Localism: The clients' view
As the Localism Bill is debated in the House of Lords, Merlin Fulcher asks clients how the reform will change the way they work with architects
Adrian Penfold, head of planning and corporate responsibility at British Land
We would not be doing our job well if we were not already engaged with local communities. We are actively involved in community organisations and have set up our own community groups in the past. But local participation does vary from site to site, project to project. We are more likely to actively engage on projects which are surrounded by an active community. There is a nervousness about Localism and some people with different business models, namely those with slightly more short-term involvement, will find it more difficult to engage with the community. With all our consultants, particularly architects and planning consultants, we’re looking for an ability to work in a consensual way with local shareholders and I think it is a skill that architects need to work on and which some find easier than others.
Robert Noel, London portfolio managing director at Land Securities
We are yet to see how neighbourhood plans will play out in Westminster. We are always very involved with local groups when developing, as our schemes are often large scale. In Victoria, there are both resident and business groups. In addition there are many other bodies who all hold views on Localism such as English Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society. All of these bodies are consulted on our schemes and I am not sure the Localism Bill in its final form will dictate much that is different to that which we already do. I am not sure that it will change the way we work with architects. We have a very robust process when it comes to architect appointments, which has developed over some time and comprises a mix of the well-known and not so well-known practices. We are also always on the hunt for new talent in order to encourage variety.
Chris Brown, chief executive of Igloo
Most local politicians, most planning professionals, most built environment professionals and most developers either want to kill or distort Localism. But there are benefits for architects in getting involved with neighbourhood planning. Groups need the services of professionals including architects to get planning permissions. An architect can bring together the site and those who want to live on it, then help to win planning. The developer isn’t essential to that process, yet that is how a large proportion of housing in Germany is built. Once, there was no distinction between developer, architect and builder and we’re almost getting back to that. If architects take a short-term view of neighbourhood plans they will be marginalised. If they have an altruistic approach they will get lots of work. Architects have a civic duty to improve society and if they think like that they might end up in a better place.
Tony Pidgley, chairman of the Berkeley Group
Localism is not a problem for us. Every development we do is bespoke. We’re not a mass volume housebuilder and we develop a specific solution for every site. In that sense, we’ve been doing Localism for years. An interesting change being driven by the Bill is the switch from consulting with communities to collaborating with them and that requires different skills from the developer and the designer. Architecture for architecture’s sake isn’t going to fit well within this new world order and Berkeley wants designers who are comfortable with a collaborative approach. I don’t see there being a fundamental tension between Localism and growth. There has been some uncertainty and a period of transition. Schemes like our Stanmore Place housing scheme [by Grid] or Kidbrooke Village [by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands] show how good design and a good business strategy help you deliver in any political context.
Roger Zogolovitch, director of Lake Estates
The Localism Bill is making its way through Parliament and from the perspective of development we need to accept that it will be with us in much the form that it is presently drafted. We accept that development is not trusted by the wider local community.
The localism bill is a charter of rights for NIMBYs to effectively stop any development in their locality. If this is used negatively this will further imbalance the supply of housing and continue to drive up prices through shortage of supply.There is a need for the ‘rights of developers’ to be covered by a similar charter. In New York where localism has the support of the courts, the developer’s rights are covered in the principle of ‘as of right’ development. This is code compliance, with the New York planning code celebrating 100 years of function 1911 - 2011. In the UK such a principle does not exist.
The proposals in the Chancellor’s budget statement, March 2011 to widen the use classes order to include the right to use commercial buildings for residential is out for public consultation and awaiting responses by the end of June 2011.The freedom to change use from commercial to residential without consent would give developers and building owners certain ‘rights’ within the terms of this altered use class order. This will help to rebalance the presumption in favour of development.
However developers do need to learn how to gain the respect of the community where they work.We believe staging community events and encouraging meanwhile uses help to build the respect and appreciation of the community. We need to engage in a positive sense and for the community to understand why we develop, and the nature of our longer term interest in the development of a locality. We work in North Southwark which has had and continues to have extensive development and change - the Shard, Borough Market, Tate Modern, New Bankside - are all major new developments that change the location. The speed and extent of development in a locality seems, to the residents, to be pervasive and disruptive. This is a situation that the wider development community needs to understand. Within this context it is understandable that the community will be active in seeking ways of stopping any future development.
There are three new neighbourhood planning initiatives in formation. The area does have good neighbourhood organisation, and this will help build these forums into intelligent and useful collaborators in the development process. Developers need to make engagement with communities, and the best route, we believe, is the use of their own land as a temporary territory where developer and community can engage using the medium of ‘meanwhile uses’.
Local Planning Authorities along with developers also need to understand the new rules of localism. They need to be prepared to listen and engage with these communities and to accept what they say. There will need to be a transfer of some of the powers vested in the local authority planners to these community forums for the process to begin to work in a positive manner. We are in a new local political arena. It is exciting. It might yet be more frustrating, but it will develop as a process. It is experimental and should be given the chance to thrive and become a positive way forward for us all to accept that development of our cities is important to our society and culture and that somehow we need to find the language that makes this engagement positive and productive.