“Giving councillors a vocabulary to talk about design”
Hastings puts on quarterly training sessions for councillors and has recently been focusing on design. While agreeing that “design is important”, councillors acknowledge that it is hard to judge: it can be surprisingly fashion-led in urban areas, styles regularly come in and out of vogue and personal opinions vary.
What a building looks like tends to dominate discussions about design, whereas of course how a building and/or the spaces around it work is equally important. Hastings is open to contemporary design, but councillors have sometimes expressed concerns that designs accepted have been “good enough for Hastings” rather than pressing for something really excellent.
While councillors appreciate that sometimes the complexities of the decision making process and factors at play can lead to ‘compromises’ (sometimes on design factors), they made it clear they’d welcome some guidance and help in assessing what makes a good design.
The sincerest form of flattery
So Ray Crawford, Planning Manager at Hastings, imitated something that the Planning Quality Framework had previously stolen from Camden Council – a tool they’d developed from CABE’s Building For Life – they used it to judge the influence of their pre-application and planning service on good design.
Ray adapted the tool to create a checklist of things to consider when designing a new development, and linked elements to Hastings’ policies. Here it is. He tried out the lists with councillors by giving them a layout for a housing scheme (that had previously been submitted for pre-application advice). With very little prompting they worked through the questions and came up with a wide range of good and bad points and had quite animated discussions within their groups.
The feedback from the sessions was universally good, and councillors have asked for copies of the list, so that they can use them as an aide memoir when looking at applications in the future. One of the outcomes Ray hopes to achieve is to help councillors not only assess design aspects of applications, but to give them a vocabulary to talk about design.
- When presented with a design, many find it a challenge to know where to start in making an assessment as to its merits or whether it will be successful or not.
- Hasting’s adapted work done by Camden to provide a guide for councillors, agents and members of the public to highlight the things to consider when assessing a design.
- It is hoped that this will help all agents prepare more meaningful design and access statements (Ray also dreams of a world where they considered all the points during the design process to actually inform their design). Ray had a concern that the Architects among the agents would resent Hastings trying to teach them about design, but they welcomed it and thought it was a useful tool.
- It’s too early to tell whether or how this will impact on the decision making process.
For more details contact Ray Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org).