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July 2020

Liskeard Cattle Market Charrette – another masterplan, why would this one be different? by Adam Birchall

Adam Birchall, Head of Sustainable Development for Cornwall Council, reflects on the impact of the Liskeard Cattle Market Charrette held in Spring 2019 and the progress that has been made subsequently in delivering the vision. This is a transcribed version of his recent talk as part of the Academy of Urbanism “Beyond the Buzz” webinar held on Thursday 23 July 2020.

“The Charrette process provided a route to the clarity of vision the site needed.”

You may never have heard of Liskeard, but think of a small rural town in your own area and you would be familiar with it. Liskeard has everything you would expect a market town to have – including a high street, a pedestrian area, a town hall, out of town supermarket, housing estates, council housing, a train station, doctors and, of course, community leaders with a variety of views as to the future of the town. 

Aerial view of the Cattle Market site

So what defines Liskeard? It only has a population of 10,000 but serves a large rural hinterland of adjoining parishes, that look to it as a service centre.  It has a station on the mainline to London with half hourly trains to the major urban centres of Exeter and Plymouth.  It is at the junction of the scenic branchline to the seaside town of Looe and is just off the A38 trunk road. 

You might have noticed that I called it a market town but the one thing I did not list it having is a market.  And indeed, despite it having had a market since 1240 to 2017, it does not have one anymore.  The town is still, in a way, grieving that loss of identity.  The market probably had not made a significant difference to the economy for many years, but it was a key part of the town’s identity – it still calls itself a modern market town in its neighbourhood plan. 

And that is where the story starts.  The old cattle market site. Owned by Cornwall Council, but belonging (in every other sense) to Liskeard, it has been subject to several masterplans.  There were long standing mixed views as to its future. And so we were lucky to be selected for inclusion in an Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) pilot study in to the use of Charrettes.  The Charrette process provided a route to the clarity of vision the site needed.  The site had some significant benefits – clear ownership, existing strands of thought, coherent boundary.  What was needed was a conversation to bring the strands together and identify a route to delivery. 

“With clarity from the community came an obligation of delivery – a moral imperative to see it through.”

There was nervousness amongst the community of yet another masterplan.  Why was this one going to be different?  The answer was in the focus and clarity. Not letting anyone off the hook. Everyone had an imperative to be present.  The Charrette was about creating buzz, excitement, active drawing and momentum.  It created a moment to gather thoughts and get behind a vision.  That was really vital.  Both the Council and the community are capable of being immobilised by optioneering and indecision.  With clarity from the community came an obligation of delivery – a moral imperative to see it through. 

Hands-on planning workshop during the Charrette

At heart of the delivery mechanism was an acceptance of principles.  It was not to be a typical single,  regeneration project, rather, it was to allow for organicness and fluidity.  It identified individual project elements, some that were deliverable now, whilst providing a framework for others to fit into.  It would allow a suite of complementary but independent projects space to grow at their own pace.  Into that space of clarity created by the Charrette came funding opportunities.  Funding for demolition, funding for workspace, funding for artisan space. Serendipitous maybe, but the Charrette provided the framework so moments and opportunities could be taken within accepted parameters. 

“The Council had to let go – the strategic decision was to allow the Charrette process to take its course, and respond to the community’s expressed vision.”

What is left to do?  We have funding for two key but different areas of workspace, plus a covered market area, consistent with the Charrette vision and they will progress now, with one currently awaiting a planning decision.  Shape now needs to be given to the remaining components – the community centre space and public service hub.  It has been important to provide parameters to the public hub – it could so easily become an overly dominant influence.  The Charrette outcome provide containment for that, whilst leaving space for the much more delicate community centre thinking to germinate.  The Council had to let go – the strategic decision was to allow the Charrette process to take its course, and respond to the community’s expressed vision.  The community equally had to make a leap of faith. 

Artist’s impression of the Market Square produced as part of the Charrette

Chance and opportunity came together.  Along the way, the Council bought a derelict garage at the entrance to the site which certainly helped remove an element of uncertainty and contributed to the opportunities available, and so judicious land assembly has its place too.  There was an acceptance that the future of the site would grow and evolve, and it would not be facilitated through a normal development appraisal.  The Local Planning Authority also respected the outcome of the Charrette by accepting the findings as a material consideration.  Whilst the Council’s coincidental ownership helped facilitate this, the weight of evidence collected through a Charrette process provides a very strong consultative base that has to be respected in any circumstance. 

For its part too, the Charrette process respected the need to have an eye to delivery.  It is not enough to simply create an undeliverable dream.  The community have risen to the challenge too, as the main promoters for the artisan “makers” workspace project.  It is only with the framework provided by the Charrette that such a flowering has been possible.

CGI of the ‘Workshed’ artisan makers workspace building and covered market area submitted as part of the Phase 1 planning application

For more information about the Liskeard Charrette please visit the JTP webpage here.