Wycombe District Council
Developer Group: Michael Shanley Homes, Bellway Homes, Brookfield, Atis Real, Pendleridge
Education and heritage Group: Amersham and Wycombe College, Buckinghamshire New University, High Wycombe Society
The purpose of the commission for WDC was to enable the Council to give developers proper guidance on how to discharge planning conditions and obligations relating to art projects in the public realm; it also scoped out, in broad terms, the opportunity for the arts to contribute to the physical regeneration or redevelopment of key brownfield sites in and around the main towns in the area of High Wycombe, Prices Risborough and Marlow. The strategy set the tone for policy over a ten year time horizon.
Our study looked at Wycombe district from a number of different perspectives. Extensive community based research provided key insights into the relationship between people and place; expert stakeholders, such as heads of local higher education providers, were able to give us a sense of the institutional landscape and the opportunity for partnership working; each of the key development sites were walked and photographed so we could understand both scale and topography; finally, a review of the history of the area provided an appreciation of its values and heritage.
Plan delivered an extensive public consultation exercise as part of the project; the purpose of the consultation was to make sure the recommendations contained in the document would, in the eyes of the people of Wycombe, seem relevant and likely to address live issues.
The breadth of the consultation was important on the basis that, in order to be meaningful, it should draw in not just to the creative and arts community, but also to other communities in Wycombe. Working with WDC, we therefore identified four groups we believed could provide us with this ‘broad spread’ of opinion. These were, the Youth Council and Wycombe Youth Action, the Soroptimists of High Wycombe & District (a women’s group), the High Wycombe Society and the local arts group, Arts 4 Every 1.
The vision for commissioning art in the public realm that emerged was to work creatively and imaginatively to identify the opportunities to make a real difference to people’s lives throughout the district. For example, promoting a sense of connectedness between people and their environment, creating new interactive experiences and building Wycombe’s appeal as a destination to outsiders.
The recommendations put forward by the strategy spanned both ‘best practice’ in delivery of public arts projects and a set of ‘key outcomes’ it was thought vital for the strategy to address. The former included the use of ‘pre-application’ meetings to increase the scale of developer commitment with the commissioning process, ensuring community engagement has been properly considered and devising approaches that are tailored to the needs of a particular place.Those that related to outcomes talked about the importance of creating opportunities for cross learning and using public art to achieve urban design or regenerative functions through ‘off site’ projects.