My Favourite Plan


Bob Phillips


A Plan for Todmorden: Thomas Sharp & Todmorden Borough Council, 1946


In my first job after graduating, I was working for a small planning and design consultancy with a project in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. I’d never been to Todmorden before but immediately found myself drawn to the little mill town nestled in the Calder Valley. Some months later, in a second-hand bookstore, I found that in 1945 the then Todmorden Borough Council had employed the town planner Thomas Sharp to undertake a plan for their town centre and had locally ‘published’ this plan. Sharp ran a small planning consultancy (in fact one of the first to use the title Town Planning Consultant). He is perhaps better known for his post-war plans for Exeter and Durham and the (in) famous Pelican book from 1940 simply called Town Planning. The plan for Todmorden was different to many of the plans that had been prepared by Sharp, dealing with the impact of the motorcar or rebuilding an area after heavy bomb damage during the Blitz. It was focused on how the town could reinvent itself. The plan was never realised – some might see that as a good thing as it was quite radical – but the ideas and intentions behind its production are interesting to the practitioner.


I rediscovered this plan more recently when preparing a planning document for a similar sized town. I was trying to find a way to make planning policy attractive and engaging. The Todmorden plan was driven by local community leaders and business in much the same way as our project was. Whilst the images, graphics and plans are in a style indicative of Sharp – the effective three tone black, red and blue - the underlying spatial masterplan within the Plan for Todmorden stood out. The plan sought to provide a physical framework, or masterplan for addressing some of the big issues effecting Todmorden in the immediate post-war period: traffic, heritage and economic stagnation. We still have the same debates that the Todmorden Plan grappled with in 1945. More recently the planning system’s approach has been to tackle these through policies with a limited spatial element. However, the Todmorden Plan highlights the role that a positive community-driven, spatial masterplan can have within a planning document, not just reliance on vague spatial policies. It also reminded me that Masterplans are not just for city centres or urban extensions; there is a place for them even as part of the smallest planning project.

URBAN DESIGN 141 Winter 2017 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 141 Winter 2017

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Urban Design Group Article - Todmorden by Bob Phillips

Bob Phillips

Current position
Director of Planning & Urban Design Urban Imprint, Macclesfield, Cheshire Lecturer in Urban Design (University of Manchester) Chair Elect, North West RT PI

Master of Town & County Planning – Manchester 2006 MA Urban Design – Birmingham City University 2010

Urban design, town planning, community engagement, teaching & training

To be involved in improving the railway station gateway in Macclesfield… and perhaps to finish my own model railway.