West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has launched a new Design Charter that reconciles housing and infrastructure need and the importance of quality design

The new WMCA Design Charter. Photo: Thom Bartley

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) today launched a pioneering initiative to promote good design across the region. The West Midlands Design Charter includes recommendations that enshrine good landscape design as a key component of any new developments.

WMCA developed the Charter in partnership with the region’s local councils. Landscape architect Louise Wyman, who joined WMCA as director of design and development early last year, has also been instrumental in its creation.

‘This charter is an excellent step in the right direction and ensures that exemplary design is at the forefront of any new developments,’ Louise said. ‘Too often, good placemaking has been an afterthought. But it’s crucial we incorporate world-class design into new projects -not just for aesthetics, but to build a sustainable, resilient and thriving region.’

Left to right: Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street; Landscape Institute President Elect Jane Findlay; Design Council Chief Executive Sarah Weir; Civic Square founder Immy Kaur; and Homes England Chief Executive Nick Walkley

Building on the legacy of iconic design and creativity in the West Midlands, the Charter sets out to secure high-quality design for the region’s housing, civic architecture, urban spaces, parks and transport infrastructure. It seeks to grow key design sectors including digital media, graphic design, advertising, film, TV, and games. And in supporting the region’s wider design sector, it intends to drive investment while promoting low-carbon, energy-efficient, climate-resilient design.

On Thursday 23 January, leading design experts gathered at Birmingham’s Mailbox complex to endorse the Charter. Launching the Charter, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said it made clear the West Midlands’ commitment to driving design, innovation, and creativity.

‘Great design and creativity can have a huge and positive impact on the quality of life and wellbeing of our communities,’ Andy said.

‘But this Charter is not just about raising the quality of the homes, places, buildings and natural environment around us. It’s about championing and promoting our design sector, helping to drive our regional economy and new jobs.

‘We already have a flourishing design sector, which has produced iconic designs over the years. …This Charter will build on that existing talent and seek to take it to the next level, helping to establish the West Midlands as the UK design capital.’

Themes and principles of the Charter

The Charter outlines 12 principles, split across six key themes:

  • Character
  • Connectivity and mobility
  • Future readiness
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Engagement and stewardship
  • Delivery

Design Council research has found that the West Midlands has a strong design industry with a focus on industrial, product and craft design. The sector had seen more growth than any other region outside London, increasing by 83% between 2010 and 2017 and contributing around £503 million per year to the local economy.

The Charter will provide an extra tool for local planning authorities to secure good urban design and high quality development. Stratford District Council has already adopted the 12 principles as planning policy. It will also act as a guidance document for developments funded through the WMCA’s Single Commissioning Framework. Much of this funding goes to housing and commercial schemes on the region’s former industrial (brownfield) sites, helping to relieve pressure on the Green Belt.

Endorsement

Homes England, the Design Council, and the Landscape Institute (LI) are among organisations backing the Charter.

LI Chief Executive Dan Cook said: ‘The LI congratulates the WMCA for showing such strong leadership for its region.

‘We endorse the authority’s approach to placemaking in the Charter to support well-designed, resilient, healthy places that respond to local character and culture.

‘It’s vital that places contain green and blue spaces, promote connectivity, and are designed with sustainability in mind. We also welcome the innovative approach from WMCA that starts to consider social value and pays due attention to longer-term management and stewardship of landscapes and places.’

LI President Elect Jane Findlay said: ‘Landscape professionals are ready to involve local communities to help create and manage well-designed places across the West Midlands. We encourage developers, government agencies and local authorities to adopt these principles and embed such approaches in their future planning requirements and policies.

‘We fully endorse this Design Charter, and hope that other cities and regions follow WMCA’s lead.’

The LI will continue to work with the WMCA to ensure that landscape remains a key consideration in new developments, and to highlight the role our members play in quality placemaking.

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