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Friday, April 28, 2006
A first-class Olympics?
A quote from Jack Lemley, Olympic Delivery Authority chairman:

"We want to establish a framework where we can go to the market and have a shortlist of qualified contractors who are backed up by engineers and architects.

"That is how we can get the best bargain for the public purse. I don't think we are in a position where we can ask a designer to design the stadium, for example. It takes a year to design then months to build it. We will have to go through a collaborative process."

Another from Denis Oswald, International Olympic Committee Co-ordination Commission chairman:

"The Olympic Park in general and the buildings proposed were a very strong point in London's bid. That had a great deal of influence on the final decision.

"It was a really attractive proposal, with buildings which are technically first-class and also aesthetically advanced."


Via BD.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Housing and What the People Want
A poll says that 53% of 'people' want more housebuilding in their areas. Admittedly this was commissioned by the House Builders Federation but anyway...anecdotally as well as statistically, I would tend to support this. Yesterday in a taxi from the station to my home town in deepest rural England, I had a pretty similar conversation with my driver, who complained against both the ghastliness of the new developments that take place around market towns in the area and the lack of affordable housing provision. He wanted less executive homes and more sensitively designed, affordable, well-located housing not just on the outskirts of towns but also in villages.

Meanwhile, the Tory offensive against Prescott's funding of an academic study about the potential of underused urban land for housing continues. The MP for Poole professes himself 'aghast' at the 'plans which are hardly plans at all. To get it clear, the study says that in areas like Poole, large suburban back gardens have development potential. Not that they will be appropriated, which would be illegal and impossible to legislate for. If I was a suburban back garden owner in Poole I would be rubbing my hands at the idea of being able to make money selling off a few square metres out the back, which is an entirely Tory thing to promote. Individual enterprise and all that. I'll repeat myself, the distortion of the facts here by the Tories is ridiculous and shameless scaremongering. I'm no New Labour fan at the moment, but the Opposition should have a little more respect for the electorate than to go around propagating such unfounded nonsense.
Bigger than Poundbury. Be scared.
The AJ reports that in a matter of months, Prince Charles will submit a planning application for a massive new development outside Plymouth. Named Sherford, it is being designed entirely in-house by the Prince's Foundation and with input from Charlie's 'Enquiry by Design' method which is billed as a "traditionalist approach to public consultation." So that will mean questionnaires which are completely disregarded, then. You can look at all the documents on the council's site here.

It's going to have 4000 new homes, three primary schools, one secondary school and various other commercial uses. This is New Urbanism on a big scale for the first time in England. While a lot of the Prince's rhetoric (sustainability, walkable places, local distinctiveness) is absolutely right as far as I'm concerned, the way he translates this into aesthetic and lifestyle conservatism is, to me, not only regressive but also ethically dubious.
Jane Jacobs RIP
A true heroine to all of us who care about urban life, the nature of our cities - Jane Jacobs, after a long period of ill-health, died today. Not much I can say about her that isn't being said elsewhere. But she is still a real inspiration and although I sometimes feel that her ideas are now misused by those who care to twist words, I hope and believe that her legacy lives on.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Politicking 2
The Tories are really on the offensive to make planning and regeneration an election issue. It's always surprised me that no political party have really seen the potential of the field as a vote-winner - after all, it basically deals with everything that voters care about - quality of life, nice friendly neighbourhoods, property prices, good schools and decent local shops.

Well now, in a classic example of taking a totally uneducated electorate for a ride, the Tories are insinuating that under Prescott your leafy back garden will get repossessed to build flats on. The Tories said the Government has given £2 million of taxpayers' money to planners and academics to investigate "urban densification."

The recommendations include that a development in suburban neighbourhoods should be double the current density and there is "considerable potential" for back garden development. According to the Tories, other recommendations include that back gardens over 30 metres should be sold off for building and Green Belt land should be built over and any "local opposition" ignored.

"Councils are increasingly powerless to protect against growing urban sprawl and ugly "densification. Local councillors should be able to stop blocks of flats being dumped in neighbourhoods if out of character with the area, the Tories claim. It is clear that John Prescott has Britain's back gardens in their sights and is bankrolling garden-grabbing studies with taxpayers' cash. But Labour fail to understand that young couples and families want new homes with gardens."

Well yes, we all know that there is considerable scope for development in people's back gardens, if the right planning frameworks were in place. But this would only be to the benefit of the property owner as they would be able to sell off land for an immense profit. There are certainly no plans to force anyone to sell up and anyone with any knowledge knows that this would be completely impossible to get through legislation and practice.

I really hate this kind of scaremongering which entirely plays on the fact that most of the public know absolutely nothing about how planning works. The Tories should be ashamed.,
In brief: Stratford completion, housebuilding, the Thames Gateway eco-city
Stratford's international Eurostar terminal is completed in time to show off to a bunch of visiting Olympics bods.

London's housebuilding planning permissions lags way behind tagets, according to Planning Resource (subs only). A study published last week by London Development Research reveals that the number of private sector housing starts in the capital fell from 13,400 in 2000 to 12,700 in 2005. The London Plan - a spatial development strategy published in 2004 - set out plans for at least 23,000 new homes a year in the capital. A consultation on increasing the target by 30 per cent, to 31,090 units per annum, ended earlier this year.

