We recently attended a lecture given by leading architect Sir Terry Farrell, at Leeds Metropolitan University, on The Farrell Review. The review looks at how we should be co-operatively, and proactively planning places, with communities playing a vital role. Sir Terry’s maxim, is that, “The quality of our built environment and the places we live in are some of the biggest factors that influence our quality of life” – and therefore communities should be at the centre of this. Not pushed to the outside, whilst planning becomes development control or a game of tractor statistics.
Sir Terry thinks there is a lot wrong with planning today, and on Monday 16th May he is giving evidence at the select committee hearing on how well (or not) the National Planning Policy Framework is working. The list of witnesses and submissions can be viewed here.
It is however, worthwhile reprinting Sir Terry’s submission – because it is exactly the placemaking approach that the Aireborough Neighbourhood Forum wants to take with neighbourhood planning. We fully endorse the view that planning places should involve the long-term stewardship of that place and its identity – and at the centre of that has to be the community itself, supported by the professionals.
Sir Terry wants people to ‘lead the revolution to make this happen’ and the ANF responds with a big yes to that.
Evidence Submitted by Sir Terry Farrell, on behalf of the Farrell Review of Architecture Policy [NPP 255]
Sir Terry Farrell, on behalf of The Farrell Review of Architecture Policy, welcomes the opportunity to submit to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into the operation of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). While we appreciate that this inquiry is lookinginto the broad operation of the NPPF,we would like to draw the Committee’s attention to threespecificrecommendations from the Farrell Review that cut across planning for housing, town centres and infrastructure and which we believe need to be urgently addressed in order to ensure that the UK’s planning system is fit for purpose.
In summary, our recommendations to the Committee are as follows:
- The UK’s planning system needs to be proactive rather than reactive, anticipating rather than responding to the future needs of our towns and cities. By planning proactively like other countries do, we would anticipate issues like the national housing shortage or susceptibility to flooding and address them before they reach crisis levels.
- Places would be greatly improved if the people who make decisions about our built environment, such as planning committee members and highway engineers, were empowered by training in design literacy. Local planning authorities should also set out a plan for attracting and retaining the best, and most design-literate individuals for planning departments.
- Design Review Panels should become “PLACE”(Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering) Review Panels using the acronym to ensure all the key disciplines are represented. There should be PLACE reviews of existing places like high streets, mega-hospitals and housing estates and of infrastructure projects like rail, road and aviation improvements. Public-sector developments that are not subject to normal planning, such as national infrastructure projects, should be subject to PLACE Reviews.
- About Sir Terry Farrell
Sir Terry Farrell CBE is considered to be the UK’s leading architect planner, with offices in London, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Throughout his career, he has championed urban planning and helped shape government policy for all the leading parties, towns like Ashford, cities like Edinburgh and regions like Thames Gateway. He has completed award-winning buildings and masterplans including Brindleyplace, The Home Office, MI6, Newcastle Quayside, Incheon airport, Beijing station and KK100 in China (the tallest by a UK architect). Current projects include Old Oak Common, Royal Albert Dock and Earls Court. In 2013 he was voted the individual who has made the Greatest Contribution to London’s Planning and Development over the last 10 years.
- About the Farrell Review of Architecture Policy
Sir Terry Farrell was asked by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to conduct an independent review of Architecture and the Built Environment in March 2013. The Review has engaged as widely as possible to help DCMS develop its thinking about the role for government in achieving high-quality design and to help the built environment sector address the important issues of our times. The Review published its findings in March 2014 and its final recommendations can be found here: http://www.farrellreview.co.uk/download.
Sir Terry Farrell conducted the process independently and was supported by an expert advisory panel made up from members of the built environment industry.
Just as much as the health of the economy and our public services, the quality of our built environment and the places we live in are some of the single biggest factors that influence our quality of life. Yet for too long, the subject has been viewed as the preserve of an elite. The architecture profession has tended to draw its members from a narrow social group whilst the planning process has been top-down, complex and unwelcoming for members of the public wishing to get involved.
We need to engage the public in the planning process more proactively than ever before. On a day-to-day level this will allow us to create better places to live which are more acceptable to communities; but it will also help us tackle some of the big questions of our time – how do we build enough homes and make the places we live in outstanding? How do we meet the challenge of climate change? And, topically, how do we design places less susceptible to the terrible floods that hit so much of the country this winter? Through proactive, rather than reactive, planning we can tackle these problems.
- Proactive Planning
One of the central themes of the Farrell Review of Architecture (FAR) has been the recommendation to open up the planning system and embrace a new proactive approach to planning. Anticipating needs and opportunities, not simply responding to proposals for new development, and looking at places in their entirety, rather than just at individual buildings and their design, is essential to create healthy, sustainable places.
This requires a fundamental, philosophical rethink from everybody involved in the system – from architects and developers, to policy-makers and communities. Policies should be developed which are enabled by politicians but need to be led independently by the industry and the very communities themselves, with the focus of these policies being the core “places” of villages, towns and cities. The stewardship, long-term planning and identity of real places should be a fundamental part of built environment policies. The future lies in empowering cities and localities and the people that live in them.
