What's my line?
David Beardmore is a planner - the ultimate pantomime villain to many architects. However, in his defence, Beardmore is not one of 'those' planners - the ones that tell you to go away and redesign your building more in keeping with the surroundings - he is a proper planner. He left the public sector 20 years ago. A bit of a poacher turned gamekeeper.
Beardmore describes himself as one of a dying breed; someone who went straight from school into the local authority planning office. He had wanted to be a surveyor because he wanted to work in the fresh air, but when he applied he found out that there were only vacancies for planners. 'So, I thought: OK, ' he says.
When I ask him to explain the important role that planners fulfil, he tells me, after asking me not to laugh, that they are there to help save the environment and to improve people's lives. Actually, when he says it, it does not sound as pretentious as it looks on paper.
Too many local authority planners see their role as protecting the public interest and get carried away with themselves when giving their rulings on delegated matters or when making their case to council. If they want to pontificate about the 'common good' they should be elected into council chamber and stop being a planner.
'Public interest, ' he says, 'is set by governments and the democratic process and not by town planners.' By implication, he suggests that they should just get on with doing their job - to the best of their ability - to represent the planning system rather than the benefits of an area, community or whatever.
'I've studied planning, I know the rules, ' he says, but as for pontificating about local affairs: 'Who elected me?'
However, that still does not stop him from commenting on the merits and performance of the elected leaders and the sometimes blind adherence to planning rules and rigid compliance with regional and local development plans.
Beardmore relates a case in Bath that seems to have been rumbling on for some time and has got his goat. It involves a derelict site owned by the infamous Robert Maxwell, which has been earmarked for regeneration for the past 20 years.He suggests that one person in the committee has exercised persuasive influence to halt progress on it 'for no good reason' other than it seems to be earmarked for 'industrial development'.With the concept of British industrialism fading into the dim mists of memory, and hence the notion that it might need a dedicated location becoming untenable, Beardmore is exasperated:
'Enough is enough.'
The Heron Tower inquiry has been much pilloried but he thinks that - as an example of a democratic, thoughtful consideration of a tall building - English Heritage's view that another will detract from St Paul's and scar the city skyline is a perfectly fair argument and 'doesn't deserve the scorn poured on it by Ken Livingstone'.
Architecture needs to be argued for.
It is this dynamic relationship where Beardmore situates the role of planner and architect. Instead of it being some kind of passive expression of mutual respect and Eganite harmony, Beardmore seems to want a more aggressive cohabitation. He aims to provide a balanced view but is no shrinking violet in making his opinions known.
Beardmore is barely constrained in his contempt for Will Alsop, especially Alsop's 'obsolete approaches to urban planning', his 'blindingly wrong' ideas and his thoughts on urbanism that are 'old hat'. Alsop's recent attack on Bath may have tipped him over the edge, since Beardmore has been involved in the urban conservation of the historic city for a long time. (At the recent 25th anniversary party for Avery Associates, Professor Richard West suggested that Alsop had sat in a lecture by Brian Avery back in the 1970s and listened to a speech about the motorway as a linear city, which he said seemed to have been regurgitated in Alsop's 'Supercities' TV programme. ) Actually, Beardmore condemns the linear city model as 'crackpot 1920s sloppy thinking'.
There are three types of planning applications, he says. There's the ones that are obvious refusals; ones that just need a little bit of an effort simply to knock them into shape; and those in the middle.
It is this final category that Beardmore believes should have time, money and attention spent on them - 'the ones where the arguments are finely balanced'. He admits that it is not up to him to 'take the pencil out of the architect's hand, but if they refuse to analyse the topography of the site, consider the views, to realise the valuable contribution that the design should make in enhancing the area, and fail to explore the overall contextualism of the site surroundings', then he has a duty to intervene.
The fact that architects do not like planners - and conservation planners in particular - is sometimes warranted, he says. There are definitely too many English Heritage case offices, for example. But even though conservation planning specialists do not always have to take a balanced view of a given proposal, they frequently do and the problems are overstated. This often stems from the uncompromising, paranoid nature of architects, rather than the attitude of the planners. For example, he says that 'architects, particularly those who have been to the AA, won't collaborate'.
Some might find it uncomfortable that a planner, who is saying that he wants to work in creative partnership with an architect, could come out with things like 'architects do not have a monopoly of wisdom nor are they always the natural leaders on a project'. He is very much an active participant in the design, development and commissioning process.
He says: 'If fisignaturefl architects persist in attacking the very concept of planning and believe they have all the answers, then we planners? must challenge the arrogance and shallowness of their thinking. Professional fisticuffs or an active collaboration for the good of all - which is it to be?'