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A defence of masterplans from Kallman and Rouse

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The combined lecture by Roger Kallman and Jon Rouse, concluding the RIBA's City Constructs series, came as a bit of a shock, seeming to extol the virtues of the masterplan after weeks of questioning by the other speakers.

It was also full of jargon: Kallman's description of SOM's Strategic Regeneration Framework for Liverpool, based on concepts of 'quality' public realm, 'world class' environment, city as 'destination' and an end to 'dependence culture', manifested the intervention of management consultancy in the physical environment of the city as in every other sphere of public and private activity.

Having said that, the youthful Jon Rouse (born 1968), chief executive of CABE, with an MBA from Nottingham in urban design and 'add-on value', made it clear that 'the object of the masterplan must not be to kill the crowd'. He condemned Thatcher's planning policies, pointing to the loss of 20 years of development in cities as the direct result, and insisted that 'the state is the legitimate hand of regulation', through the planning system, of market forces.

State commitment to masterplanning 'should liberate the architect to create social value', he said, so long as the masterplanning process is understood as a 'three-dimensional, spatial representation of what a place could be like in the future through a succession of architectural interventions.' Such an understanding presupposes the role of the architect - 'not land-use planners'- as masterplanner, but the architect can only succeed with an expanded team including not just structural and civil engineers, quantity surveyors etc, but also archaeologists, historians and others whose expertise is rarely applied to urban design.

Sadly, Rouse believes 'the right UK architects [to undertake this role] are few and far between' - now. He is critical of architecture courses because they are not preparing architects to make the 'transition to urban design', which landscape architects are doing more readily. But he is also critical of the 'very fashionable' masterplanning process itself, as it stands. He says the resources to produce a decent masterplan are hard to come by, resulting in 'desultory briefs' and a real risk of repeating the planning mistakes of the past.

Rouse made it very clear that, in the term coined by Sharon Zukin, 'pacification by cappuccino' is a 'false trail' in urban regeneration, and that 'public spaces generated entirely by the private sector' are not acceptable: 'all population groups should have a claim on the central symbolic places' of the city. He used Andrew Wright's masterplan for Bilston as a case study in how to 'optimise social value', and encourage neighbourhood participation in the development of detailed plans. Devolution, he says, represents the key to the modernisation of the planning system, and his challenge to government is to build that principle into planning legislation during its second term.

Roger Kallman and Jon Rouse were speaking on 'Masterplanning - Generating Social Value from Urban Design' at the RIBA.

vital statistics

In the final quarter of 2000, district planning authorities in England received 122,000 applications for planning permission and other related consents,2 per cent higher than in the corresponding period in 1999. This is the largest number of applications received in a final quarter in 10 years.

In the same period district authorities granted 87 per cent of planning applications; 81 per cent were granted in London, compared with 92 per cent in the North East.

Emissions of the group of six greenhouse gases, weighted by global warming potential, fell by 14 per cent between the 1990 baseline and 1999. There was a 6 per cent fall between 1998 and 1999, as a result of falls in carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and HFC emissions.

In 1965,17,000m 2of new shopping space was opened in the UK's town centres. In 1990, 491,000m 2of shops were completed, as well as 272,000m 2of retail space on the edge of towns and 673,000m 2of space in new retail parks.

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