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

Memorandum by the Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust (CAB 27)

  CABE has published various guides to the design of new developments, including Building in Context: New development in historic areas (2001). It describes the right approach for successful design in historic towns and villages as being to examine the context and relate the new building to its surroundings through an informed character appraisal. In an earlier guide, By Design: Urban design in the planning system: towards better practice, CABE says that one of the objectives of urban design is to promote character by responding to and reinforcing locally distinctive patterns of development, landscape and culture (p 15). Further on it elucidates that "responding to local building forms and patterns of development in the detailed layout and design of development helps to reinforce a sense of place", and "The use of local materials, building methods and details is a major factor in enhancing local distinctiveness" (pp 20, 21).

  If these were the criteria applied by CABE's Design Review Panel, its work would be universally approved, but the examples chosen to illustrate Building in Context show that quite another set of criteria is being applied. Buildings are shown, eg Case Studies 8, 11, 12 and 14, where the designers have made a point of not relating to the context, using forms, materials and colours chosen to jar with the surroundings. Our own experience in Bradford on Avon is of a scheme produced by architects for Taylor Woodrow (Broadway Malyan Partnership) for a sensitive site in the heart of the Conservation Area. The Development Brief adopted by the District Council after extensive public consultation, specifically called on the development "to respect the character, materials, scale, form, colour of the listed buildings . . . as well as the historic townscape generally". Local buildings are of Bath stone, with pitched roofs of slate or tile. Yet the scheme submitted (but subsequently withdrawn) made extensive use of zinc, both for wall cladding and for roofs whose slopes were broken at the apex by a vertical strip of glazing. Elsewhere large areas of glass and timber boarding displayed an architectural treatment which we thought totally out of sympathy with the local character. This scheme was looked at by the Design Review Panel early in 2001 and commended for its "pleasing richness of treatment within a consistent architectural language". (The accompanying illustrations show part of the scheme compared with typical Bradford on Avon domestic buildings, to the same scale.)

  We submit that the "secret agenda" followed by the Design Review Panel appears to be to promote incongruous designs in modern materials, regardless of the local character of the historic areas in which they are set. For CABE to act as guardian of the quality of the built environment, it needs to apply the criteria which it writes about in its design guides.

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