Legislating for the wellbeing of future generations: can it work?

29th March 2017

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act was brought into legislation in 2015 with the aim of improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. Pierre Wassenaar, Director and sector lead for Technology and Innovation, discusses how it can be put into practice. 

The 5 ‘Ways of Working’ detailed in the Act (Long term, Prevention, Integration, Collaboration and Involvement) provide a framework that public bodies need to think about to show that they have applied the long-term sustainable development principle. In order to track progress, The Act requires Ministers to publish within twelve months of an Assembly election, a ‘Future Trends Report’ containing predictions of likely future trends in social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales; and any related analytical data and information that the Welsh Ministers consider appropriate.

What gives the Act real teeth is the appointment of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, who has the authority (even above Government) to enforce the Act through a system of recommendation and reviews.

Swansea SA1 Innovation Quarter

Our work with University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) provided an excellent opportunity to apply the precepts of the Act to a live project.

The timing was good: we were at the start of the design process just as the legislation was coming through. Moreover, the project had a natural alignment with the goals of the Act: The University is in a long-term Economic Regeneration partnership with the Welsh Government, focusing on the future skills needs of the region. It focuses on dual sector education (HE and FE), using work-based learning in partnership with employers, with 90% of students coming from within a 50 mile radius.

It collaborates vigorously with public and private sector partners such as CITB, S4C and NWIS.

Our brief was to create an Innovation Quarter around the docks area known as SA1 in Swansea, incorporating within it a new home for a large tranche of the University. The goal was to align academic and commercial objectives, keeping the project geared to inward investment and commercial enterprise.

UWTSD SA1 Masterplan
Blending public, residential, education and commercial spaces

The idea was for the transformed SA1 to become the gateway between the region’s two universities and the city, creating new opportunities for joint education enterprises in a mixed use setting.

Working with a liaison forum made up of UWTSD, The City Council, Welsh Government, the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community (PFBC), we developed a masterplan that used blended public space to bring together learning, applied research, cultural and commercial amenities, recreational spaces and an urban waterfront community. We wanted to intensify space use across the UWTSD buildings by creating flexible learning spaces able to adapt to changes in pedagogy, technology and curriculum.

SA1 library and learning facilities with a modern industrial aesthetic

We felt it was important to create porous groupings of spaces to encourage interaction with the wider community, and we further developed this thinking with PFBC to draft a design code for future development on the site, structured around welcoming streets, human scale, views and vistas, modern industrial aesthetic and diversity.

Heat-fused recycled glass, developed by post-grads in the University
Glass artwork produced by students for integration into the design

As the project has progressed, and the first phases are becoming a reality, the team has found the structure of the Act helpful in prompting long-term thinking. One example of this is the integration of UWTSD researchers’ cutting-edge glass and epoxy recycling technology into the fabric of the building.

The project has in fact become a catalyst for the launch of a commercial product rollout of the heat-fused recycled glass technology developed by post-grads in the University. This illustrates some of the ways of working the Act aims to encourage: Research and creative problem-solving (Prevention), allied to planning for future skills needs (Long term).

An example of how the heat fused glass could be integrated into the design

We see this as a step change in the way we collaborate, moving from a ‘horizontal’ integration (working closely with peers across the industry) to a ‘vertical’ integration, which brings everyone from students to local businesses into the picture.

It’s early days for the Act, and it isn’t clear whether this legislation will find its way in some form across the Severn. For doubters among you, it’s worth remembering that plastic bag charging originated in Wales under the same Assembly Member, Jane Davidson.