I already reported that Arup are working with the LDA to plan an eco-development in the Thames Gateway. Now they are also working with Bill Dunster, and Arup director Peter Head told Building that he thinks a site will be pinned down in the next couple of weeks. But it will only be around 1000 units - hardly the equivalent of the new city in China that Arup are also working on, and that was the trigger for the LDA's interest.

And finally, and trivially: Peterborough is going to have a retirement village, apparently.
Tories, a right to beauty and more politicking
BD seems to be turning Tory. (Somehow I don't see Labour Central Office worrying.) Michael Gove, the shadow minister for housing, managed to get an op-ed piece into Building Design magazine (which under its new editor Amanda Baillieu, has caused no end of ruffled feathers by leading last week with Ricky Burdett and the proposed Design Director for London. Cue major kerfuffle among various boroughs and GLA types.)

Headlined 'Tories understand the value of good architecture' he starts off with the motherhood and apple-pie stuff: "Of all the arts, architecture has the most profound effect on how we live. It gives form to our environment, gives expression to our collective identity and gives us all the opportunity to be inspired daily. Poor architecture doesn't just blight the lives of those condemned to live and work in ugly buildings, it cheapens the lives of all those who encounter it. The consequences of poor building design are borne by us all."

Then it gets more dubious:

"A commitment to ensuring that new building meets the highest aesthetic standards has been placed by David Cameron at the heart of the Conservatives' housing, planning and environment policy. During the party's leadership election, David argued for a renewed emphasis on urban regeneration to build beauty back into our communities. The Conservatives' policy co-ordinator, Oliver Letwin, has argued that a right to beauty should guide thinking on the built, and natural environment."

A right to beauty? And how, precisely, can you define that so it will stand up in the Court of Appeal? He goes on to talk about 'a government committed to beauty working in partnership with local authorities and developers freed to innovate'. Classic bathos, methinks. The other key message, for those who are interested: he's pushing for decentralised civic leadership (no different from Labour, then).

And in the same issue, BD turns on David Lammy, the minister for architecture for being "unknown to the profession and silent on architectural issues. He has turned down all BD's regular and increasingly persistent requests for an interview." It's a pretty crude piece, relying on a straw poll of ten architects and a couple of compliant CABE types to conclude that no-one knows who Lammy is. Now I'm not going to argue that he's really done much at all...but if you want to get political, I would rather see BD do it with more substance and polemic.
Housing Corporation and English Partnerships
One of the things that's been on all the headlines this week has been the potential merger of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. The government has launched a review of the delivery of housing and regeneration, and will report in July.

Those inevitable 'sources' have been leaking more or less officially various things that may come up. These include the probably merger between English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation.

Another question the review will ask is which functions might be devolved from the ODPM to the new body. Those 'sources' close to the review said these might include Private Finance Initiatives, the decent homes standard, neighbourhood renewal, housing market renewal and private sector housing renewal.

A senior ODPM source said: "Do we need a government department to administer [these functions] or would it be better to have an agency that may be that bit closer to them? It could be a lot easier to use an agency so we don't have to go through all the usual civil service rigmarole."

As opposed to all that quango rigmarole that is at least as bureaucratic and intangible. Of course there are also questions about democratic accountability etc for an area which possibly affects more voters lives than any other single issue. If regeneration and all those associated functions got devolved to a quango, that is a significant amount of delivery out of the hands of truly accountable systems.

Meanwhile Jon Rouse at the Housing Corp got himself back in the news by 'pledging' to crack down on bad housing design by blacklisting developers who 'consistently deliver poor housing.' It's all in BD but the site is subs only so I'll reproduce some of the best bits. If you can't be bothered to read on, the main undertone seemed to be that he was frustrated at not being able to do more about design but really, has very few ways that he can get anything to change. We all wonder, of course, how this plays towards his positioning for a new job should the HC and EP merge...

Rouse admitted the design of some of the schemes the corporation has funded under his leadership made him "wince. We need to find out how those schemes went through the net. Did they arise at the point we agreed the funding or did something change thereafter? Why didn't the planning authority play its role? Why was it allowed to be dumbed down from the point where we agreed the funding to what we actually see on site now?" he said.

"I saw one a couple of weeks ago… it was a social rented scheme and it was in the [Thames] Gateway and they had completely and totally changed the design in terms of the access to the apartments, and gone for an unbelievably cheap and crude solution."

Rouse said, in such a situation, he would ask his staff to investigate the association or developer's record and, if they found a pattern of poor design, consider removing the culprit from the corporation's list of development partners.

This is the strongest indication yet that the Housing Corporation, which will fund 84,000 new homes over the next two years, recognises the problem of poor design and is willing to take a hard line under Rouse, formerly chief executive of Cabe. But Rouse admitted he has been forced to temper his passion for good design since moving to the Housing Corporation, and said he was "afraid it would always be the case" that some poorly designed developments would slip through the net.

He said he was not able to factor the long-term benefits of good design into his cost calculations. "I only have so much to spend and obviously there are efficiency pressures continually in terms of trying to get more for less."
Friday, April 21, 2006
Hiccups and apologies

One - it;s been a horribly busy week getting a tender together for a potentially very exciting project in London. Hence very little posting. Updates are happening now, late on a Saturday night. My life is really buzzing!!

