J Lamont's letter in aj 16.09/99 misses the point when he or she suggests that the riba should bring out a set of style sheets for planning applicants. Surely this would be the riba seeking to impose their own aesthetic judgement?
The riba has been at the forefront of negotiations with the rtpi to ensure that good modern design becomes more acceptable. ppg1 Guidelines on Aesthetic Control, was written with the aid of a joint group of riba and rtpi members, myself among them. This document states that good modern design is to be encouraged (paragraph 15) and that a local planning authority should not attempt to impose its particular architectural taste or style arbitrarily. (paragraph 18). The guidelines also seek to encourage 'responsible innovation, originality or initiative' (paragraph 19). Even in a conservation area, modernity is not a valid reason for rejection. All design guidelines can be dangerous.
The riba's view is that the best way to achieve good design is to employ an architect. There is nothing to beat a considered design made by a good architect for a particular site. What is right for Chichester may not be right for Suffolk. The reliance of untrained planners on style sheets is neither encouraged by the riba nor by the rtpi. Instead the riba is encouraging an informed debate - both nationally and locally - about design. Initiatives like the Urban Design Alliance, in which the riba takes a full role, Architecture Week and Open House all fuel the debate. In James Gorst's Chichester case, it is the planning committee and not the 'planners' who have blocked the scheme.
For some years local authorities have been encouraged to ensure that their committees are trained and understand good design. I wonder if the officer concerned advised his committee of the folly of their suggesting design changes in this way. The riba supports planning authorities which encourage good modern design and I have generally found the public to be supportive of this. There is opportunity for all architects like J Lamont to offer their services to their local authority and to local amenity societies to educate and inform.
Many authorities have architectural advisory panels. Local dialogue can be very productive. But just in case take a copy of ppg1 with you next time you visit the planning office.
Wendy Shillam riba, rtpi
riba Planning Officer