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23 May
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UK Planning: What we can learn from Hammarby

Hammarby in south-east Stockholm is often cited in university planning courses as an exemplar urban development, but how many UK Planners actually get a chance to visit?

In this article we'll take a look at just some of the features that make Hammarby a must-see for UK planners and hopefully convince you to take a trip yourself.

There seems to be great interest in the area on the world stage.  Judging by the amount of visits that are organised, half the people involved in planning major new developments across the globe, including heads of state, flock to see it for themselves,

I recently went to see for myself and was not disappointed. The visitor centre is low-key, but well-appointed and Erik Freudenthal is a fantastic host who can rapidly get you to understand how Hammarby came about and how it works.

There are some critical points to Hammarby’s success that stand testament as to what so many of us in UK planning are trying to say both to Local Authorities and to developers.

Just some of the issues that make Hammarby a stand-out locality include:

  1. Single Ownership:  Almost the entire site was in single ownership from the start. This meant that there was no competing interest to unsettle the plan and it could be set up in an orderly fashion.
  2. Long term Vision of the Masterplan:  When was the last time you came across a city architect in the UK?  The Hammarby Vision was put in place by the Local Authority and the template for each development zone was then repeated.
  3. Massive Early Infrastructure:  This feature was key to the success of Hammarby in terms of the robust environmental credentials it now enjoys. Major public funding was key to this being delivered – with power, water, recycling, etcetera – all put in place early.
  4. Collaborative working:  Each development zone was put out to developers and architects for them to look at how they could achieve a workable solution. Each zone has been delivered by numerous different developers with variations and changes to the design of the development, but remaining under the same wider masterplan.
  5. Fantastic Public Realm: The use of the public realm to create space for housing is first class. The water environment is a significant benefit. There is no defined private space, but major non-road based links create huge areas of openness – these were necessarily linked to building spacing and height in a place with only six hours of sunlight in winter.
  6. Cars Squeezed Out:  Underground parking and low parking ratios means that the car doesn’t dominate, but this only works because of …
  7. Great Public Transport: The public transport network is first class right across Stockholm, with interchanges in the right places and easy transfer between underground, tram and bus. The tram and bus infrastructure was in place early in Hammarby to cater for this.
  8. Clear Delivery mechanisms:  This is where things get interesting.  Developers had to pay for each site on a per-square-metre-of-development basis. This narrowed down the range of bidding, because of the constraints imposed by the masterplan - enabling a greater focus on the design development and quality of the product to meet end user needs
  9. Clawbacks:  Interestingly, if the developer disagreed with the Council over the sizing of apartments or how much housing for rent should be in each block, the Council had to safeguard them if it didn’t work financially. How much of this was imposed or negotiated is open to question, but it does make you wonder.
  10. Mix of Uses:  The masterplan did envisage a mix of non-residential uses but did not impose constraints on such uses in the way we have had in the UK. Ground floor areas in certain key frontage zones had to be active, but were entirely flexible for the end user. This is a highly sensible move as the market fundamentally makes the decision as to what eventually works.
  11. Family Living:  This is something that seems to have surprised the developers as it evolved, but family living has become a key ingredient to Hammarby's success. Parts of the scheme boast large family accommodation that works well and the community facilities that have come in provide strong support for the growth in this sector. For instance – schools (now being extended), community centre and churches.
  12. Direct Responsibility of Blocks with owners and tenants:  Each block has to have a management committee of owners /tenants. There are annual management charges and maintenance funds. This creates a sense of pride and responsibility in the scheme by the occupiers.
  13. Property Values:  This is where arguments will now start to occur. I have no doubt that Hammarby is now a middle class suburb with strong housing values (4-5 times increases since the first parts were built). But it doesn’t provide a utopian world for all. There is affordable housing, public rent, private rent and private owned, but you sense it is very aspirational rather than really targeting those most in need of cheap housing.

If you're a planner, we'd heartily recommend a trip in order to get the low down on just how effective a tool planning can be when wielded properly. So, if you think it is ‘Hammarby Time’ (apologies to MC Hammer) and if you want to learn how the lessons learned in Hammarby could benefit your development plans, or are simply seeking some general advice on any of the issues we've discussed above, be sure to get in touch today. We can even arrange a visit for you!

Image used courtesy of Hans Kylberg on Wikipedia.

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