TransForm Places

Social Return on Investment (SROI)

November 25, 2011admintewkesbury

Design Council: Building and Grounding an SROI methodology

The original idea for this project arose due to the emerging need to demonstrate value to Government Departments and others, and the desire to focus on what creates this value in order to inform strategy and development at organisational and project levels.

  • The aim of the project is to create value for both internal knowledge and external profiling
  • By strengthening internal thinking and knowledge on:
  • The nature of the impact created by Design Council activities, and for whom it is created
  • What drives this impact and how impact can be maximised
  • How by demonstrating impact with a strengthened set of arguments there is potential to access additional income streams
  • By modelling collaborative behaviours in project development and evaluation that can lead to more effective working
  • By raising the organisation’s external profile which in turn could positively affect:
  • Funding and Partner and stakeholder engagement with this form of analysis increasingly being sought after by Government Departments

Overall the project is designed to drive cultural change towards embedding evaluation and measurement considerations as a core part of Design Council activity.

The Site

November 25, 2011admintewkesbury

The Spring Gardens / Bishops Walk site sits adjacent to Tewkesbury High Street and has the potential to be redeveloped for uses that not only regenerate the immediate area but that can bolster the existing economy.

Below is a photo study of the site, showing the various conditions that exist and the potential for improvement.

Site Plan Download

About the Project

November 25, 2011admintewkesbury

In 2010 Tewkesbury Borough Council (TBC) was successful in gaining funding from the ‘Spatial Thinking’ theme of Rural Masterplanning Fund (RMF) for consultation on its ongoing masterplanning programme for the town. This series of events identified the importance of empowering local initiatives and community groups in the delivery of the masterplan. It also concluded that an early-win community project would maintain the momentum generated during the very successful stakeholder and community engagement process.

Building on this success, TransForm Places with TBC selected the Spring Gardens/Bishop’s Walk site as a key opportunity for the regeneration of the town centre and applied to the Design Council CABE (DCC) Neighbourhood Projects fund for support. 130 applications were made and we were one of only 7 who were initially awarded funding. We received the maximum of £7000. The budget and timescales are tight but there is an important opportunity over the next 4 months to engage with Community Engagement Advisory Group (CEAG) to set out a clear design and regeneration vision for the site.
Various ideas have already been ‘voiced’ through a visioning exercise but a more comprehensive design and consultation process now needs be undertaken, within the context set by the bigger master plan process for regenerating the whole of Tewkesbury.

The programme:

  • This runs until mid- March 2012
  • November: Workshop 1 – SWOT analysis and aspirations
  • December: Study visit to a comparable town centre to see what has happened elsewhere
  • January: Real or ‘virtual’ workshop to identify design vision and ‘quality criteria’ for developing the site
  • March: Design and development brief
  • April: Submission of final report to DCC

The anticipated outcomes from the process will be:

  • A design and development brief for the site
  • Community design aspirations embedded in the eventual solutions for the area
  • Community engagement with the design principles of better place making
  • January: Real or ‘virtual’ workshop to identify design vision and ‘quality criteria’ for developing the site
  • Raised awareness of the significance of the regeneration and quality of the town centre environment as a whole and how this will benefit local residential neighbourhoods


November 25, 2011admintewkesbury

A StickyRoom provides a secure online space where you can invite colleagues, clients or customers to discuss work with you using virtual sticky notes placed in context, either on or next to the work. The basic StickyRoom is organised by combining the basic three components of collaboration: the people, the work they make, and the discussions and comments about their work, i.e. notes

This is reduced to a simple interface combining an interactive gallery which offers everyone an experience of easily viewing and participating within the room. We plan to use this technology to make sure that everyone has the chance to participate in the consultation process.

Portishead Signal Experiment

November 2, 2011adminOpinion

This video is brilliant, isn’t it? The plan: turn off traffic lights, see what happens. The results? Well, watch the video and see what you think.

Density and Connectivity

October 24, 2011adminOpinion

I want you to spend some time looking at the graph below:

It shows the relationship between patterns of development and fuel use. Unsurprisingly, compact places like Hong Kong have a far lower per capita consumption than places that sprawl, such as cities in the USA. London sits in the ‘sweet spot’, just at the point before exponential growth in consumption takes off.