Two: My web server for images was down a lot over the last few days. Sorry if you couldn't see the banner image at the top of the page or any of the other pics. Hopefully all sorted now.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Classic Thames Gateway doublethink
In a move sadly reminiscent of too many bad satires, while the ODPM advertised last week for a Chief Executive for the Thames Gateway, with a 'competitive six figure package' juicily dangled as a carrot to the person fool enough to take on the nightmare job, it has emerged that the three RDAs in the area are also seeking a Chief Executive for the Thames Gateway to 'co-ordinate the organisations' policies in the gateway'. Yes, the LDA,

Is this a late April Fool's joke? Has anyone heard of the concept of 'tlaking to each other'? So the call from various parties to streamline the delivery of activity in the Gateway has ended up doubling the number of well-paid and useless people wandering around the marshes of Kent in chauffeur-driven 4x4s. Super sensible. (via Building, subs only).

It just gets more and more absurd. CABE have been asked to come up with a 'design identity' for the Gateway in, oh, three months; Miliband wants a strategic framework for the area by the summer, only ten years too late; meanwhile various local authorities tear out their hair, no-one who actually lives there has the foggiest idea of what's going on, and developers make a lot of money building crap behind everyone's back.
Land Economy and the future of the green belt
Of course, today's big news in planning surrounded the Adam Smith Institute's new publication, Land Economy by Mischa Balen. It covers many things: but most radically, it calls for the total abolition of planning regulation and the exstension of the 'invisible hand' principle to how land is developed.

It also has really interesting things to say about the development of green belt areas. It calls for the 're-greening' of England with sterile agricultural land converted to new woodland habitat and housing.

Balen says "If some of these [areas] were converted to sympathetic development consisting of 90% woodland, including small lakes and rivers and 5% each for housing and supporting infrastructure, each farm whose use was changed in this way, would yield almost 200ha of new woodland, together with 140 average sized new homes."

He proposes that 3% of farmland is developed in this way over a ten year period, yielding about 950,000 new houses and almost 130,000 hectares of new woodland, roughly an 11% increase in the wooded cover of England and Wales.

"None of these new homes would be overlooked by existing houses. Rather they would be nestled in among new woodland. Current homeowners would not face a view altered by new buildings. On the contrary, they would see the ugly monoculture fields replaced by natural woods, carefully planted to provide a mixture of different types of trees and undergrowth.

"The fields so barren of insect, bird and animal life, would be replaced by woods rich in biodiversity and providing a habitat for birds and small mammals." What, of course, he hasn't touched on is my big idea about sustainable new development in the countryside along similar-ish lines but involving biomass production hitting the big time.

The Adam Smith Institute said this kind of sympathetic development is in tune with Conservative leader David Cameron's recent remarks foreshadowing a new approach to planning policy. Cameron has basically been calling for the release of much more greenbelt land for affordable housing, to the horror of the CPRE and others who would be otherwise natural Tory allies. I'm going to be really interested to see how this debate pans out over the next three years. I don't want to get into bed with the Tories about anything but it will be interesting to see how Labour manage to respond to this major new challenge to the planning system.

And this comes on the same day as the quango Commission for Rural Communities recommended higher council tax on second homes to fund affordable rural housing. Same issue, two vastly different approaches. The battle lines are being drawn.
Olympic Delivery Board members announced
The 12-strong board that will oversee delivery of the Olympics has been appointed. It includes:

Lorraine Baldry, Chair of the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation; Tony Ball, former Chief Executive of BSkyB; Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, Barry Camfield, Assistant General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union; Neale Coleman, Policy Director to the Mayor of London; Stephen Duckworth, doctor, academic and entrepreneur; Christopher Garnett, Chairman and Chief Executive of Great North Eastern Railway; Sir Roy McNulty, Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority; Baroness Morgan of Huyton, former Cabinet Office Minister; Kumar Muthalagappan, Managing Director of the Pearl Hotels and Restaurants Group; Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate; and David Taylor, Chairman of Silvertown Quays
Rogers back on Bankside
Fresh back from an Easter break in furthest Scotland (no mobile phone reception, no internet, joy!) there's lots of news to report. First up is the quite surprising news that Richard Rogers Partnership has been reappointed to work on the Bankside 4 site next to the Tate Modern.

Originally he was working on a residential high-rise building for the site, but after Land Securities, who owned it, saold the land to Clan Real Estate and Grosvenor it seemed that all bets were off. However now, Native Land (50% shareholder of Clan Real Estate - still with me?!) have asked RRP to look at the site again.

Alasdair Nicholls, chief executive of Native Land, said: ‘We have asked Richard Rogers Partnership, who enjoy a world-class reputation, to look at ways in which we can bring the site forward. We are aiming to begin consultation with local residents this summer.’ A planning application for the scheme will be submitted towards the end of 2006.

(from the AJ, subs only)
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Design Director for London
Ken's new plan: A "high-powered" design director will be brought into the GLA to oversee development in London. The Architecture and Urbanism Unit will apparently be replaced by the design director employed by a small advisory board, rumoured to be chaired by Richard Rogers. The new group will have more than four times the budget of the existing A&UU.

