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Hampshire Architects: 'Providing strategic advice is more relevant than ever'

bob wallbridge 02
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Bob Wallbridge, head of architecture at Hampshire County Council, on the growing role of public architects

In these times of austerity it may seem strange that we are busier than ever in Hampshire. There is a real need for good strategic advice for clients, and this is what we provide as a public practice.

Our success has been to retain in-house professional expertise and the capacity to deliver. I see it as vital for local authorities to have access to such expertise, and it is no surprise to me, having met with Croydon a year or more ago now, to see it creating its own in-house teams to provide the same service.

We have new working models in Hampshire, and an appetite to share these more widely with other public sector organisations. We want to disseminate these working models to clients, so that they have access to the intelligence they need to make wise decisions and shape their longer-term futures as well as delivery for today’s priorities.

Establishing in-house teams at all local authorities across the country looks pretty ambitious to me, but I do see a gathering interest and sense it will continue to grow. There are certainly rising opportunities to develop complementary models in the public sector for clients to establish longer relationships with the private sector. We should all be keen to explore partnerships with like-minded consultants, and lead in the spirit of delivering public services and public architecture for public good.

I do see a gathering interest in local authority in-house architects, and sense it will continue to grow

Housing is a key opportunity for us in strategically enabling development. This is particularly relevant in the context of Public Spending Review announcements and the national focus on housing. We do have strategic land holdings which are playing a part and, over the period up to 2029, we will be releasing publicly owned land to enable up to 6,500 new homes across Hampshire as a whole.

A good example is Manydown on the western side of Basingstoke, where we are at the public consultation stage for 3,500 homes. The proposal has attracted the attention of DCLG and new Garden Cities initiative funding. This is not just about housing per se but about adding to Hampshire (and Basingstoke) as a place. Here we have a key role in creating good public infrastructure, particularly for access, learning and skills. For us, this is about schools, about community hubs and about holistic place-making.

In practice we are asked for advice now from a ‘whole-life’ perspective, and we can offer this having had experience as designer, client and landlord. As revenue funding becomes even tighter, we are being asked to be ever more innovative and creative with capital investment. To this end we are no strangers to working with new partners and exploring alternative models of living, such as, health villages, supported living, extra-care housing and housing for the ageing population.

To come up with and test new ideas around these themes, we are working with the University of Portsmouth. The students are looking at Winchester, and we have set up real conversations for them with St John’s Winchester Charity, which has a portfolio of existing almshouses across the city, challenging the status quo and sparking new ideas.

I continue to champion public architecture for public good and, perhaps even more than in my days with Colin Stansfield Smith, I see that we, as a profession, have a role to play to vision, plan and deliver new homes and new ways of working across the public sector.

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