Further to Ed Dorrell's article 'Can Prescott's plan create more than just acres of bland boxes' (AJ 14.8.03), I hope the answer is 'yes'. The danger of creating 'a homogeneous mass of box-houses' is a very real one, given the South East's modest track record on volume house building.
It isn't just the aesthetic merits of the housing stock but also the ability to create lasting communities. Added to this is the financial liability of perhaps having to regenerate these places in 20 years time.
It is with this concern in mind that the Kent Architecture Centre has set up the Regional Design Panel, chaired by Paul Koralek, to provide a multi-disciplinary review of development proposals across the whole of the South East, focusing in particular on the identified development zones. The South East England Development Agency, which sponsors the panel, will not commit its resources to a project until it has been reviewed.A similar arrangement is being reached with the Regional Assembly and the Housing Corporation.
The panel prefers to work with projects in their early stages, before any ideas are entrenched. This could involve assisting with brief-writing right through to detailed design. We work closely with CABE (no, we don't review the same projects.
This isn't another hoop) to help people achieve design excellence. Though we review some planning applications, the panel best complements the work of local authorities and developers by helping to resolve potential problems before they reach the public domain.
There are few excuses in the South East: the land values exist and so does the design talent.
The panel is helping to ensure that the Sustainable Communities Plan is efficiently delivered to better standards.
The South East Regional Design Panel is a free service offered to developers, local authorities, community groups and others, and it is getting results. Anyone wishing to know more about it should contact us at The Architecture Centre, The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent ME4 4TZ (01634 401 166).
Barry Shaw MBE, chief executive, The Architecture Centre