A quiet, leafy street of old-fashioned houses. It's autumn and there are brown leaves on the ground.

I had a conversation with a Canadian friend recently during which she told me that variations on the same building, clad in the same burnt orange and slate grey colour, were cropping up everywhere in her city. Which is odd, because there are loads in England too. ‘Nobody likes them,’ she said. ‘Nobody can even live in them. They’re just offices or luxury apartments. Why do they keep getting built?’ (Side note: if you’d told 14-year-old me that she and I would be talking passionately about cladding as we neared 30, I’d probably have rebelled a bit more in school.)

Planning has notoriously little trust with the general population. Frequent concerns include local residents not benefitting from permitted development (for example, flats that are far too expensive for locals to live in), as well as insufficient community involvement. Consultations that do take place are too often inaccessible and rely on documents rather than data, which increases the workload for both respondents and admins.

On the flip side, consulting organisations will tell you that NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) can be a big barrier to getting community approval for essential developments. Yeah, people need homes, but I’ve already got one with a nice view so can’t you put that block of flats somewhere else?

A birds-eye view of a typical modern suburban neighbourhood

There’s plenty of good work being done to try and counter both of these – one solution being developments that, y’know, actually look nice – and the momentum for making greener, more useful and more attractive neighbourhoods is growing on both sides of the coin. Just look at the UK government’s planning white paper.

Neighbourhood planning is one such method, in which communities work with urban planners to create better neighbourhoods. It’s a useful tool for trying to combat issues like gentrification and lack of green space. It’s been recognised as a legal process since 2011 but it’s been gaining a bit of traction recently. The aforementioned white paper talks about them a lot as a potential solution for lack of community buy-in for homebuilding.

One particular example I thought I’d talk about today is Brighton. Their planning team is very active on Citizen Space anyway, but this week two activities of theirs caught my eye.

Proposed Coldean neighbourhood area and forum

Brighton & Hove Council's 'Coldean neighbourhood forum' consultation overview page on Citizen Space

This consultation is about whether or not a Neighbourhood Forum should be implemented in the area of Coldean. If approved, the Neighbourhood Forum will be able to propose visions for the Coldean area’s future.

Kingsway to the Sea: Landscape and Public Realm Improvement

Brighton & Hove Councils 'Kingsway to the Sea public realm improvement' consultation on Citizen Space. Page shown is the introduction page which displays an image showing the area in question.

This project aims to update a stretch of public green space along the West Hove seafront and make it a space that better suits the needs of the community and public. West Hove Forum, a neighbourhood planning group, approached Brighton & Hove Council with a request to develop the area, which they’ve named Kingsway to the Sea. The resulting proposals were a collaboration between the Forum and the Council and are now open for public comment.

Neighbourhood planning alone might not be able to prevent the mysterious case of the multiplying orange-and-grey office blocks, and it’s not without its valid criticisms (neighbourhood planning group members tend to be of a particular demographic). But planning that involves two-way deliberative dialogue between councils and citizens is certainly a more inclusive and accountable way of working and I hope we’ll see more of it in the future.

To find out more about how Citizen Space can help your organisation, book a demo and we’ll walk you through it.

Add interactive mapping and geospatial capability to your place-based engagement with Citizen Space Geospatial. Read about how it’s transforming London Borough of Hounslow’s spatial engagement or go ahead and book a demo.