Space in Common – Collaborating to Shape Our Cities – Final Report Now Published

With partners from Jam and Justice, we’ve recently published a short final report about our Space in Common project. This project was about building relationships and exploring collaboration between different groups with a stake in ‘spatial planning’ decisions about how Greater Manchester takes shape. And exploring how these decisions could be approached in a more collaborative and constructive way.

What was Space in Common?

Local authorities across England are required to set out long-term plans for how their area will take shape, which inform what can be built where – referred to as ‘spatial planning’. In October 2016 a draft ‘Greater Manchester Spatial Framework’ attracted considerable opposition, from resident groups and campaigners, objecting to plans to build on the greenbelt. In response to this recent history, and leading up of a planned re-draft, Space in Common was set-up.

The project aimed to build relationships between different people who were trying to influence spatial planning decisions in Greater Manchester. And help people to learn more about each other’s perspectives, identify points of common ground, and explore possibilities for collaboration. Through this process, we also hoped to learn how to build more constructive discussion and decision-making about spatial plans.

We decided to run four workshops with participants from a range of local groups with an active interest in how these decisions are made.. Through a series of workshops, we:

  • helped the group share their previous experiences and ambitions;
  • examined how planning currently works with a planner from a local council;
  • learnt about the alternative approach built by the community network ‘Just Space’ in London; and
  • considered possibilities for collaboration in Greater Manchester

Our Final Report

With our partners, we’ve now created a short report summarising this project and what was learnt. This evaluates what the workshops were able to achieve, and shares some of what was learnt from discussions between participants.

Click here to access our Space in Common report.

Through the course of these workshops we heard how communities feel under threat from a system that  is hard to understand, and where communities can only respond once plans are already drawn up. There are also a lack of opportunities for people with  different views to come together and discuss how they feel. And we heard how local authorities lack the resources to reach out and engage effectively and can feel overwhelmed by the weight of public opposition when plans are consulted on. And at the same time feel under threat from housing developers who have disproportionately greater resources to dedicate to contesting their decisions.

How the system can improve    

But we also saw glimpses of how things could work better. The experiences of Just Space, show what collaboration can achieve. This network has brought together and empowered a range of London community-based groups with an interest in decisions about how their city takes shape.

Rather than just responding to consultations these groups have set out their own vision for the development of their city, and are bringing new voices into spatial planning decisions. You can read more about the work of Just Space work through this blog post. And there are promising signs of collaboration and empowerment in Manchester, where greenbelt campaigners are cascading a growing understanding of spatial planning from one person to the next.

Jam and Justice

Jam and Justice logo, featuring an orange map of Greater Manchester

Space in Common was part of a wider Jam and Justice programme of action and research Local  academics partnered with a range of citizens and practitioners on 10 projects, that developed creative responses to urban challenges, such as care provision, energy, and young people’s democratic participation.

You can learn more about Jam and Justice, and its achievements and findings in this report on the Jam and Just programme.

Space in Common was delivered in partnership between a three-person team from Jam and Justice’s ‘Action Research Collective’ and Demsoc. The idea for the project came from discussions of the Action Research Collective.

We are really grateful to Adrian Ball, Beth Perry, and Bert Russell from the Action Research Collective for all their work, and to all the speakers who gave their time to these workshops, and participants for sharing their experiences, energy and ideas.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to learn more about this project please contact Mat on mat@demsoc.org.


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