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How we Produced the TDS banner




This page provides some insights to the months of work that led to the production of this Town Design Statement for Downham Market.

1. Getting started

A Town Design Statement was seen as desirable by town councillors who were concerned about the extent and rate of modern development that was diluting the character of our market town. The Town Council established a working group to start the process in June 2005. This group sought advice from and secured the support of the local planning authority. It was seen as essential to enlist the support of townspeople from the outset and a letter inviting expressions of interest was sent to a range of community groups and other organisations operating in the town. A similar article was included in the Town Council's regular newsletter. The responses enabled us to start building a database of potential participants.

2. Engaging with townspeople

A meeting of those interested (23 people, some being representatives of local groups) took place at the end of October 2005. The meeting was briefed on the potential benefits of a Town Design Statement - but there was also an opportunity to raise concerns of which there were many. The level of cynicism in the town was high. There was recognition that the production of a Town Design Statement would involve a lot of work over 18 months or so, and limited confidence that a published document would be influential. The work would be taking place at the same time as the Borough's work on a Local Development Framework and this might cause some confusion. Nevertheless, those present shared a concern about the future of the town and decided unanimously that any chance of protecting the town's distinctiveness should be pursued.

Working in sub-groups, those present then started to discuss the character of the town and differences between distinct local areas. A number of people volunteered to play an active part in the project, to be called "Downham Market by Design", as it went forward. Volunteers were welcomed whatever skills or experience of the town they brought.

3. Organising within working groups & local areas

Subsequent meetings determined the boundaries of six distinct local areas that we would use to describe the town and identified three further topics: use of the riversides, the essence of our rural market town, and the characteristic building styles and materials that make the town distinctive; that were of town-wide interest. Guided by the Countryside Agency "How to do it" pamphlet, we set about recruiting volunteers to working groups to explore each of these aspects further. A number of volunteers also made themselves available in a steering group.

We had a chaotic couple of months. Some groups attracted several volunteers and held weekly meetings to support their activity. They generated many photographs, walked around the town together and discussed the issues arising around their area/topic.  Other groups comprised fewer people and made slower progress. And there were areas and topics that we agreed were important but lacked the volunteer effort to pursue at that stage. Public project meetings (approximately 6-weekly) and handouts aimed, with limited success, to support working groups whatever their needs were.

In April 2006 individual volunteers and working groups mounted a display of photographs and ideas for one another.  This demonstrated how much had already been done and provided a very productive opportunity for groups to compare notes. But it also highlighted that, although groups were working to similar agendas, their ideas were being presented in different ways.

Afterwards we decided that a public exhibition of our work to date was premature. We wanted to consolidate the work done so far so that we could present it in a way that illustrated the potential of a Town Design Statement. Our steering group saw that if we were to fulfil our ambitions through working groups we would need to establish a clear framework for the presentation of information and also attract additional active participants. The clear framework was soon identified and is seen in the document as the distinction between key characteristics and issues. It was then decided that the next step should be more publicity for the project and a recruitment drive.

4. Increasing participation

Initially, we used the Town Council's newsletter to disseminate information about the project. However, a local reporter became interested in what we were doing and from February 2006 we also got regular write-ups in Lynn News. We had information stalls around the town, on Carnival Day, on the market, and outside Tesco. For two weeks during July we had displays at the library and in the leisure centre. Representatives gave talks to the Chamber of Trade and to the Amenity Society. We publicised our website, and we had "catch-up" discussions at the start of our public meetings.   Everyone who came along to these was invited to leave us their contact address so that they could be added to our database. Through all these measures the number of participants in our project grew and the mailing list increased to over 100 people.

5. Adjusting our focus with themed public meetings

Throughout the autumn of 2006 public meetings had a distinctive theme that enabled selected aspects of the town to be reviewed in more detail. Topics included were those highlighted through the working groups (such as the important retail economy in our market town), or previously identified as important but not amenable to study through a working group (such as the factors that create the town's distinctive rural character). These workshop-style meetings were informed by input from invited "experts" - including a planning consultant, Borough officers responsible for economic development, police representatives and an architect. Discussion points were captured and added to the increasing body of ideas generated through the project, filling some of the gaps in our earlier coverage.

6. Documentation and consultation on the issues

By the end of 2006 we were satisfied that our work had been sufficiently thorough and comprehensive to make a public exhibition possible. Meetings checked that issues raised during the project were adequately described for the exhibition and selected photographs to illustrate our concerns. At one meeting display boards were assembled for the exhibition. A questionnaire was put together to accompany the exhibition and give feedback on the extent to which a wider group of townspeople agreed with project participants.

The exhibition, held in the Town Hall, was widely advertised and open to the public on Friday and Saturday mornings, 2nd and 3rd February 2007, and again in an evening session on Monday February 26th. More than 200 people visited the exhibition and the majority also took time to complete the lengthy survey.  As an additional talking point, a large number of the photographs we had taken were made available to visitors to the exhibition who were asked to pick out building details they particularly liked or disliked. This area of the hall was marked by lively discussion!

Analysis of the survey results provided information about the people completing the survey as well as the extent of their agreement with the issues raised.

Age band Under 30: 2% 30 to 59yrs: 25% 60 & over: 73%
Where they lived In town: 75% Within 10miles: 23% Further away: 2%
For how long Less than 5yrs: 21% 5 to 15yrs: 36% More than 15yrs: 43%

This highlighted the need for separate efforts to engage with young people and families with young children and more consultation here is already under way.

Section 5 of our Town Design Statement is based on the exhibition and includes details of the survey results.

7. Publication and adoption

The first edition of our Town Design Statement embodies the work done up to and including the exhibition. It documents the issues we have identified for planners, developers, property owners, and those with responsibility for the maintenance of our public areas. The survey results demonstrate the extent of public support for the majority of the views expressed here.

The next stage of our work is to disseminate this documentation of what makes Downham Market special and promote its use. Townspeople would like the planning authority to adopt this Town Design Statement as material considerations affecting planning decisions and as the basis for new, locally specific planning policies. This document will be kept under review and new editions will be published as appropriate to document any further work (e.g. on building materials appropriate for use in the town), wider consultation (incorporating the views of the town's young people), and any policy agreements reached.

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