We must be more proactive when planning thefuture shape and form of our villages, towns and cities and the government, institutions and professions should lead a revolution to make this happen. We need a radical step change in collective expectations and actions to improve standards within the everyday built environment. Our planning system has become too reactive and relies on development control, which forces local authority planners to spend their time fire fighting rather than thinking creatively about the future shape and form of villages, towns and cities.
Everything is open to negotiation for every planning application and, as a result, huge amounts of time and resources are spent on issues that could have been predetermined by a collective vision shaped in collaboration with local communities, neighbourhood forums and PLACE Review Panels.
Proactive planning would free up valuable time for local authority planners to develop masterplans and design codes which are supported by local communities, whilst reinvigorating the planning profession and its public perception.Government should establish a PLACE Leadership Council, with Ministerial representation from DCMS and DCLG and public- and private-sector representation to provide a strategy for improving design quality within the everyday built environment and a culture change in favour of proactive planning.
- Design Literacy
Places would be greatly improved if the people who make decisions about our built environment, such as planning committee members and highway engineers, were empowered by training in design literacy.
Newly elected councillors who already receive mandatory training on financial and legal duties should receive placemaking and design training at the same time. In order to achieve this, there needs to be a momentous sea change led by professionals to better inform and educate those who make the all-important decisions. After all, it is in all our interests to ensure that every person responsible for making decisions about the built environment is able to read plans at the very least. Information and communications technology should be used to make the most of people’s time when volunteering to skill up decision makers, and CPD points should be offered by PLACE institutions to incentivise this.
Local planning authorities should set out a plan for attracting and retaining the best individuals for planning departments. This could include the use of planning fees to recruit more design-literate planners for proactive placemaking teams whose skill sets could be shared by neighbouring authorities.
Local planning authorities should have interactive online forums for projects over a certain size, giving the public better access to planning debates about the future of their neighbourhoods.
- PLACE Based Planning
Design Reviews, where professionals join Panels to review projects and help create better outcomes and better places, should become part of our everyday culture. Places are shaped by many different forces and we have responded by developing a number of different specialisms. For that reason, we should usher in a new era of PLACE Review (Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering). By replacing Design Review Panels with PLACE Review Panels, we can ensure that all aspects of the built environment are given equal consideration. We should use information and communications technology to make better use of time for PLACE Review Panels and spread the benefits more widely. At the same time, the culture of these reviews must change and become more collaborative and less judgemental. Issues of taste and style should be much more open, tolerant and diverse given that it is not “either/or” any more between the historical and the modern, and the style wars are a thing of the past.
At the present time, Design Reviews tend to be triggered by new planning applications, the majority of which are made by the private sector. Every public body should have access to an independent PLACE Review Panel, with their results published online, and they should operate at a more strategic level. PLACE Reviews should be radically extended to what is already there, including existing high streets, hospitals and housing estates. Unlike many other parts of the world, we live in a country where 80% of the buildings we will have in the year 2050 are already built, so let’s collectively re-imagine their future. There are examples of good placemaking with effective partnerships between public, private and third sectors. The Homes and Communities Agency “Place Spotlight” identifies case studies from around the country and helpfully sets out eight components of great places. Places will only become great if there is civic leadership, whether it’s from politicians, community groups or built environment professionals. It is individuals that make the difference, not policies, and we need more leaders to step forward who truly care about their built environment
All government decision-making panels for major infrastructure reviews should have design and planning professionals represented. Infrastructure crucially and permanently shapes places, and transport projects must have planners and designers involved from the outset. All government-funded infrastructure projects, whether adapting or building new, must have a masterplan and should instigate early and ongoing PLACE Review. The “design envelope” for the built environment should be agreed in advance, particularly for the public realm affected by new or changed infrastructure.
Our built environment and the places we live in are so important to us – socially, economically, environmentally and culturally. The built environment is also extremely complex and this complexity must be recognised within the planning system. The disaggregated nature of expertise and interest in the built environment, reflected in its division amongst many government departments, is a strength not a weakness. Its network nature is very much in the spirit of these times, but the network needs energising and nurturing and we need to support agents and agencies who do that best, whether they be mayors, institutions, organisations or individuals.
A top-down, Statist approach to planning is not the solution for today’s complex world. A new proactive approach to the planning system is essential to ensure we are more responsive and more able to create the new homes, new infrastructure and new towns that we need. But it will require a fundamental, philosophical rethink from everybody involved in the system – from architects and developers, to policy-makers, planners and communities. There is no doubt that national and local government have an important role to play, both in achieving design quality as a client and in promoting design quality by acting in an exemplary way.
We need to build more and better homes, and we need to create better places that people want to live in and communities are happy to accept. That is a big challenge, and I welcome the contribution that this Committee’s inquiry will make to theimportant debate on how we meet it.