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President update: 1st June - new President, Paula Hewitt

1 June 2021

Can I start by saying what a huge honour and privilege it is to be the new president of ADEPT. When I started thinking about my year as President, I little thought how quickly it would come upon me, or that we would still be holding our conferences virtually. As I took part in our online AGM it made me realise how much better we have got at using the technology over the last year, with raising hands, emojis in the chat and virtual hand clapping all playing a part.  

Lovely as it was to see many familiar names and a few new faces at the AGM and Spring Seminar last week, I am really looking forward to meeting as many ADEPT members and partners as I can in person this year. It is the people that make a great organisation and it is the people, who are part of ADEPT, that make me so excited about my presidential year. The quality of discussion and debate on a wide variety of ‘place’ issues is second to none, and ADEPT is great at making sure our voice as place directors is heard in government. In addition, there is also the comradery and support that is on offer. Over the last year, when things have at times been tough, I have found myself at a Thursday afternoon virtual leadership team meeting, feeling reassured as colleagues from around the country check that each other are ok, and then laughing out loud at some of the funny comments in the chat. I am sure it is the same at many of the board and other meetings. How would you ever be able to put a value on that?  

I have identified 3 things where I would really like us to make a difference over the next year, I refer to them as the 3 ‘Cs’: Covid recovery, climate action and collaboration. 

With these priorities in mind, I’ve been thinking about many of the points that came out of our Spring Seminar. The one that resonated most strongly with me was our need, as place directors, to collaborate more closely and more widely. We have two clear and huge challenges ahead of us - Covid recovery and addressing climate change - both are inextricably linked, and both are pressing. I had a look at our Climate Change Policy Position, written in 2019, and although the key points still stand, it also struck me how much we have moved on, particularly in how the Government now recognises how far we need to go to meet climate targets. It no longer feels like we are pushing water uphill.

As ADEPT has highlighted, and was repeated by every seminar speaker, we are all looking at our places with fresh eyes. People’s values are shifting and where they live now matters in a way it hasn’t always before. We are truly understanding the importance of our local green and open spaces and local shops, while our communities are concerned to see quality in new developments that demonstrate environmental and social value. As Andrew Forth, Interim Director of Policy and Public Affairs at RIBA, said - we need to think about how we let local people back into the debate about their areas. In one of our Subject Board sessions, Alex Hearn from Weston-super-Mare, described how the Council had engaged with 5,000 residents to find out exactly what people wanted for their town and had contributed significantly to the development of their ambitious and creative regeneration plans. Find out more at Superweston.net

The seminar’s focus was on reimagining our town centres and high streets. We heard from Peter McIntyre, Executive Director of City Development, Sunderland City Council, who spoke about how local authorities need to become ‘aggressively self-sufficient’. We need to move quickly, accept risk, acquire the skills and not be over-reliant on regulation. In his view, if you want to be transformational, ownership is king. Matt Davis, Communications Lead from the High Streets Task Force, welcomed greater coordination between the local, regional and national levels and was a great advocate for local leadership. Andrew brought a design perspective to the debate, and reiterated the concerns many of us share about permitted development rights in their current form. 

Chaired admirably by Jackie Sadek, Chief Operating Officer of UK Regeneration, the Q&A session was a fascinating deep dive into how we regenerate our town centres. The importance of real devolution and local empowerment was raised many times, alongsidethe importance of having a clear proposition and a strong narrative – how will our places attract investment, contribute to levelling up or support the wider national economy? In her final summing up, Jackie highlighted some key points:  

  • We can’t waste opportunities - councils cannot do this on their own 
  • We must take our communities with us – we need to enable them to drive debate and ask more from ourselves, as well as government
  • Where we live matters and regeneration is hard - we need to mobilise all energy, assets and personnel
  • The pandemic has changed many perspectives - we can work more collaboratively with landlords, investors and developers 

To support members developing their own strategies and action plans for high street recovery, ADEPT has published a High Street Recovery Resources Map, signposting a whole range of websites, publications and resources available to place directors.

There is no doubt in my mind that the importance of place is being recognised in a way that is fundamentally different, due to the pandemic. Yes, we are facing many challenges, but also this is a time of great opportunity, to really shape our places for the future. I’m going to take my final thought about the seminar from Peter McIntyre – this is the time for place directors and ADEPT members to seize the day! 

Of course, our Spring Seminar wouldn’t be complete without the ADEPT President Awards and I’m so pleased to be able to say that even after the 18 months we’ve had, we received the greatest number of entrants yet. My congratulations go to the following winners and highly commended:

Category 1 - Delivering Clean Growth (sponsored by WSP)

  • Winner: Low Carbon Kent / Kent County Council
  • Highly Commended: Delivering charging infrastructure to electric passenger ferries / Plymouth City Council
  • Highly Commended: Connecting Leeds / Leeds City Council  

Category 2 - Digital Innovation & Technology (sponsored by Ringway)

  • Winner: Thames Valley Berkshire Smart City Cluster / West Berkshire Council 
  • Highly Commended: Using LoRaWAN IoT sensors to support highway service delivery / Norfolk County Council
  • Highly Commended: DRIVEN / Oxfordshire County Council 

Category 3 – Shaping Places for People (sponsored by Atkins) 

  • Winner: Independent Travel Training Scheme / Nottinghamshire County Council
  • Highly Commended: Celestine Centre / South Gloucestershire Council
  • Highly Commended: Socially Distanced Social Value / Somerset County Council

A reminder, we launched our updated Housing Policy Position at the Spring Seminar this week, you can also read the press release here.

Finally, I must say an enormous thank you to Nigel Riglar, Immediate Past President. Nigel had the first ‘virtual presidency’ and has been a truly inspirational and inclusive president. He strengthened links with other parts of local government, particularly Public Health, encouraging recognition of the role of places and placemaking in the health and wellbeing of our communities. He has been a huge advocate of addressing our climate change challenges and delivering net zero, and I know he will continue to beat the drum on this. On a more personal level, his calm, wise and eloquent words so often chimed with my thoughts on an issue. We are lucky to have had Nigel as president in such a turbulent year.  

We are continuing to post regular updates on our COVID-19 updates page, but please keep checking our website for a whole range of news, updates and documents that we publish regularly to support members. Take care everyone.