Monthly Archives: July 2013

Planning major infrastructure

London Heathrow: the future

Options for a new hub airport for London come in thick and fast. Today it’s the turn of Heathrow to come up with a third or maybe a third and and fourth new runway concept. Earlier this week it was all estuary, Grain Island or possibly Stansted with Foster, Make, Atkins/Hadid battling it out to be Boris’s preferred option. No doubt the Committee empowered to review these options will be thinking beyond the images and consider the views of those directly affected, but it will be the big interests that determine the outcome.

Whatever the outcome there does seem to be some logic in proceeding with this process even if it ends up being a re-run of the 1970’s when Maplin was ditched for Stansted. Can these lessons be applied to the second major infrastructure debate?

HS2: fundamental review

The other hot infrastructure topic, HS2 rolls on, this time with the paving bill in Parliament. HS2 have already racked up significant fees on developing a back of envelope concept but now it seems that real money is needed despite the growing calls for reconsideration through to all out scrapping. Disruption to cities and countryside is inevitable with major projects and yet this one seems to have got off on the wrong foot spectacularly. It seeks to re-balance the economy with a single fast train service that all evidence suggests will draw people down to London rather than the reverse. Its environmental damage to the country and city is too significant to be ignored. The major cities Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds may get the benefit of a service but other cities in greater need in the East Midlands, North West, North East, East, South West and West get little or no benefit. Transport is a network of connections and this proposal makes limited contribution to the overall connectivity at great cost and over a very long timescale.

Above all the project has not been investigated from an agreed starting point. What is it trying to achieve, first it was speed until that was shown to be of limited benefit, then regeneration, then capacity or a mix of all three to justify the need. The objectors have picked off these arguments skillfully but there is no dialogue between design and politics and until there is the two sides will continue to fight.

The country cannot stop infrastructure development because it is difficult and complete acceptance across all interest groups is unachievable, but this project does seem to be heading in the direction of no benefit for anyone beyond a few with generous expense accounts and no time to switch off.

Design Panels

Andrea Klettner “Squaring the Circle” in BD 5 July 2013 addresses housebuilding stimulation, planning, garden cities and design review in a single page, including Nick Boles’s “five favourite schemes”. Well done Andrea, no mean achievement. Even Nick Boles the Planning Minister says he does not know what makes a good system or a bad one when it comes to design review.

Robin Nicholson who does know about such matters, gets in touch with Boles to tell him about the Cambridge Quality Panel (Disclosure – as a panel member I have experienced its excellent work under Robin and John Worthington’s chairmanship). Nick Boles promptly goes to Cambridge, looks at some of the emerging developments on greenfield sites around Cambridge. In the Cambridge bubble, far sighted Councillors and officers have been and continue to release land for development whilst insisting on the highest standards of design to accommodate the City’s housing needs.

What makes the Quality Panel work so well? It has a number of consistent threads to its work. It was set up by Cambridge Horizons with a relatively small number of panel members. Panellists regularly get the opportunity to work together on reviews. There is an explicit agenda around the four themes of Community, Connectivity, Character and Climate, based on a report for Cambridge Horizons written by Nick Falk of Urbed. A key recommendation was that the panel review emerging major urban extensions. Initially this was taken on board by other Councils nearby. In the light of NPPF recommendations it is hoped that this will be restored after a lapse. The proposition was taken up by Peter Studdert and fellow planning and design colleagues. There is an understanding, largely shared by local authorities and housebuilders that the panel should be consulted as early as reasonable and that the consultation is continued through the design process, leading up to applications and  reserved matters.

12 panel members including the two chairs have a range of skills covers urban design, planning, transport, architecture, landscape design, sustainability, sociology and housing. The panel members include local and national representatives. It is well served by Council officers from the County and City Councils. Briefing and site visits are included. Revisits to review completed schemes are planned.

Design review is spread across the Country and its value is increasingly recognised. If the planning regime, developers and house builders can be persuaded that it is a facilitating not obstructing mechanism then standards can only improve.