobs and is anticipated to safeguard a further 22,000 over the next 10 years.

The work has included the replacement of two fixed Victorian weirs with new movable weirs – a pioneering technology that has enabled a reduction in the height of surrounding walls, maintaining both a physical and visual connection with the waterfront and an enhanced environment for the community.

This is the first time this technology has been used in the UK and the innovation has attracted a great deal of national and international interest.

The supporting earthworks involved the removal of a man-made island that separated the river and the canal. Some of the 180,000 tonnes of material that was excavated has been reused in a diversion of the Trans Pennine Trail used by horse riders, cyclists and walkers. This diverted element includes a new bridge over one of the weirs, creating a new gateway into Leeds and a series of ecological enrichments that have led to the return of salmon after 200 years.

Flood management was also the winning scheme for the ‘Meaningful Devolution for all Communities Across the UK’ category. The winner was West Sussex County Council’s Operation Watershed Active Community Fund. Again this was a partnership, in this case between the council, Balfour Beatty Living Places, the Environment Agency and local flood action groups.

Created in 2013, the Operation Watershed Active Community Fund was set up to support and empower community groups to identify local need and co-design solutions to reduce flood risk, develop resilience and embed planning. Over £3m has been distributed to 23 flood action groups enabling them to have ownership of project delivery and contract services for themselves.

Over 166 parish chairs were contacted, with many parish councils working in partnership with flood action groups to unlock other sources of public funding, rebuilding knowledge of local drainage networks and raising awareness of the importance of continued maintenance.

Many of the groups have focused on raising awareness and collecting invaluable data, recording and assessing local drainage network conditions and working with land and property owners. They contribute to the ongoing development of live water management strategies working alongside highways officers and helping to improve local community engagement processes.

The winner in the final category, ‘Powers to Plan and Grow Successful Communities’ was Fastershire, the joint Herefordshire Council and Gloucestershire County Council broadband project. Fastershire began as a pilot bid project for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the Government’s superfast broadband scheme.

When BDUK agreed to fund 50% of the deployment, Fastershire was able to invest significantly in digital inclusion through a series of schemes supporting the community in developing and improving their digital skills. FasterWomen, FasterFarmers, FasterSchools, FasterCommunities and FasterBusiness were all part of this strand of work.

Fastershire developed a network of broadband champions who have worked within their own communities encouraging uptake, raising awareness and communicating with local residents. They have also been an invaluable source of feedback as roll-out progressed.

The figures at submission included more than 400 women attending courses, 250 businesses taking advantage of advice sessions and over 400 residents taking part in community sessions.

FasterFarmers worked with over 150 local farmers. Reaching into rural areas and busy communities is no easy feat and this represents a significant achievement for Fastershire.

All the schemes that submitted entries to the awards would have been worthy winners and all are strong examples of what local authorities can achieve when given the tools and autonomy to get on with the job. ADEPT is in a unique position, working between national government and local communities and the private sector. Our relationships with our corporate partners are pivotal in driving both innovation and increased efficiency.

As part of this year’s conference theme of making places fit for the future, we will also be presenting our report, Digital innovation: the route to the highways systems of the future, an examination of how we can begin to bring digital innovation to the wider road network controlled by local authorities.

Place is the backbone to our economic prosperity and for me, place shaping is the science and art of building better communities. To do it successfully we need certainty, investment and a willingness to innovate. It is vital, particularly in the midst of such considerable uncertainty for the country, that we continue to make the case for place, securing long-term investment that makes a real difference to the places we live and work.

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