Building Design offers a list of tips for the job, from favourite downwards:

Ricky Burdett (current GLA design adviser, curator Venice Biennale), Deyan Sudjic (recently appointed director of the Design Museum, critic, author, & architecture critic on The Observer), Rowan Moore (Current director of the AF and architecture critic for the ES), David Lunts (ex-ODPM and head of policy at the GLA), Elsie Owusu (Architect and Arts Council member), Chris Smith (former Culture Secretary, chair of London Cultural Consortium), Joanna Averley (CABE deputy, Olympic Delivery Authority), and Roger Madelin (familiar to Developing News readers, rather like most of the above in fact, from the King's Cross Central development).

Via BD.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Experimental redesign
A preliminary stab at a new look. What do you think?

And happy Easter break to all my new readers. Thanks for visiting and tell your friends!
King's Cross sails over final hurdle
Kings Cross Central has been cleared to go ahead by the Government Office for London without an inquiry. Which is fantastic news for us as hopefully we will be able to start further work on the public realm soon!

As the AJ (subs only) says today, "This represents an extraordinary victory for the developer and his architectural team, who have now steered the project through the entire planning system without once being turned down." Congratulations Roger Madelin and everyone at Argent for such a smooth ride!
13 weeks for planning determination
Planning Minister Yvette Cooper has announced changes to government planning policy, including:

Most types of planning application will now have to be accompanied by a design and access statement.
Increases in internal floorspace of 200m+ within retail developments will be brought under planning control.
LPAs will now have 13 weeks to determine a major application before an applicant can appeal on the basis of non-determination. (A change from 8 weeks)

A quote from Yvette Cooper herself:

"High quality design needs to be at the heart of the planning system. These changes mean that both developers and local planning authorities will have to give proper consideration to design and access before they start. This will help improve the quality of new buildings and spaces."

Via 24dash.com.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
In brief: peerages, Ken's threats, some new roads and lottery news
Congratulations to English Partnerships chairwoman Margaret Ford, who got made a baroness today, and Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart of the Local Government Association and leader of Kent County Council, who got made a baron. Update your databases, everyone!

Ken Livingstone is threatning the warring Stratford City partners with public intervention. According to reports, the consortium will this week hold an auction where one of the partners will buy the others out, but if the public sector ends up having to pay for it all, it would cost a whopping £700m...that's £250 more on every Londoner's council tax.

£50m committed to transport improvements in the South-East and Midlands, including some roadworks near Peterborough and other bits and pieces. £50m is a bit pathetically small, actually...not really heralding a major investment to solve the infrastructure problems of the Thames Gateway.

Not strictly about planning or regeneration but today the Big Lottery Fund launched lotteryfunding.org.uk, a much needed portal which collates all the lottery funding opportunities onto one website. I haven't tested it yet to see how user-friendly it is, but at least it will be an improvement on the nightmare it all was before...
£60,000 homes break ground
...if that's not an inappropriate way to talk about pre-fabricated housing. Prescott's favourite litte competition is about to get realised with construction work starting at several Barratts sites near Leeds and Northampton. I presume they are building the rather naff and twee designs that won the competition (more info here on the construction system etc).

Across these two sites, 96 homes will be built for a construction cost of £60,000. The remainder will be a mix of smaller and larger homes constructed with similar cost efficiencies. A minimum of 30 per cent of homes on each competition site will be built to a construction cost of £60,000. Each of the developments will create mixed-tenure communities, including homes for sale, rent, social housing and for first time buyers under a shared equity scheme.

Watch this space to see if it all works out...
Monday, April 10, 2006
Comment: Groundwork is the People's choice
In the weird Big Brother-meets-Communist sloganeering of the 'People's Millions', today Groundwork emerged the winner of £1.5m Big Lottery Fund cash through TV voting via GMTV.

"After a week of campaigning, frenzied voting and fraught nerves, GMTV viewers have voted for Groundwork UK to deliver Safe and Sound, a programme that will bring different generations together to create safer environments and help people feel better about where they live."

Now I'm a fan of Groundwork and don't want to seem down on them, but 'frenzied...fraught...' - someone's had fun in that press office! Only 20,000 people - 0.03% of the population - voted so it's hardly the People's Millions, more like the Bored Housewives who watch daytime TV's Millions. What's more concerning is that this is evidently such a good way to give out money that next year, the 'People' will be asked to decide what project deserves to get £25-50m to spend.

That's all on top of Channel 4's Big Art Project, which at least has the sense not to expect the 'people' to vote in their masses for public art, Restoration, and Demolition, where 10,000 votes were cast in a tide of furious anti-concrete hysteria, and an entire town won the accolade of 'worst building', leading to a masterplanning process as they realised that they couldn't very well knock the whole thing down. Rather a ironic and fantastic outcome, actually - the programme that was meant to be about demolition actually turns out to be about recycling, re-use, adaptation of something imperfect into something better.

I can smile at Channel 4 and actually rather like the Big Art Project, but there's something cringeworthy about the government using GMTV to attempt some sort of direct democracy. They don't even have the ubiquitiously enthusastic Kevin McCloud on board. Its all a bit weird - 'press the red button on your TV remote for a playground in YOUR local neighbourhood!' and reminiscent of the whole ASBO TV debacle about to come to my local estates. As if voting for a few million from the Lottery will placate those of us who are mad about the billions that get spent subsidising air travel, for instance, or being able to spy on the local hoodies makes the fact that the council won't pay for youth centres suddenly OK. Bread and circuses, I say...
In brief: New Farrell tower, RRP rejected, SnOasis and crazy Zaha masterplan.
Terry Farrell's got planning for a great big new tower down my neck of the woods, on City Road off Old Street. It's not that nice, actually...

