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

Memorandum by John Rosser, Planning Officer (CAB 29)

  This submission is made on the basis of occasional contacts made by Officers in the Planning Authority, City of Edinburgh Council, with those of the Commission and in the light of valuable assistance received from them and its publications.


  There has been a very welcome emphasis recently to the need to improve design quality through various UK and regional government initiatives. In our case the Scottish Executives review of SPP1 and policy on "Designing Places" to make design a material consideration in its own right are most welcome. Indeed this Authority was charged by its own Planning Committee to establish a joint Member/Officer/Development Industry Working Group to identify ways these initiatives could be taken forward.

  From this perspective, and context, it seems rather presumptuous to comment on CABE's organisational priorities. Developing our approach to the demands of the quality of life agenda has drawn on many sources. We would though like to take this opportunity to place on record an acknowledgement for the work of CABE.

  One of our early tasks was the preparation of "The Edinburgh Standards of Urban Design" which was informed by "By Design", prepared in conjunction with DETR. Other recommendations from our Working Group for example on Member Guidance, a Design Champion, member and officer training in urban design, the appointment of specialist staff, on developing the urban design toolkit and improving the design review process were almost "symbiotically" informed by CABE policy preparation and publications. The protection and enhancement of the city's natural and built heritage, some of it enjoying World Heritage Status, has been a long standing objective and function of the authority and the work by CABE has been of considerable assistance in addressing the challenges.

  As opposed to the rather individual pressures, and regeneration opportunities, being experienced here due to local circumstances the general approaches either required or promoted by the development industry itself seem to have a lot in common irrespective of location. Publications on achieving design quality in PFI procurement, guidance on tall buildings and the investigation into Housing Futures are also very relevant.


  In Scotland review work is still carried out by the Royal Fine Art Commission with whom the authority works closely over referrals. CABE's advice on scheme review has been useful to our own review work.

    (a)  the criteria used in reviewing schemes submitted to the authority.

    In trying to encourage more early pre-application meetings and the adoption of a design statement approach developers, in addition to policy prepared by the authority, have also been referred to the CABE publication "Design Review". This raises the importance of design as a process and refers to key elements of good practice, essential if quality is to be achieved. The criteria seem very appropriate and we would especially mention the way it directs significant attention to the importance of context. Illustration, let alone analysis, of context is usually conspicuous by its absence in most applications despite the city's physical character, much of which is covered by conservation area status, and of the traditional interdependence of its uses which help to maintain its many "living" centres.

    (b)  the consistency in the application of the criteria and N/A.

    (c)  the choice of schemes reviewed N/A.


  No Comment.


  Faced by considerable development pressures the work done by CABE, and others including the Scottish Executive, has added detailed and practical guidance to the overall policy initiatives on design quality being brought forward. In an authority fortunate to have specialist urban design staff this has been most welcome in improving the quality of service. This policy direction and its organisational realisation also have very valuable roles in promoting and supporting a quality agenda, often at times of other competing or conflicting interests. Our perspective on the role of CABE is limited but we highlight (below ) some issues that appear pertinent to the immediate future. In this respect it does appear that CABE's role in practical scheme review does make for relevant dissemination of good practice and this combination should remain at the forefront of its operations.

  It is impressive that much of CABE's work is also being carried out at the same time with the development industry itself. This is an essential ingredient if true progress is to be made. We would ask whether CABE's experience in this process itself could be published to see how similar approaches, with all their difficulties, might be developed at the local level. We look forward, for example, to hearing more about the joint "Building Futures" investigation.

  An equally key area appears to us to be informing public perceptions of urban design/raising the urban design profile when residents/applicants may only go through the process once themselves. There has long been an interest in conservation, how can a similar level of interest be furthered in urban design and contemporary architecture. How can public intervention be made more positive. Though television may be making design more popular its presentation often surrounds ridiculous, though possibly dramatic, time constraints.

  As a relevant aside to this design cannot be seen as a quick fix, the design role, whether it be CABE, the development industry or individual applicants needs to be properly promoted, engaged and resourced. Too often in the past this part of the process seems to have been considered an area which can be dispensed with in order to make "efficiencies" or savings. Especially at a time when development seems to be so much in demand the potential for urban design and architecture to offer quality environments, to create "delight" and "add value" need to be constantly reinforced.

  CABE's concern for the neighbourhood level appears a fruitful area, especially to us with major regeneration opportunities in coastal and peripheral parts of the city. We would welcome guidance on some of the following themes.

  Possibly from CABE's pathfinder involvement, guidance on promoting social inclusion initiatives and examples of their realisation would be useful.

  Density could be considered a rather blunt tool, indeed the term itself is worthy of greater investigation as much significance seems to be attached to it, not least sustainability. The whole issue needs greater clarification. We would welcome further guidance on different approaches to increasing residential density whilst retaining high levels of amenity but without developing high rise.

  The most important issue in neighbourhood development is the creation of a sense of place. Set against economic and social changes in both private and public sector provision traditional ingredients of place are harder to achieve. The most sustainable developments are ones which people find attractive, ones which they become attached to and so take ownership of and look after. It seems interesting and varied developments, albeit against different cultural and organisational backgrounds, are taking place in Europe and it would be very valuable if there could be greater demonstration through case studies. Other sources might include "smart growth" and the "urban villages" initiatives.

  One more area for consideration (apart from suggesting a Green Space Initiative for Scotland!) would be an investigation of the spatial aspects of both local and strategic planning, how and where do we locate neighbourhoods, what criteria do we use, how do we integrate with existing settlements. We have our own thoughts but the development of broader spatial thinking is also a prerequisite of achieving design quality/quality of life.

  We are grateful for this opportunity to make comment and trust that our suggestions will in small part both "repay" the assistance we have gained and contribute to CABE's future agenda.

  These comments are offered on the basis of an Officer Consultation and should not be taken to represent the views of the City of Edinburgh Council.

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