Memorandum by John Rosser, Planning Officer
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.
1. CABE'S OVERALL
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.
2. THE WORK
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.
3. CABE'S RELATIONSHIPS
4. THE FUTURE
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,
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
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
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.