Richard Rogers Partnership's beleaguered Cambridge scheme has finally got thrown out by the planners. But they say they're going to stick at it and try again.

Kensington and Chelsea are arguing that Ken needs planning permission for every single congestion charge camera that he will put up in their borough, as part of their ongoing fight against becoming part of the charging zone. What a waste of public money this saga is. K&C should just put up and shut up, like the rest of us.

Suffolk planners have recommended that the SnOasis ski centre should be given planning permission. Yeuch.

And finally, to make y'all laugh (or cry) on a slow Monday afternoon, here's Zaha Hadid's idea of a masterplan in case you haven't already seen it.
Regeneration areas unsustainable
Another Toothless Academic Report That Points Out the Obvious. TART POO. Will it take off?

Stifling bureaucracy and lack of infrastructure are making the redevelopment of the Thames Gateway and Greater Manchester unsustainable, a report has warned. It found a danger that key regeneration projects are "creating transient communities where residents commute long distances to work, and may end only staying in the area for a short period".

Tim Dixon at Oxford Brookes carried out 54 interviews with the key stakeholders at six case studies in the Thames Gateway and Greater Manchester, such as Barking Riverside and New Islington. He identified a lack of commitment to providing community, education and health facilities.

It called for the government and agencies working in both areas to ensure infrastructure is place before development goes ahead. It also warned that redevelopment in Greater Manchester concentrated too heavily on flats with a lack of affordable housing. This could force families away, it said, by pricing them out of the market.

Tom Russell, chief executive of New East Manchester, said "There would be little point building a school before a development, only to find the population was the wrong age".

Surprise: Northern Way is unpopular and confusing
This has been all over the trade press at the end of last week but I figured I'd better feature it briefly. Northumbria University interviewed 30 peple from across the North-East including at the RDA, in local government, charities and private sector developers. They said that they thought the Northern Way was all about Leeds and Manchester and not at all about the north-east. Moreover they found it hard to keep track of all the funding streams and strategies covering the North-East.

The RDA was also criticised, described by interviewees as "oversensitive", "puffed-up and self-important... with delusions of grandeur". They said it needed to be "more confident and able to take criticism".

So that will join the ranks of reports that Tell Us Things We Already Knew, then. It may be useful for people to highlight these issues with 'real' quantitative research, but nothing really changes anyway...
Retirement villages
I rather like the idea of retirement villages. But then, anything is better than sending your parents off to live in a vile stinking home where, as Alan Bennett so stingingly put it, "helpless creatures slowly and quite respectably starve to death." And now apparently they are the future - not only good for the people who live in them but also "good news for local communities, by helping health and social care providers to deliver health and community services more efficiently."

On-site care and support in retirement villages can lead to fewer hospital admissions and promote earlier discharge, generating cost savings for acute hospital trusts. Moreover, as older people move into homes specially developed for them, significant numbers of family homes, previously under-occupied, can become available to ease housing shortages.Retirement villages can also stimulate local economies by creating jobs and by residents' support of local shops and facilities.

But isn't there something perverse about creating purpose-built retirement villages when, if you go to large parts of Dorset or Sussex, there are plenty of villages that have already turned into almost precisely that. Why don't the parish councils in these areas stop fighting against the tide, perhaps, and designate their village a zone for the elderly? Put all their effort into making sure that the pavements have no potholes and that the pub has a disabled loo, get those hip retro knitting circles and tea dances going, and watch as their parishioners get happier, more active and more economically contributive.

But then you might end up with Firhall, featured in the weekend Guardian as the first child-free village in the UK. It's the logical conclusion. Kids can man the village shop after school, but they certainly can't kick a ball around in the street. Yet, quite worrying; something that is (just) acceptable for private developments but not for real, organically evolving villages. I'd rather see villages that were elderly-friendly in an inclusive way, a bit like nature reserves, rather than becoming zoos or gilded cages.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Design codes
Research [pdf] out last week supposedly showed that Prescott's favoured 'design code' approach is a good thing for sites with multiple owners and complex developer/stakeholder set-ups. While I will resist the temptation to be cynical about research that was paid for by the ODPM, this isn't, to me, the controversial or 'anti-architectural' result that many architects will claim. Saying that design codes are intrinsically good or bad is like saying that diets are good or bad - its all in the content, not the form. The over-exposed and beloved-of-architects development at Borneo Sporenburg is an example of design codes as much as Seaside, Florida. Anything that gives complex sites some sort of overarching logic and order - whether a good masterplan that is strictly applied, or a design code, or, indeed, requirements for energy efficiency, use of local materials or tenure mix, is probably a good thing, but certainly won't guarantee 'quality' of design.

