School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

News Item

'Canny Planners' on Tyneside

The 2017 – 18 academic year has been a busy one for the School’s ‘YES Planning’ volunteers.  Teaming up with Cap –a –Pie theatre company and funded through the Catherine Cookson Foundation, the students have been introducing a new planning focussed workshop series to local primary schools.

The ‘Canny Planners’ workshop was jointly designed between project leader, Teresa Strachan, and Cap - a - Pie staff, with the aim of delivering a classroom based mock planning committee to create a forum for debating a fictitious development proposal.

For the trialling of this workshop concept, the project proposed a new skate park for a site that the children knew well.  Within the workshop, students facilitated mini debates, allowing the children to express their views on the idea of the proposal, provoking responses of who might use the new facility, how it might be designed and what the practical implications of the development might be.  When the fictitious proposal location of St James’ Park was revealed at the beginning of the second session, there were audible groans and gasps amongst the children as they reflected on how such a radical proposal could even be suggested.

Despite the heightened emotional response by a large proportion of the class to protect St James’ Park, the club and anything football related, the children carefully thought through the details of the new proposal, weighing up whether or not it would constitute good planning for the site and how the details of the scheme might allow for maximum safety, greatest community use and a minimum impact on its surroundings.

The second session culminated in staging a mock planning committee with some of the children acting as councillors and others in the audience primed with tricky questions and persuasive statements.  There was a clear minority voice emerging that suggested that the skate park would be a better use of the site throughout the whole of the year and would be more family and environmentally friendly.  After hearing all the representations from the groups and individuals, the committee voted on the proposal. 

On each of the three occasions, the class was largely relieved to see their planning committee unanimously vote to refuse planning permission for the contentious skate park proposal.  They were even more relieved to be reminded that the skate park and its proposed location had been created merely as part of the role playing activity and that it did not form part of an actual plan (as far as we were aware, anyway).

Joanna Weaver, a Stage 3 MPlan student volunteer explained how she thought the workshop had developed the children’s knowledge about the planning process:

“The children were very interested in what might be happening in their local area, so I think it is important children are encouraged to take an interest in planning as they obviously care about the future of their community.”

“Even some of the girls who had no interest in football showed some empathy and thought it would be bad for Newcastle if the football stadium was knocked down as it is very important to lots of people.” 

One teacher thanked us for our work with her Year 5 class, saying:

“It was great to see some of the children who are not usually keen on participating in class discussion, articulating their ideas and opinions so confidently and with such enthusiasm.”

And from the children’s point of view, they said:

“I learnt to be part of a team and how to look at the positive and the negative properly.”

“Making these decisions is really hard.”

“I learnt to take in opinions and to make a decision.”

The ‘Canny Planners’ workshop will be rolled out to other schools on Tyneside this spring when perhaps a slightly less emotive, but equally important local topic will provide the focus of the mock planning committee debate.

published on: 26 February 2018