The centre of Balsall Common required imagining a new future, which could do more for the community than it currently does. URBAN Silence supported Arup in exploring the issues and identifying the balance between change and conventional habits.

Balsall Common is the largest village of the rural Parishes of Balsall and Berkswell. It is perfectly placed to access employment and services across the dynamic hinterland of Coventry and Birmingham. The village has retained the peacefulness and comfort of being “simply” a nice place to live. The centre, however, is a disappointment for many residents: it includes a range of convenience outlets, but it lacks character and sense of quality. It serves the community’s needs, but it does not generate pride or emotional attachment. For most, it is frustratingly car dominated, inadequate for the safety of children and for people with impairments. For businesses, however, it works as it is: trade is good, because of the affluent growing population and established routine custom.

The great challenge is to reinvent the centre as a place not only of shopping, but also as a place of encounter, community activity, social interaction, business and living – creating opportunities for local people and organisations, while improving local character and retaining the strengths of existing trade. This can only be done through intense dialogue with the community, including the young and the elderly, and engaging as directly as possible with local businesses.

Proposals included:

  • A delicate balance between the community aspirations, new opportunities for social interaction and safeguarding the convenience activities of local shops.
  • Capturing the interest of community groups and expanding their opportunities to generate activity in the centre.
  • Reinforcing the connections of the centre and the village, through recommendations for improved walking and cycling, heritage trails and improved links to schools and sport clubs.
  • Recommending additional policies to retain the centre as the focal point of activities, as the village expands.

The outcome was an ambitious master plan that finely balance local expectations, while delivering social value and making a contribution to the carbon reduction and environmental agenda of the region.