I would rather see more intelligent and imaginative design codes by good designers, than the wholesale dismissal of the concept that means that the gap is filled by the unimaginative. Codes currently are too obsessed with roof pitches (or pitched roofs in general), the proportions of windows, the naff little bits of planting that stand in for properly designed streets. But they could - as we tried to demonstrate recently with some design guidance in East London - speak about typology in broader senses, the breaking down of monolithic development areas into varied scales of plot and dwelling type, material choice in an imaginative and open-ended, while sensitive, way. One of the most useful parts of the design code could be about energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable urban drainage, green roofs and solar hot water heaters - ways to force the unwilling, and encourage the enthusiastic, to stretch their design vocabulary in exciting and distinctive ways.

Codes are really just a new term for an old concept - the laws brought in after the Great Fire in 1666 are a classic example of a design code - and shouldn't be seen as a barrier to imaginative, individual design. As far as I'm concerned, its time to stop the argument about whether they should exist or not, and to start engaging with how good or bad the code is, and that's where I'd like to see the ODPM sponsoring research.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Decent Homes Initiative to be scrapped?
I blogged the other day about the Decent Homes Initiative and how there are still 6 million non-decent homes which would theoretically cost £47 billion to bring up to scratch, although the DCI has only a £19bn budget. Well, it seems like Miliband thinks that all that money might be better spent on a more holistic approach than inserting high-quality kitchens into failaing estates.

Building (subs only) reports that Miliband and his housing deputy Yvette Cooper are thinking of replacing the standard, designed to bring all of England's social housing up to scratch by 2010, because it does not focus resources on the wider regeneration of an area. Miliband is keen that the money be spent instead on creating mixed tenure neighbourhoods in which private housing is used to break up concentrations of social housing, but this would be a major policy shift.

A working party on the issue set up by Pricewaterhouse Coopers is proposing that councils be free to spend their housing funds on upgrading entire estates. Such a move would be a break with the way council housing has been funded for decades, and would give councils greater leeway in the way they carry out redevelopments.

Changing the local authority housing funding regime would bring housing policy more into line with the way the Housing Corporation funds its development programme, and may herald a closer working relationship with English Partnerships. The corporation's forward strategy will outline its own proposals for a Decent Places standard.

The quango's £50m northern housing challenge will encourage registered social landlords to submit bids not just for housing schemes but for any project that will improve the quality of life in the area in which they are working. Northern authorities have been lobbying for more leeway over how they spend their money, arguing that many council dwellings have a limited life because many tenants want to own their own homes.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Manchester best for business - and mad for Urban Splash, too.
In the cheesily-named Britain's Best Cities report, Manchester is this year apparently best for business above London even. One of the major drivers that has seen Manchester crowned the best has been the increasing rate of inward investment secured in recent years. MIDAS, Manchester's Investment Agency, has helped deliver a number of high profile investments in the last two years, including the Bank of New York, Shimadzu (hi-tech scientific equipment) and The Standards Board for England.

It's a very American approach, levering in high-value employers through tax breaks and cosy deals with the council. Smacks of Wal-Mart-ism (of which more interesting news here which I'll comment on in a separate post. Something about it makes my hackles rise - while I know investment is a Good Thing, the cushy-ness seems to confuse the public interest with a quantitative evaluation of 'success'.

But for all their new-found corporate zeal, Mancunians are still mad for it. Hundreds of them have been camping out in a carpark in an attempt to secure the 108 units that Urban Splash are selling in Salford - the famous (and rather fantastic) scheme of two-up two-down terraces gutted and remodelled by Shed KM. And the houses don't even go on sale till Saturday!

So to Prescott and his demolition programme, aka Pathfinder - who says that housing market renewal means demolishing terracced houses in mill towns? He could have the biggest property boom going, if only he had the imagination.
Community 'consultation' a sham - shock!
Heritage Link have published a survey that shows that, surprise, local groups think planners only listen to them when their views coincide with the foregone conclusion and 'Only 41% of all respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the way their organisation had been consulted.'

And moreover, the new planning process of Local Development Frameworks, that was meant to make 'partnership' working and consultation a much more integrated process, is a waste of time: "‘Our first impressions of the new Local Development Frameworks processes are that they are convoluted, bureaucratic, time-consuming, resource intensive and likely to fail.’ And LDF jargon won the prize for gobbledegook."

Press release here(pdf). While clearly they are focusing on heritage issues and groups, it seems that consultation is a hot topic this week, with BDP launching a bid to pacify 'militant' locals over their work in Archway (comment from the AJ for subs only). The Better Archway Forum, which counts many local architects in its numbers, launched a competition for a rival masterplan in February and now BDP is trying the 'if you can't beat them, join them' tactic by inviting members to a charrette to 'workshop ideas' for the area.

As far as I'm concerned its great to see real activism having an effect and not only 'local people' but local professionals getting involved. Too often I feel 'community groups' don't look to the expertise in local professionals who would often be only to happy to help out, not only for the good of the area but also to boost their profile on high-profile sites where they'd never have the chance to actually win a normal tender.
In brief: Casino bets are on, Bristol regen news, Trellick Tower and Google.
Casino bidders list revealed by DCMS. The first evaluation of the bids is expected to last at least six to eight weeks, with further examination of selected proposals taking place in the summer.

Bristol have chosen Deeley Freed Estates as their development partner for the St Mary le Port business quarter and the £150m scheme could be underway within 18 months. It will be "a mixed scheme with retail uses facing on to Wine Street; cafes, restaurants and new housing overlooking the city's historic Floating Harbour and a landmark office building close to Bristol Bridge." Sounds original, then.