Now lets look at some data on CO2:

The correlation between car use, fuel consumption and CO2 is pretty clear (although other factors skew it a bit). Density has a strong role to play in reducing emissions, and it does this mainly through reducing the need to travel. Yet there is strong resistance to making places more dense. 30 dph seems to be about all people are willing to accept and this is laying the groundwork for all kinds of future issues.

Next, lets look at connectivity. Research by Saelen et al (2004) concludes ‘that residents from communities with higher density, greater connectivity, and more land use mix report higher rates of walking/cycling for utilitarian purposes than low-density, poorly connected, and single land use neighborhoods’. There is a wealth of research that shows the importance of the urban environment to health, and it is no surprise that better connected places are more walkable.

Connected, populated places offer the best chance of supporting a mix of uses as well as buses and other services, and we need a shift away from fearing density if we are going to deliver sustainable development on the ground.

The evidence for quality

October 5, 2011adminOpinion

Urban Design as a science is a bit of a mixed bag. Intervention studies are always going to be compromised unless anyone can come up with a ‘control’ Earth. What we are left with needs to be viewed in the context of its limitations but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know what ‘works’ and what doesn’t. This post isn’t meant to be a science lecture but that isn’t going to stop me doing a bit of lecturing anyway. Just because we don’t have perfect information doesn’t mean that we don’t have enough information to act (are you listening climate change deniers?), and I think the results of an imperfect study can still tell us things that are useful. Remember that as you read on…

What follows is an attempt to move at a canter through the evidence for why making quality places matters, and no doubt misses out loads of good stuff in the process.

People respond better to interventions when they are supported by good evidence. But some of our most pervasive and (ahem) best-loved placemaking policy has been lacking in this department (step forward DB32…). Manual for Streets bases its guidance on good data from the UK and abroad and you can read more about it here:

The file you want is quite big, but it is worth reading if you care about the impact streets have on the quality of places because it will support your position or challenge your prejudices depending on your starting point. The researchers for TRL conducted a review of the literature for the background evidence on Manual for Streets, and found little evidence to support the design policies in DB32. More work has been done for MfS2, this time by TMS, and you can read that here:

If you want to frame the quality places arguments in economic terms, then we highly recommend you read this: OK, so its main focus is on walking, but it covers health impacts along with other extra costs of designing places that are car dominated. Taken together with the MfS research, you can start to build a pretty good empirical argument as to why producing quality places matters both in the short term to the developer and in the longer term for sustainability and robustness.

The evidence linking the built environment with mental health is mounting, and it can make for sobering reading. Instances of disorders such as depression show significant increases in poorly designed areas. If you are interested in further reading, here are some of the journals we found:

It’s not just mental heath that is affected; the link between design and obesity has long been theorised and the evidence is starting to build. Reporting in Science Daily researchers ‘found that people who live in neighborhoods that have a mixture of residential and commercial uses have lower levels of obesity than people who live in neighborhoods that are closer to being 100 percent residential. “The more mixed an area, the skinnier people are,” according to Dr. Rundle’ Read the full article here (with links to the paper):

Issues don’t come much more emotive than crime, and if you want a really great run-through of the current evidence then a must-read is this paper by Bill Hillier et al:

In it, they use space syntax to analyse layouts for types of crime and conclude that more connected, higher density layouts are safer (OK, so that’s a bit of a leap and you’ll have to read through the limitations of the various study elements to see if that conclusion stands). Use this data when you next talk to a councillor or developer (or estate agent, or potential home buyer…), and explain to them how the fabric of a place can affect their lives.

The final study we’d like to draw your attention to is the one to use when thinking about a new development and it comes from CABE. On starting out they found that ‘the most striking finding in a review of the literature relating to the quality of residential design is the almost complete absence of any empirical attempts to measure the implications of high quality on costs, prices or values’. Later in the same paper they conclude that quality designs were ‘more desirable and valuable than they would otherwise have been had standard development house types and layouts been employed’ but they urge further research to confirm this. On this point, if you have any good evidence that turns quality in to pound notes, then do get in touch. Oh, and here is the link to the paper:

Bonfire of the quangos will require a new approach to housing delivery and quality, writes Garry Hall

October 5, 2011adminOpinion

In advance of the official reveal on the 20th of October, the leaked listed in the Telegraph sees the abolition of 177 quangos, in line with the Coalition Governments promise to cut funding to undemocratic governance bodies in all sectors. According to the leaked document, the future of CABE and HCA is still under review.

