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Fred Manson's plea for a planning 'masterstroke'

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Fred Manson condemned EU masterplans, John Prescott's Regional Development Plans and the GLA's forthcoming Spatial Development Plan as all 'completely pathetic', and urged his audience at the RIBA to think in terms of the 'masterstroke' instead.

However, he pointed out that statutory masterplans do determine policy and influence local decisions about 'where investment is going to go'.

As a result, he suggested, London's new Spatial Development Plan could be damaging to the city because 'you won't be able to do a tower block in Peckham if it's supposed to be in Tower Hamlets'.

This is the new kingdom, or 'Kendom' of London, where the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is 'ahead of the game' simply because it has 'Ken' in its name, he added.

Local Unitary Development Plans are based on the assumption that there will be no change in a borough over the five-year period for which they are made. The reason for this, says Manson, is that planners simply can't cope with change.

Westminster, he suggests, 'has baled out completely', terrified of the potential objections of its citizens to any particular proposal. But, Manson insists: 'The city needs to have change put into it.'

Not only does he consider it 'very boring to try to define the whole range of uses in a city - especially when you're going for mixed use', but he also wholeheartedly rejects the idea of 'freeze-drying' those quaint run-down areas - for example, Spitalfields - where artists and certain sectors of the middle class love to make their home but, in so doing, plant the seeds of regeneration through gentrification.

Manson has come under fire in the past for being an unabashed supporter of this latter concept, but he insists that it is right to offer 'more choices for those living in affordable housing'. He accepts the irony, given his views, of Southwark's commitment to the new Elephant & Castle 'masterplan', but he is wholly committed to it as a vehicle for change in the area that can put in place a 'social mechanism to ensure an equitable life' for everybody there.

Public debate is fundamental to the process, and so is a statutory framework that establishes a balanced mix of uses against market forces that, unchecked, create monofunctional areas of commercial development. As for the role of architects, Manson suggests it is to 'look, think, understand and accept the seething, oozing mass of the city' and 'make a generous offer' - the 'masterstroke' - that 'changes the way people operate'.

It may be hard reaching a consensus on 'good design', but if architects can 'show us new ways of having mixed use', new ways in which people might live, and 'find someone to finance it. . . then you're in business.' Not only that, but 'we'll be at the point when we never have to talk about having a masterplan any more'.

Fred Manson's talk, 'The Contemporary Masterplan is no Masterplan', was part of the RIBA's 'Ci ty Constructs' series.

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