The 20th Century Society and DOCOMOMO-UK have joined up to urge John Prescott to call in John McAslan’s controversial plans to revamp the iconic Trellick Tower, mainly because they don't want him to replace the windows. This comes as Kensington and Chelsea Council said it was ‘minded to grant’ planning permission for the refurbishment, but it can't grant full planning permission because it is the owner of the building. This decision has been passed to the government office for London.

And last but by no means least: Google have started a property sales listing service in the States - an example search can be seen here. This is actually potentially huge for the property sector and definitely one to track.
After Turner, the Deluge: Dumfries
Just weeks after the shock withdrawal of funding from Margate's proposed Turner centre, by Snohetta & Spence, we now receive word that the £7m Dumfries Theatre Royal redevelopment has been scuppered, after architects RMJM had gone through two planning applications (second one successful) and Lottery funding and European money had been put in place. The Theatre Royal, previously the "flagship of the Dumfries regeneration", was initially to be refitted (or rather the facades retained) but on rejection by planning a bold, if slightly anonymous, newbuild was submitted.

Interestingly, the council apparently withdrew funding prior to awarding planning permission for the second scheme.

It looks like these "indispensable catalysts for local regeneration" are becoming ever more dispensable as the weeks pass.

Via this week's AJ (Subs only)
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Happiness and Decoration
Alain de Botton has been doing the rounds recently. First an article on decoration in the RIBA Journal, and then on Saturday a thoughtful piece in the Telegraph Seven supplement, which they managed to twist though careful image selection into a double-barreled assault on Le Corbusier. You can read it here.

Ah, it's because he has a new book out, is it? It's called 'The Architecture of Happiness' and will be around from the 20th April.

In my view, his discussion of traditional versus modernist urbanism in the Telegraph (despite the bastardisation) is a little more on the nose than his arguments for decoration.
Green Places and Urban Trees
The April 2006 Green Places News, a monthly e-bulletin by the Landscape Design Trust has just arrived on my (e-) desk.

We at General Public Agency get an image from our King's Cross work splashed across the front cover, alongside the author's welcome (and understandable, given the publication) emphasis on the scheme's urban and green values: "The site is a major urban development that will provide a green corridor between the boroughs of Islington and Camden." Easy words to say, perhaps, but it's nice to see these aspects of the scheme in the spotlight.

Also a report from the Trees for Cities Urban Trees conference at the end of March. The article, by Howard Scott, mentions the laughable idea, courtesy of Myerscough College's Dr. Mark Johnston, that trees compromise urban safety through blocking the view for CCTV cameras: short term logic of the 'Secure by Design', prevention rather than cure ilk. Almost as bad as design guidance that prefers isolated single-person benches several metres apart, instead of grouped around tables or in lines, to discourage loitering (otherwise known as sociability, a game of table tennis/chess, good old-fashioned street argument, etc.) - that exact sociability that King's Cross is set to prioritise.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
In brief: Civic Trust, Network Rail, Russian new towns and more.
Civic Trust Award winners announced. Including Lyric Square in Hammersmith, SS Great Britain in Bristol and Broadway Theatre in Barking.

Network Rail to spend another £11bn improving railways, apparently. So the great black hole continues to function as normal...£11bn? That's a lot of money.

Russia just gets weirder. McAdam Architects and Will Alsop's ex-partner Jan Stormer are to masterplan a 'totally self-sufficient' new town outside Moscow for 70,000 residents in response to the 'increasing demand for middle-class, Western-standard housing in and around the Moscow area.'

Make are to demolish one of the three remaining buildings from the Festival of Britain - the little information kiosk by St Paul's Cathedral - and replace it with something made from folded metal. Somehow this makes me rather sad.
'Son of Shard' approved
The baby brother to Renzo's Shard has got planning permission from Southwark. New London Bridge House is on its way, replacing the existing 60s block with 600,000m2 of very expensive office space and a new entrance to the station to add, as Londonist notes, to the confusion around London Bridge Station. And 'substantial' improvements to the public realm, apparently.

Blair's Olympics pledges
Blair has launched his pledges for regeneration in East London prior to 2012 which includes a rather unbelievable commitment to opening 60 new city academies. In six years? I can't really see that happening, especially given what a disaster the initial wave of academies has been. It also includes a £35m skills package.

And a memorable quote: "We have six years to regenerate east London. Six years to demonstrate to the world, as to ourselves, that we can host the greatest show on earth." Arrgh. Six years? It's really not long at all and I already feel, in football parlance, that its getting to be squeaky-bum time.

(via) Building, subs only)
Crossrail U-turn
It seems like Labour decided that the risk of losing Tower Hamlets council to the dreaded Respect Party in the up-coming local elections, where Respect is running single-issue campaigning on Crossrail, is not worth it. It has completely scrapped the proposals, so controversial and which the cat-impersonating George Galloway said was the single biggest issue facing his constituency, to tunnel in Spitalfields, going back to the idea of boring from the two ends in Park Royal and Custom House.

