25 Jan 2023
The importance of good design and the delivery of beautiful places continues to gain momentum in planning; equally, the ways in which good design is being achieved is through increasingly collaborative processes.
Looking back, the 2019 RTPI report and survey highlighted how planners across the UK consider design quality to be important in planning and discussed how design quality can be improved. Then at a national level, 2021 saw a drive from UK Government to create high-quality places; the NPPF was revised to increase focus on design quality for delivering ‘beautiful’ and ‘sustainable’ places and the new National Model Design Code was published to provide detailed guidance on the production of design codes, guides and policies.
In London, good design has become integral to the planning process and ways to improve design quality through the development management process are increasing. The Design Council state that design review is a well-established way of improving the quality of design outcomes in the built environment, and it is now recognised in the National Planning Policy Framework. In 2020, the GLA reported that 83% of Local Planning Authorities have either established or begun to develop Design Review Panels (DRPs), as well as ‘Quality Review ‘or ‘Place Review’ Panels. These Panels comprise independent, multidisciplinary professionals and support local authorities in evaluating schemes (often large and strategic in nature) at the pre-application stage by providing advice to improve development proposals.
The question is how do we keep striving for good design? In a recent GLA survey of design review in London, 60% of respondents reported that DRPs often comprise of professionals who are not representative of the communities they serve. In addition, it is difficult to recruit suitably qualified professionals onto a DRP who are from the boroughs they serve, especially if a DRP is run by an external provider. Moreover, Place Alliance reported in 2021 that only a fifth of local planning authorities in England engage communities in the design process and that proactive community engagement in design is minimal.
This question brings Community Review Panels (CRPs) into the picture - another way good design is being achieved. Since 2020, five additional CRPs have been established in London from the first being Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation Community Review Group which began operating in November 2018. CRPs are groups of ten or more local volunteers who do not need experience or knowledge in planning or architecture. They are appointed to reflect the demography of the areas and chaired by a professional engagement expert. CRPs review development proposals at pre-application stage and their detailed comments and understanding of the locality are given weight in the planning process and can influence outcomes. Frame Projects, a design focused project management consultancy, reports that CRPs are seen as innovative and that local planning authorities are expressing an interest in establishing one, with Ealing Council now having the first borough-wide community review panel in London. Whilst this blog looks at London examples there are good examples across the UK, some of which include new community groups set up to guide the design of new developments in their local areas following funding from DLUHC’s 2022 The Design Code Pathfinder Programme.
Nevertheless, there are other initiatives focusing on getting young people interested and involved in development proposals in their communities. The November 2022 Inspire Future Generations Awards in London showcased how young people are adding value to the design process. The awards celebrate and recognise initiatives that work with children and young people to engage in and advocate for a better built environment. The awards gave prominence to a wide range of projects including the My Place Finsbury Park Pilot in Harringay London and the Kingston Riverside Regeneration Project in London, which were shortlisted for best youth community engagement award. Both are examples of how to successfully regenerate neighbourhoods and estates by involving and empowering young people in the discussion of change where they live. Estate regeneration is a growing sector and as highlighted in our Lichfield’s Insight, such projects involve complex considerations and effective communication among landowners, decision takers and particularly residents. Therefore, what made these two initiatives stand out was their ability to capture what young people value in their local areas such as particular landmarks, public spaces, and perceptions of spaces, then to maintain and enhance those attributes in the design process. An example of how this was achieved was through the early initiation of co-design and placemaking research approaches where young people’s local knowledge and thoughts shaped the design process. The benefits are wide reaching from supporting community cohesion to promoting inclusive design and designing multigenerational spaces. Moreover, the projects present educational opportunities and raise the profile of property and construction as career option for young people.
The award ceremony firstly showed that initiatives for young people to input into the design and planning process is increasing and gaining popularity and secondly, that these initiatives have tangible outcomes and influence development projects. Whilst initiatives to involve young people in urban regeneration and the design and planning process are not completely new (see The London Legacy Development Corporation’s Legacy Youth Voice established in 2008), more opportunities exist for such initiatives as local planning authorities and public commissioning organisations are increasingly driving development. Public Practice explains that more local planning authorities are delivering housing schemes, regeneration projects, and are often acting as the master developers; with this change, there is a renewed interest and ambition within local planning authorities to foster or bolster their design culture. Redbridge Council are a prime example of this and in September 2022 partnered with the large UK developer Countryside to regenerate Ilford Western Gateway and deliver a new thriving and sustainable town centre for local communities. Part of the project will involve establishing a Youth Council and a Legacy Committee (Community Board), both with decision-making responsibilities to shape the design of the project.
It's evident that the community review model is expanding. Input into the design and planning process through more formal platforms and collaborative initiatives for communities - and now more so for young people - is exciting and something to be encouraged. Lichfields have seen this from being part of the Teviot Estate project team, bringing forward housing association Poplar HARCA and Hill Group’s new mixed-use regeneration scheme in Tower Hamlets. Poplar HARCA have set up a Youth Empowerment Board (YEB) in the aim of 16 to 21 year olds influencing the regeneration and design process. For local planning authorities there also appears to be potential benefits from such design engagement and input with young people. The opportunity to discuss and contribute leads to design development influenced by local knowledge across all ages with a real experiential understanding of place as local people are often best placed to know what development is appropriate for their area.
The views of all generations, including future generation, are key to successful regeneration projects and therefore initiatives focusing on young people influencing the design of development proposals offers much to the question of how we keep striving for good design. The design of development proposals is an iterative process, and these examples show that forms of youth and community design input in the planning process could result in more successful development proposals. Ensuring that development proposals respond to local needs, challenges and opportunities is important and design input from both young people and communities seems to be increasingly explored to achieve this. Perhaps such input can support and feed into the DRP process? As built environment professionals, let’s hope 2023 continues to see more collaboration between organisations, companies and local planning authorities on creating platforms for communities and young people to input into the design and planning process.
 RTPI | RTPI design quality
 Design Review: Principles and Practice - Design Council
 2020 Placeshaping capacity and design review survey (london.gov.uk)
 The Design Deficit | Place Alliance
 Community Review - an overview | Frame Projects (frame-projects.co.uk)
 Community Review - an overview | Frame Projects (frame-projects.co.uk)
 Communities empowered to shape design of neighbourhoods - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
 Inspire Future Generation Awards — Thornton Education Trust
 Great Estates: Planning for Estate Regeneration in London (lichfields.uk)
 Legacy Youth Voice | Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Image Credit: PTE Architects