One of the few bright spots in the past year has been Shit Planning, an anonymous Twitter account that offers a “celebration of all the Shit Stuff imposed on our environment”. As we exit one of the shittiest years ever, we thought we would talk to Shit Planning about the year just gone and what’s ahead.

Would you prefer to be called Shit Planning? Mr or Mrs Planning? S.P.?

Shit Planning is fine.

We love your no-nonsense approach to all the Shit Stuff imposed on our environment. What’s your favourite type of Shit Stuff out there, both on an individual housing and neighbourhood level?

We’ve shown some terrible crap over the last year or so it is difficult to choose one or two bad things. One of the worst individual examples was in Manchester, which was the old job centre building on the Trafford Road. One of the worst examples of façadism we’ve ever seen. Housing layouts themselves have become a ubiquitous mess of standard house types, terrible public space, overly car dependant and really poor road design — the examples here are too many to mention. One frustrating problem is the insertion of really poor quality, low density developments in town and city centres, which is such a waste of valuable urban land. Some key examples here would be the Rolls Royce site in Birmingham and one in Crewe we featured recently on our presentation for the Festival of Place. Both of these sites are minutes from key train stations but had acres of land devoted to parking. These are part of a pattern of missed opportunities for what could have been great well designed higher density schemes.

Is there a town or a place that you would like to give special mention to for the amount of Shit Stuff it produces?

For us we don’t feel there is any one place which produces this type of shit and you will see our posts are nationwide, this demonstrates there are issues all over the country. A special mention must go most of the new edge of town development at present. It baffles the shit out of us that despite years of really good urban design guidance and best practice this stuff still gets designed and approved. This is not town planning or good design it’s just bolting standard house bubbles onto the edge of the places we love. This points to a deeper issue than planning and it’s the wider housing delivery structure and business model which needs looking at.

You say that you celebrate Shit Stuff imposed on our environment by “Architects, Planners, Surveyors, Engineers & other environmental ne’er do wells”. Shouldn’t there be a special place in hell for others, such as local or national government, constructors, developers or house builders?

There is no one who is blameless in this issue. The Twitter bio has limits on its word count so the term ‘environmental ne’er do wells’ is intended as a catch all for everyone you’ve named. You will see from our posts we criticise most things and don’t just focus on one type of environmental crime. We often get asked about naming and shaming but don’t always do this as with these issues it’s not always one person. As we often say someone asked for it, someone designed it, someone approved it and then someone built it. At any one of these stages the design can be compromised. Clearly though if someone is going to share their crap scheme on Twitter, Linkedin or other social media then we are quite happy to help them raise its profile with one of our descriptions and a re-share. This is why we get quite pissed off at the ‘blame the planners’ narrative of the lead up to the Planning White Paper. We always say it’s not a binary thing and blame lies throughout the system, not always with one group.

Many would like to see less “Shit Stuff” in the UK? How might this be done?

I think most of us would want less shit in our lives and the built environment is no different. I am not sure there is one issue which will solve it but lots of differing problems. A key one is a planning system which needs to become more responsive to local needs and pressures rather than less. One that positively engages with communities and one which puts its big boy pants on and aims to tackle climate change properly rather than in some half-hearted ‘we’ll meet building regs’ way. Another problem is the lack of local authority resources and skills which have been atrophied over the last 10 years. You can’t continually fiddle with a process, then actively under resource it and still expect it to perform a responsive and rapid high quality delivery function. Many local authorities and planning staff do a tough job with limited resources and quite a few LPAs have little or no design resource. If we all care about the quality of the built environment this has to change. A reconnection between the design of public space, streets and planning would be hugely welcomed. Too often this is dealt with in silos (sometimes separate authorities) and becomes disjointed with competing rather than complimentary aims and outcomes.

Do you think the government’s Planning White Paper will lead to more or less Shit Stuff and why?

The White Paper focuses so much on housing delivery it ignores the delivery of other vital issues such as other uses, infrastructure, transport, health and climate change. It appears to flow from a rather basic understanding of the planning system, relegating rather than enhancing its positive aims in a race for housing delivery / growth.Unless the government realises this and corrects it, the review is likely to be another failed tinkering with the system which delivers very little benefit. We also don’t really understand the obsessions with beauty rather than just saying well designed places. The beauty tag has the potential to distract from the key issues of good design and end up with the same detached housing shit, just that it’ll look a bit like a real life Trumpton.

Can you think of examples of projects or places that aren’t shit but good — or maybe even great? (please provide photographs).

Most of Peter Barbers work is absolutely wonderful and they have produced some truly inspirational housing schemes. When we see Peters work it gives the same feeling as listening to a great music track, lifts the soul and reminds you we are very capable of doing better development. I would also give mention to the cohousing scheme at Marmalade Lane by developer Town and designed by Mole Architects and the Goldsmith Street scheme by Mikhail Riches in Norwich. These all go to show that well designed, community responsive, sustainably built places are possible and that there is another way.

Given all that we’ve learned through the past year, what is the one thing you would do in 2021 to raise people’s quality of life?

We would love to see a greater link up between the NHS and Planning and a serious approach to making cities, town and villages much more healthy places; a greater value on connections, streets and spaces as part of local plans and site delivery; and some positive actions/projects and not just more documents and seminars. In terms of something simple to deliver in 2021 then connectivity. We all talk about well-being but in many cases you’re lucky if you get a crossing point, a cycle path to nowhere or a short link to a muddy unused footpath in many developments. So if we could seek one thing for the new year it would be to enhance connectivity as a priority for place delivery. Let’s get LPAs and highways authorities working out joined up active travel networks for their areas, projects that can be delivered and funded with support from new development. Methods for tracking this through from local plans all the way to delivery, either through new development or a series of local projects. This is one of the most consistent failings we spot when reviewing schemes and looking through development proposals, and it’s a major issue regarding trying to achieve some simple steps towards mode shift.

Originally published at https://www.qolf.org on December 17, 2020.

Making wellbeing central to the way we create and care for our homes and communities. www.qolf.org

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