So "no need for the works between Hanbury Street and Pedley Street or the conveyor along the Great Eastern main line. Mile End Park would not be needed as a site for stockpiling excavated material." Pretty much a full U-turn, good news for my local neighbourhood as 24hr lorry movements in this densely inhabited area was never a smart idea, and I hope this takes the wind out of Respect's sails as I have no wish for them to become my new local 'representatives'.
The ageing rural population
I'm sure a lot of people heard the news on the radio today about a new study from Philip Lowe and his colleagues up at Newcastle. Their figures show that 5.3 million of England's projected 5.5 million population growth until 2028 will be due to the rise in the over-60s, as the Baby Boomers finally reach pensionable age.

They will mainly be living in rural districts, with numbers of people living in the countryside aged 85 and over predicted to treble in the period. Remote rural areas in particular are expected to have a 47 per cent increase in the number of residents aged over 50 by 2028, compared with a 30 per cent projected increase nationally. Some rural districts - including West Dorset (where I've been working recently) are set to have three out of five of their residents aged over 50 by 2028.

There are some really huge issues raised by this, but none of it should be news. Researchers have been saying for along time that the challenge of a greying rural population is perhaps the biggest public services challenge that we have to face now. The major issues include the provision and design of rural housing, and commercial and public services, which should be adapted to serve less mobile users.

But also, rural areas desperately need to attract and retain more young people to maintain a balance and work in the services that an older population needs. This really impacts on rural planning and land use, as I keep banging on about. A lot of young people would stay in the countryside, if they felt there were sufficient work opportunities and a really good quality of life within reach of their salaries. But by not providing really good quality, generous affordable housing and not catering for the lifestyle expectations of a different, more mobile, more demanding generation, they will continue to flock to the cities where these aspirations can be met (at least, until they hit 40 and move back to a farmhouse with the kids...)
Monday, April 03, 2006
In brief: South-East housing targets, planning champions, social housing and more Budget news
The Draft South-East Plan has been published for consultation and says that the area needs to build 29,000 homes per year, of which a third should be affordable. Realistic or not, or is it even right in its assumptions? Would love to know your views.

The charity Planning Aid has announced a new scheme in conjunction with the ODPM to ecourage local authorities to all appoint an officer or elected member as a 'planning champion' to act as a bridge between groups who often do not understand the complexities of the planning system and how they can make their views known. I'm pretty much a fan of Planning Aid but it's slightly odd how their press release basically bills the scheme as producing Planning Aid champions as well as the more neutral aim of improving the planning process - one of their champions roles will be to "Shout about Planning Aid and its services within the local authority - and beyond."

Developers have 'shunned' the Treasury's initative to get more private firms involved with buliding social housing. Of the 81 successful bids for the Housing Corporation's £3.9bn investment programme for 2006/08, only six are from private firms. Developers blamed an over-complex bidding process for the lack of reponse.

And finally, a bit more Budget analysis coming out of Building mag (subs only). They pick up on the decision to rule out the Barker review's proposal to introduce a tax credit to encourage the redevelopment of long-term derelict sites. He also failed to take the opportunity to cut VAT rates for refurbishment projects. Apparently the justification was that to grant the credit would give a perverse incentive to landowners to keep sites derelict for longer.

The Budget statement also included details of a cross-government review of regeneration efforts, which could lead to a cull of regeneration institutions (finally! after only a decade of quango hell...) It is likely to examine the performance of the nine housing market renewal pathfinders, six of which received a two-year extension of their funding lifeline last week and there are suspicions that not all this funding will in fact be released.
Controversial Dalston scheme passed
Arup's controversial scheme for the area around the new Dalston station (the East London line extension) got passed last Thursday despite heavy local opposition.The scheme involves the construction of a highly dense residential development on Dalston Lane, including a 19-storey tower.

Locals object to it for two main reasons. The first is that it involves no affordable housing, a move accepted by the council because of the huge cost of building a slab over the new station. And secondly, the proposed plot is adjacent to the hugely contentious Dalston Theatre site, which is also proposed for redevelopment. The move to approve the station site proposals gives a clear indication that these theatre plans, by John McAslan, will also go through.

Jon Aldenton, chief executive of local charity the Bootstrap Company, said ‘Allowing Transport for London to get away with ignoring the standards Hackney usually sets for development creates a really dangerous precedent. The committee made a weak decision last night and it is the people of Dalston who will suffer in the long term. We are hugely disappointed that Ken Livingstone is allowing such a poor scheme to go ahead.' (via AJ, subs only)
Plotlands clampdown
Interesting today to read in Planning (subs only) that the government is clamping down on property speculators who subdivide fields into plots for sale without planning permission.

In an echo of the complaints by the establishment against the early 20th century plotlands, John Stambollouian, head of development control at the ODPM said: "These sales have created a number of problems for local planning authorities. The impacts on visual amenity relate to the erection of fences and other minor development..."

Let's protect our sterile, over-farmed countryside because to admit it might be more useful for living on than for looking at goes against all our dreams of 'natural' arcadia lorded over by the old establishment, with the peasants safely out of sight! As opposed to the idea that allowing citizens to live out their 'good life' dreams of smallholding and country life might be democratic...But before I start sounding like a Tory (vide Cameron's recent pronouncements on the subject), there's a fine line between utopian socialist visions of country life and allowing rapacious developers to build whatever they want and then charge a fortune for it...