The upcoming Localism Bill seeks to empower communities in the delivery of housing and this shift in emphasis might not be best served at the national level by organizations that are remote from communities, and it is here that ABECs have an opportunity to make a valuable contribution.

Local Housing Trusts will have planning and delivery powers for housing and there is a real chance that such bodies can overcome some of the traditional barriers inhibiting the delivery of quality on the ground. To do so they are going to need cognate and truly independent advice, and ABECs have been delivering in this respect for a number of years. However, the network of Centres will have to work together in highlighting where we can add value, and work hard to ensure that the message across centres in consistent and that we are able to deliver.

Another possible role for independent centres unburdened by with-profit structures is in service delivery for LEPs and other local partnerships. Budget pressures will see design functions outsourced from planning authorities, but perhaps there is another way. Joint design departments would offer considerable savings, and ABECs are perfectly places to administer and deliver this kind of service without the costly setup funds otherwise required.

Hard times are ahead, but the future of the design agenda is far from bleak and we may yet see the fundamental changes needed to really deliver. What’s more, the 3rd sector may be uniquely placed to make it happen.

Design Review gains support

October 5, 2011adminNews

The role and functions of the nations various Design Review Panels has received overwhelming support from Local Authority planning officers, with some 96% of respondents citing benefits. More telling, the same survey revealed that 67% saw the main advantage as being access to specialist expertise, and as the localism agenda gains traction, we could see the use of Panel experts increase.

Richard Simmons, chief executive at CABE, said: ‘The Decentralisation and Localism Bill will give local people much more influence on planning decisions. So if decision-making is being devolved to the local community it is vital that it has the design advice it needs.’

The findings, published as part of the ‘Helping local people choose good design’ report, mark the end of the first year of the Design Review Network, an affiliation between CABE and eight Design Review Panels across England. According to the report, this past financial year saw 204 or 2/3 of Local Authorities use the Network. The eight Panels that form the Network are:

Opun, East Midlands
Inspire East, East of England
Ignite, North East
Places Matter!, North West
Kent Architecture Centre, South East
Creating Excellence, South West
MADE, West Midlands
Integreat Yorkshire, Yorkshire and Humber

The number of reviews carried out by the Network was 676, which is around the same number as previous year and this in spite of the downturn in construction that has seen stalled projects and a reduction in the delivery of new homes. Importantly, around 1/3 of Reviewed schemes were returning, having been previously reviewed in the past. This indicates two things; that design review is an iterative process, and that previous experiences of design review were positive. It’s this kind of buy-in that is will critical in supporting the future of the network and review in general.

You can read the full report here:

TransForm Places puts design at the core of the localism agenda

October 5, 2011adminOpinion

Localism is at the core of the new Governments approach to development and TransForm MKSM are working with Local Authorities in delivering truly sustainable projects that reflect the needs of local communities.

The Decentralisation and Localism Bill, announced during the Queens Speech back in May set the tone for future decision making on built environment issues. The abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies was the first big step towards devolving power back to the local level, and Green Paper 14: Open Source Planning seeks to go even further with arguable the biggest change in the field of planning since the Town and Country Planning Act in 1947.

How places form and grow over time has historically always been a very local process, arguably less so in recent times as a limited number of development ‘models’ have been adopted and delivered by a decreasing number of volume builders. With a shift in emphasis back the local level, there is a opportunity for development once again to reflect on the place that it occurs, and here the role of the Local Authority will be critical.

To help, TransForm MKSM have developed a subscription service that enables Local Authorities to gain expert input and advice on design issues and we are adding new organisations all the time. To find out how we can help you, contact us by phone or email.

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Get in touch:

TransForm Places Ltd
1a The Avenue
MK45 1BP

+44 7970 363141
Recent projects:
  • Workshop 1, Nov 28th 2011
  • Manual for Streets training with OPUN
  • Avon / Nunn Mills Masterplanning
  • Priors Hall Design Coding
  • NBC Tall Building Strategy
  • Site Visit Club
  • Urban Design Fundamentals
  • MfS Walking Tour
  • Manual for Streets (Jan 11)
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