Webinar hears plea to “put the people first!”

Listening to local communities, putting people first and embedding social value emerged as major talking points at Infrastructure Intelligence’s placemaking webinar on Friday 25 June 2021. Rob O’Connor reports.

The vital importance of listening to local communities, sustained regional investment and devolution, putting people first and embedding social and environmental value all emerged as major talking points at an Infrastructure Intelligence webinar on placemaking and the government’s levelling up agenda on Friday 25 June. 

Chaired by Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker, in association with our Events and Communications Strategic Partner, BECG, the webinar looked at future placemaking and how this can contribute to the government's efforts to close the north-south divide. 

Leading industry figures including Aine Martin, technical director at Mott MacDonald, Steven Tomlinson, senior station development manager at government regeneration specialists LCR, Ruth Jeffs, Waterman’s regional director for infrastructure and environment, Sean Keyes, managing director at Sutcliffe and chair of ACE North West and Kevin Whitmore, head of North and Midlands at award-winning communications consultancy BECG all brought their own insightful experience to the webinar.

Aine Martin highlighted sustainability, social value and inclusivity as vital for successful placemaking and making sure any new developments were actually affordable for the local communities involved. She said: “Making connections between, cities, towns, villages, places and people is crucial to success. I see placemaking as creating places for people. That’s the most important thing and why we do what we do. Social outcome, sustainability, promoting well-being and inclusivity are all vital, and we need to look at how we use these ideals to drive growth in our communities.”

Stressing the importance of affordability, she said: “There’s no point building stuff that people can’t afford to use or participate in. Above all we need to be brave and take the right initiatives in the right way to get the best results. It’s such an exciting time currently, but we have to get it right.”

Steven Tomlinson highlighted collaboration and social value as vital parts of successful placemaking. He said: “Collaboration and public value is vital in unlocking sites for development – and regenerating with a public, social, environmental and economic value assessment rather than just a narrow commercial point of view.

“The starting point is always collaboration and working with local communities, asking who can we bring in as partners? We look at the skill sets of our partners and bring their energy and local passion to the table. We make sure that we’re in it for the long term, and seeing through decisions to a positive outcome, helping to level up communities by supporting new homes and developing local economies.”

Ruth Jeffs emphasised that successful placemaking and levelling up was not just a north-south debate and highlighted the importance of regional devolution in the West Midlands. She said: “The mayor and local authority’s levelling up agenda responds to the local needs, concerns and aspirations of local people – not just development for the sake of it. The West Midlands is looking for enhanced local powers and devolution to help match national and local connectivity.

“The focus on returns of investment include much more than just commercial aspects – there’s more focus on net zero, community and social value, regenerating communities so that people choose to live in them.”

Sean Keyes emphasised that placemaking should remember the simple human premise that everyone deserved a good home. He said: “In terms of placemaking, it’s where we all live. I fervently believe the world has changed and will continue to change. Everyone should have access to good homes and schools – and those things need to be tied together.”

Switching to the Northern Powerhouse and regional rail connectivity, Keyes said: “We should have strong links across the north. Why haven’t we improved Stephenson’s rail network between Leeds and Manchester from over 200 years ago? We need more of the spending filtered across the region and less political bickering.”

Summing up, Keyes said: “Covid has changed the world – there are opportunities for levelling up. We all appreciate the places we live in more.”

Kevin Whitmore pointed to stats that showed the north’s economic and social prosperity had fallen behind London and the south east over the last 20 years, outlining that attitudes and policies needed to change if placemaking was to have a positive effect on local communities. 

He said: “Placemaking has a key role to play in levelling-up, but it is part of a much bigger picture that includes skills, connectivity, housing and a host of other issues. We need local government and the private sector to work together to level-up places outside London and south east. The private sector knows which local authorities are open and used to collaborating for investment and other places need to get better at it. For example, there’s lots of resistance to planning reforms which haven’t even been announced yet, so we can’t expect the government to quickly solve the challenge.

“We all know the power of place, and creating places where people want to be. It’s down to us all, as industry professionals, to roll our sleeves up and help politicians, communities and councils to create places where people want to live and work.” 

Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker said: “Once again, it was interesting to see social value and public benefit coming out loud and clear at one of our webinars. We need to demonstrate enduring value – to people, to communities, to society – in everything that we do as an industry as that is the way that we will demonstrate the real and lasting worth of the construction and infrastructure sector to every area of the country.”

Click here to watch a recording of this webinar.

The Infrastructure Intelligence LIVE series of events is organised in association with our Events and Communications Strategic Partner, BECG

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email