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Barnsley takes leap Forward for town champions cause

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Regional development agency Yorkshire Forward is blazing a trail for the concept of 'town champions' after Barnsley Council last week confirmed it will take the plunge and appoint one as part of a pilot initiative.

The news came after key representatives from the RDA, Civic Trust, English Heritage, and Barnsley Council took part in a high-profile seminar on the subject.Now the town champions measures are being seen as one area of the Urban Task Force report, which is at least starting to be delivered following widespread criticism of the government's dragging its feet on Lord Rogers' recommendations.

The issue of town champions - described as 'urban practitioners'or holistic 'enablers'who will help to fill the void left by cutbacks in the numbers of local authority architects - was first raised by former RIBA president David Rock in a special report he commissioned from Dan Bone of Civix (AJ 23.9.99). The Urban Task Force report by Lord Rogers advocated such posts to be established through making local authorities the main catalyst for action on regeneration, and pinpointed an urgent need for people with skills across the board. The ideal champion, the seminar declared last week, would be a long-term appointment to keep a consistent approach, and would be a multi-skilled person or company charged with brokering deals, resolving disputes between planners, the community and developers and adding into the mix skills in urban design, traffic planning and hunting down funding opportunities.

Last week Yorkshire Forward chief executive Martin Havenhand backed the initiative and revealed how his agency is to form a partnership with the Countryside Agency to pump money into 18 towns during the next six years. The cash will pay for town action plans, administration costs and project funding.

It is hoped the town champions idea being embraced by Barnsley will be rolled out to aid market towns such as Ripon and Wetherby - cities are considered too large and too vague in scope. If successful, the pilot studies could be extended nationally.

Rock said he has had meetings with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment on the town champions idea and is hopeful that CABE's

new regional thrust (AJ 13.7.00) will feature a monitoring programme of the plans. 'I was very much heartened by the warm reception and enthusiasm for these ideas, ' he said.

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