Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Regent's Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee (CAB 17)

  1.  The Regent's Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee resolved at its meeting on 4 October that the following statement be submitted to the Inquiry.

  2.  The Regent's Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee was established in 1983 by the London Borough of Camden to advise on all matters relating to the conservation area. The Advisory Committee brings together local community interests with professional and other experts, to produce advice based on an informed dialogue between as wide and inclusive a range of interested parties as possible. All Committee members are volunteers, and the Committee consists of nominees from local groups, professional bodies (RIBA), and local and national amenity societies (Victorian Society, Georgian Group). Although established by Camden, the Committee includes nominees from the City of Westminster to ensure that the Park is considered as a whole. The Committee meets every month and considers all planning and other applications affecting the conservation area.

  3.  The Advisory Committee's comments here are based on our experience of the working of CABE on a scheme of development at St Katharine's Precinct, within the Regent's Park Conservation Area in Camden, on which CABE commented on 25 July 2002.

  4.  The proposal, by the Crown Estate, involved the development of a site immediately adjacent to several Listed Buildings, including St Katharine's Church. All parties agreed that the planning application raised major issues relating to the preservation or enhancement of the character and appearance of the Regent's Park Conservation Area, and to the setting of the neighbouring Listed Buildings.

  5.  The Advisory Committee wishes to raise the following points.

  6.  CABE can review applications without making a site visit. We understand that in the St Katharine's case CABE's advice was made without a site visit.

  7.  In our view it is fundamentally unacceptable for advice on a planning application to be made in the absence of a good knowledge and understanding of the application site: normally this would involve a site visit.

  8.  It is an accepted and fundamental principle of architectural design that a scheme should respond to the site: it is clearly very questionable whether a scheme can be properly assessed in the absence of a good knowledge and understanding of the site.

  9.  In a case where the main considerations are the effect of a proposal on the character and appearance of a conservation area, and on the setting of neighbouring Listed Buildings, a detailed knowledge of the site is an essential element of the process of development control, to which CABE's comments are supposed to contribute.

  10.  CABE's review process, without a sound basis in site specific consideration, profoundly undermines the planning process and public confidence in that process.

  11.  It is not clear to us that CABE has adequate knowledge or understanding of the historic environment to undertake the effective review of schemes affecting the historic environment. The relation of CABE to English Heritage appears to us to be lacking in clarity, and to provide a source of conflict between the two bodies, diminishing the authority of both.

  12.  Again, this conflict undermines the planning process and public confidence.

  13.  It is not clear to us that CABE took any account of community views and local considerations in undertaking its review.

  14.  This again undermines policy which seeks to empower local communities, and further diminishes confidence in the decision making process.

  15.  CABE's accountability is unclear to us as local people. CABE appears to us to be an unaccountable body, using inappropriate processes to give advice not clearly based in the necessary knowledge of specialist historic matters or local community concerns.

  16.  While the Committee has always welcomed high-quality modern design, in our view CABE's approach has undermined confidence that the much-loved and highly valued historic environment is properly protected—a condition we see as essential for wide public acceptance of high-quality modern design in historic areas.

  17.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can clarify or expand upon any of these points.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Simpson


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