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Design codes pilot a 'fiasco'

One of the government's most determined attempts to persuade architects of the benefit of design codes has hit major problems.

EDAW, the masterplanner charged with drawing up the design codes for the long-awaited Ashford Barracks pilot project in Kent, has been sidelined from the entire process.

And a senior figure with Westbury Homes, which is in a house-building consortium with Wimpey on the scheme, has described the entire coding pilot scheme as a 'fiasco'.

The serious problems on the residential development - which have seen arguments between different partners - will bring into sharp focus John Prescott's claims that design codes will improve design standards and delivery times in the Thames Gateway.

It has emerged that an ongoing row over the design code has dogged the Ashford project, and there has also been controversy over a follow-up masterplan that has seen planning and architectural firm Barton Wilmore parachuted in to re-assess EDAW's work.

It is unclear whether EDAW will now accept the design code document, which was also guided by CABE-appointed enabler Llewelyn Davies Yeang, as its own work.

The scheme was announced in May 2004 with five other sites as pilots to test the viability of design codes.

It has now become clear that the attempts to use the coding system in Ashford have failed to live up to Prescott's expectations.

'We have got Barton Wilmore working on a series of addenda to EDAW's design code,' Westbury's Ashford general manager Alan Quigley told the AJ. 'It has been a fiasco up to this point.

'To a large extent we wish that we had never got involved with the coding. If [EDAW's] design code had been adopted as it was we would have been completely stuffed.

'The whole design code has been a bit of a disaster - they certainly aren't a great addition to the planning process,' Quigley added.

Barton Wilmore agreed that Ashford's experiences of design coding had not been positive. 'When we were brought in, we could see that there was a missing tranche of design work that needed to be carried out before we could proceed,' masterplanner Dominic Scott said.

'Design codes have certainly not sped up the process in this situation,' he added. 'The intention of the codes seems to be a good thing and the objective is to be applauded, but it is yet to be seen whether they can make anything better.'

Perhaps surprisingly EDAW was in agreement that the Ashford experiment was not going well. Managing principal Bill Hanway said the firm 'has backed away from the job because we do not feel it was going in the right direction'.

'The trouble is design codes can become more and more complicated,' he said.

However, Llewelyn Davies Yeang enabler Martin Crookston argued that problems on the project were simple 'micro-design issues' from which lessons should be learnt.

by Ed Dorrell

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