Streetscape and public realm

Working within a council you will be aware that they have the leading role in creating well-designed places that are prosperous and welcoming to the benefit of both businesses and residents. During post-COVID 19 recovery, the importance of this role becomes all the more apparent.


To achieve such well-designed places and make better use of the streetscape and public realm of town and city centres, it is important for services and departments work with each other. A joined-up approach will combine colleagues’ knowledge of the design principles, procedures, processes and partnerships required for successful placemaking.

Adding value

There is evidence from reports such as paved with gold by CABE that better streets result in higher market prices. Similarly, according to Historic England in its report on the changing face of the high street, at a time when people are increasingly looking for a leisure experience rather than simply a range of shops to visit, investing in the public realm and streetscape can be used to give town centres a potentially competitive advantage. The report includes numerous positive case studies with emerging key themes about the need for a new flexibility in helping to retain vibrancy alongside historic heritage.

Managing processes and partnerships        

In the joint LGA and Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association publication on the role of culture in placemaking, there is a strong emphasis on the processes and partnership working required for effective delivery. The report showcases a range of different approaches to placemaking that all share common ‘success factors’, including effective community engagement, strong partnerships, local champions; demonstrating success to unlock further funding opportunities. The publication showcases Margate as case study of how historic environment and character can play an integral role in the renewed success of a place.

Placemaking principles and procedures

Councils have an important role in placemaking though it is worth a reminder of the principles and processes of what is involved and how it brings together different disciplines across your council. Placemaking is the shaping of public spaces and buildings through community-based participation, planning, design, delivery and management.

Although a little dated, the universal design principles for placemaking as set-out in a CABE’s councillor’s guide to urban design are still useful and include: 

  • Character; responding to and reinforcing locally distinctive patterns of development and landscape
  • Continuity and enclosure; where public and private space are clearly distinguished
  • Quality of the public realm; public spaces and routes that are lively and pleasant to use
  • Ease of movement; easy to get to and move through
  • Legibility; a clear image and is easy to understand
  • Adaptability; a place that can change easily
  • Diversity; a place with variety and mixed uses

The guide also outlines the tools available to planning authorities to deliver high quality urban design including urban design frameworks that link higher level design principles and more detailed development briefs.

Creating healthy high streets

The community and cultural benefits of effective placemaking can be wide-ranging as evidenced by the recent Public Health England’s healthy high streets report that reviews the causal relationships between well-designed town centres and the health of local users. The report defines the characteristics of safe communal spaces that create healthier, safer and more cohesive communities.

The report’s recommendations include closer working between council and public health professionals in ensuring that urban design is inclusive for all in promoting health and facilitating walkability. Importantly, the report concludes that poor and disadvantaged communities are more likely to live in areas that have poor quality built environments, including local high streets and that this contributes to health inequalities.

Placemaking during recovery

Councils and place partnerships will have to put contingency measures in place to influence how people move around town while physical distancing restrictions remain in place. Such measures will need to enable safe pedestrian movement on pavements and shared use of roads as appropriate with increasing footfall. They will also need to work with local businesses to develop and apply guidance and systems for queuing that do not restrict other businesses or town centre users.

In managing public spaces, councils and place partnerships will need to ensure their continued, safe use. This may involve restrictions and guidance to avoid over-crowding on market places, parks and beaches, for example. They may also need to explore options for using public spaces as temporary outdoor restaurants/cafes/pub gardens including seating, cleansing and crowd management

The People & Places Partnership has published new guidance to assist councils, communities and business groups in re-opening town centres as part of the first steps to recovery post-COVID 19. This free, downloadable checklist for managing town centre streets and public spaces in 2020 aims to help councils, communities and business groups ensure the safe and enjoyable access to local town and city centres. The checklist draws-on the High Street Task Force’s 10-point checklist for COVID-19 recovery stages and Government guidance on safer public places published in May, 2020. The guidance can assist Councils in prioritising work eligible for the new Reopening High Streets Safely Fund also launched in May 2020. The Fund is seeks to help councils in England introduce a range of safety measures to assist in kick-starting local economies by getting customers back in to town centre businesses. The money is being paid to local authorities to allocate to towns within their area.

Case studies

Colchester

Post-COVID 19 lockdown, Colchester Borough Council faced reduced use of its long-stay car parks and pressure for increased pedestrian and cycle access to the town centre.

Case study: Park Active for Colchester

East Suffolk

As in many areas of the country, in summer 2020 East Suffolk Council faced the challenge of helping its town centres trade successfully and safely.

Case study: Reopening East Suffolk's towns

Kingston

Kingston Council has revitalised the town centre through projects celebrating its ancient market heritage including contemporary architecture and public realm that has created a beautiful space and has boosted market trading so that it generates an estimated £6million annually for the local economy.

Nuneaton

When Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council invested in comprehensive footfall and foot-flow monitoring as a measure of town centre vitality and viability, it was not aware of its usefulness in managing the local response to a global pandemic.

Case study: Tracking Nuneaton’s footfall through the COVID-19 pandemic

Oxford

To support businesses and protect jobs in the face of restrictions and some customer concerns, post-COVID 19 lockdown, Oxford City Council worked with Oxfordshire County Council as the highways authority, and with its hospitality sector to create an on-street outside tables & chairs offer. This successful approach, which has helped safeguard jobs and maintain the vitality of the city centre, has now been extended into the autumn and winter.

Case study: Oxford’s extended on-street hospitality offer

Royal Leamington Spa

The successful post-COVID 19 reopening of town and city centres requires the creative reimagining and promotion of safe and welcoming public spaces. Royal Leamington Spa is an example of a town taking such an approach, through a creative collaboration between Warwickshire County Council, Warwick District Council, Royal Leamington Spa Town Council and Leamington’s Business Improvement District (Leamington BID). This begins with temporary road layout changes backed by floral distance markers and butterfly ambassadors that respect the place brand and embrace community participation.

Case study: Say it with flowers: reopening Leamington Spa town centre

Selby

In summer 2020, Selby District Council faced the challenge of combining the immediate requirements for reopening Selby town centre as part of COVID 19 recovery planning, with delivering existing long-term priorities for revitalisation.

Case study: Reopening & revitalising Selby: a town centre checklist

Solihull

Like many local authorities across the country, one of the challenges facing Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council as part of its COVID-19 recovery planning, was adapting and advancing its existing commitment to developing its towns and local centres.

Case study: Solihull’s place leadership in a global crisis

Thanet

Thanet District Council’s Margate Old Town Heritage Initiative has helped to transform previously neglected buildings into attractive, desirable properties and improve the public realm as part of a wider action plan to promote investment.

Westminster

The challenges in reopening hospitality in Westminster are very similar to those faced by local authorities across the country. Here's how Westminster Council responded to these challenges in a coordinated way.

Case study: Reopening Westminster’s hospitality sector