The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has developed a modern-day initiative to inspire and encourage ‘good design’ across the West Midlands. We examine how the charter could influence how placemaking is viewed across the UK as a result.

‘Placemaking’ is a term that is commonly known and frequently heard in the property industry, but is often misunderstood amongst the public. The people-centred approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces is meant to empower communities to create areas that are prosperous and sustainable for those who use them.

However, through poor consultations and designs that are not perceived to be created for everyone, placemaking proposals have sometimes been presented poorly, leading to criticism towards key decision-makers. These incidents have fueled hostility towards the plans and led to a lack of support in local areas for new schemes.

Combatting this, the unique design charter led by the WMCA is an initiative that could change how placemaking is viewed in the UK, bringing real substance to something that has become convoluted.

The charter shows a commitment to creativity within the West Midlands, based on six key themes:

  • Character
  • Connectivity and Mobility
  • Future Readiness
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Engagement and Stewardship
  • Delivery

For communities, the aim is to future-proof developments in order to deliver inclusive growth for everyone, providing a sense of regional identity. For local planning authorities, it provides an extra tool to secure good urban design and high quality development.

Although the charter is not statutory, the plans have been backed by Homes England. With such an influential public body onboard, it is likely that other regions will adopt a similar initiative inspiring other authorities to implement change when designing placemaking schemes and leading to a genuine transformation in the way placemaking is viewed.

The question now is who should ultimately determine the benchmark for how the design charter will be judged? Will it be the WMCA, designers, developers or local authorities? Whilst they undoubtedly will have a role to play, it will be the communities that the charter is designed for who will be the real driving force behind its ultimate success or failure.