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Don't blame the planners for planning decision madness

From the Geffrye to South Bank, don’t blame the planners for planning decision madness, writes Paul Finch

Take a simple regeneration scheme in Tottenham: housing and retail uses, contextual, but which involves demolishing some lacklustre 19th century housing with chimneys removed and crude roofing revisions. Needless to say, after nearly a decade of nonsense, no start is anticipated in the near future, even though the proposal, in different guises, has twice had planning permission.

The latest delay has been caused by Liberal Democrat councillors, who, I hope, will lose their seats the next time London elections come round. They had scuppered an earlier scheme after a judge ruled that, because not every ethnic minority group had been consulted, the planning permission was invalid - though there was no criticism of the proposal itself. When it was resubmitted, with 100 per cent consultation, it was refused!

This time, after a five-hour planning meeting which ended at half past midnight, despite only having to deal with this redesigned proposal for the same site, another permission was granted. Lib Dems claim that the new proposal is not different enough from the refused scheme to warrant the granting of permission, and are now trying to get the latest permission overturned.

In January, a judge rejected their application for judicial review. Two weeks ago, at an oral hearing, another judge rejected all four grounds given for review. Now the Lib Dems (this is being done on legal aid by the way, presumably by finding some local person with no money to front the action) have submitted an application to the Court of Appeal. Every time I hear Nick Clegg or Vince Cable droning on about growth, I think about the outrageous behaviour of their councillors on the ground. A plague on them.

Finch

Elsewhere in the wacky world of planning, we have moronic Hackney Council refusing permission for the David Chipperfield Geffrye Museum scheme, thereby jeopardising National Lottery funding and putting the whole enterprise at risk. Planning officers were recommending approval. Conservationists had done their bit for the future by their insistence that a former pub (not used for 20 years) is critical to the future of civilisation. This has echoes of the story described above, which involves demolition of a redundant department store, not used as such since the early 1970s

So we have a Stuart Hall situation in reverse: architects are being accused of interfering with the old.

The Twentieth Century Society is doing its bit to muddy the waters down on the South Bank by claiming that the Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios scheme, adding impressive ‘liner’ volumes alongside and above the Hayward Gallery complex, will ‘destroy’ views. I think they mean provide new ones. What is the matter with these people? All the buildings on the South Bank changed views irrevocably. All buildings do, except when you go underground.

The irony is that few of the buildings conservationists get all weepy about would get planning permission today. Brutalist concrete with walkways? Forget it. Westminster Council would certainly not permit a Centre Point or Millbank Tower. Tower Bridge would be regarded by Unesco as a gross insult to the Tower of London ‘world heritage site’, and any bridge would probably be refused because it would encourage vehicular activity, or whatever jargon they use these days to describe traffic.

We are rapidly reaching the point where no one can demolish anything, which brings us back to the Add-Plan concept described in this column last week. The heritage brigade would love the idea of zero demolition and, of course, would be devastated by as-of-right permission to build above and beyond. But, as they say, grief is the price you pay for love.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I would guess the author of this has not read the planning report, but just the blogs!

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Contrary to what you've hinted Paul, Scots Planning Policy, maybe not alone, appears to me to for once introduce the importance of demolition to the heritage professional, even although demolition isn't really an obvious principle of conservation, yet! A reminder that redevelopment is as much a branch of heritage as is conservation... Perhaps E&W ought to come up to speed if it hasn't already through NPPF (?). Such enlightenment might influence the impression of what constitutes protection in WHSs... That said, when push comes to shove, e.g. in Glasgow, not a WHS, when a developer recently said 'let’s redevelop Thomson's Egyptian Halls via SHEP' cold feet set in, naturally.

    Here’s a thought though on perhaps some lateral thinking:

    e.g. Wouldn't a Section 75 (or 106) regulation for such very real conservation plights that neighbour any proposed viable and sustainable redevelopment/enhancement be a possible device...

    ‘Planning Obligations’ as such, if apportioned accordingly, should actually benefit a redevelopment, i.e. be in a redevelopment’s interests. Conservation plights aren't merely LBs (often very complex endeavours) but can presumably be any kind of environmental improvement of variable magnitude...

    Such ethics are already a key in all architects’ Code of Conducts; let’s start applying them for a change, i.e. professionalism. The profession must utilise, not fight, the planning system. It shouldn't be about heritage bodies Vs developers. Architects should easily be able to steer or conclude on conservation/development properly without too much destined confrontation, as an extremely erudite* lot. Design-review-panels shouldn't have to really steer too much, to help unravel muddles.

    It does help though if we've been reading you Paul through the years, theory-wise in the AR and no less profession-wise as I read now... Long may readers confide! Some heritage experts would even concur with a lot of what you say here. There appears to be a blindfold of regulation and custom that can often prevent common sense or propriety from prevailing!

    I myself charge 2k/hour to help sort, but as a child (jobless architectural assistant) who should be seen and not heard there’s not much I can do about it!

    (apologies: unedited!)

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