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Sanderson, L., Stone, SH., 2016.

Trouble in Happy Valley: The Documentation of a Research Through Design Collaborative Project between a Postgraduate Atelier at the Manchester School of Architecture and the Local Community of a Small Town.

Output Type:Conference paper
Presented at:EAAE ARCC
Dates:14/6/2016 - 18/6/2016

Neighbourhood planning is a highly controversial policy. It was part of the Localism Bill introduced by the British Government in 2011. The policy shifted the responsibility for the decisions about the size, shape and location of neighbourhood development from central to local government. Communities are now asked to decide upon the nature and character of their particular district and actively participate in decisions about future developments. In theory this should be a positive move and quite straightforward; the UK has a housing shortage and rather than a top-down imposition of new properties, the bill allows local people to decide upon their own development strategy. However, well-meaning residents who have little or no training in planning, or skills in urban and rural development are making decisions too quickly without sufficient consultation or knowledge. This means that residential developers have been able to buy up packages of land and develop areas of the greenbelt and other bits of countryside that had so far been unavailable to them. More appropriate brownfield sites are often overlooked in the need to act swiftly and decisively and developments are not always the ones that the community really needs.

Bollington, known locally as Happy Valley, is a small post-industrial town in Cheshire in the North West of England, just within commuter distance of Manchester. It is a town defined by its topography; with heroic remnants of the Industrial Revolution such as the canal and the railway, contrasting with a calmer and more picturesque local vernacular of cottage, terraces, garrets and greens. Despite the remnants and detritus of warehouses and factories, it is an attractive and desirable place to live. The town council has already approved a number of substantial new-home developments, despite the fact that their Neighbourhood Plan is not yet in place, indeed, the discussion has hardly even started.

Continuity in Architecture is a postgraduate atelier, which has been established at the Manchester School of Architecture for more than 20 years. The atelier runs programmes for the design of new buildings and public spaces within the existing urban environment. The emphasis is on the importance of place and the idea that design of architecture can be influenced by the experience and analysis of particular situations. This interpretation of place can provide a contemporary layer of built meaning within the continuity of the evolving town or city.

The Bollington Neighbourhood Planning committee approached Continuity in Architecture to jointly develop a plan for the town that would sustain the place for the foreseeable future, that would allow the town to grow without losing its inherent character and would facilitate a future for all of the residents, not just those who can afford to live there. This partnership will develop a masterplan for Bollington, it will identify areas that appropriate development can take place, propose designs for new buildings, suggest the redevelopment of existing structures and recommend areas for public space.