Masterplanning, urban design, town planning, public realm - who cares? The fact remains that all of these concepts have not been taken seriously in the UK, and as a result the quality of our towns and cities is all the worse.
It is true that more effort, or more accurately 'lip service', has been paid to this in recent years than before, but all too often the result is simply to sell potential sites to the same uninteresting and uninspiring developers as always.
There is a distinct lack of vision, special idea, delight and integrity in their exercises.
We find that many of the most important decisions about the future of our towns and cities are made by die-hard fee bidders with no sense of joy. As a result we seem to be employing some of the least qualified people to do one of the most important jobs. Why would you employ an arable farmer to be a shepherd?
Many calls for teams via OJEC notices are accompanied by £100,000 fee ceilings which make it impossible to do the job properly. If done by those with genuine talent and enthusiasm, the net result would create substantial wealth for the area. Money is one problem, but lack of openness and transparency is another.
I have participated in many planning workshops in Hamburg over a number of years. They are extraordinary events which for me set the standard for action in the UK.
Of course, I have often talked of these planning workshops in England and, as yet, nobody has adopted this format. The workshops are open. Foreigners are invited to work in the teams and there is a big party at the end. Everyone gets paid for four days' work and everyone is accommodated in a good, local hotel. The total cost is approximately £600,000. This money buys 20 possible futures for relevant areas of Hamburg. People are invited, have a good time, party and then leave. They leave a body of work which gives the local planning and architects department the extraordinary task of making sense of too many concepts. They leave after having worked in full view of the general public and the politicians. As a result of this week, the stakes are raised and no one is under any illusion as to the potential of the areas in question.
This short, sharp shock created by many costs six times as much as a half-baked masterplanning exercise in the UK. The results are a hundred times better - noisy, adventurous, bold, crazy, absurd, beautiful and all full of delight. A week of joy creates a joyous future.
After some analysing, a variety of competitions are formulated which are built, because people, politicians and investors are already enthusiastic. We have a result. In the UK, it takes six times as long to get a result due to the lack of imagination, lack of budget and lack of care.Who actually suffers as a result?
I have to also sound a note of warning.
Masterplanners can often resort to a form of inner-city suburbanisation that results in a sterilisation.The language of boulevard, vista, piazza, avenue etc, covers up for a lack of thinking as the scheme bows down to the normality of the lowest common denominator.
We could agree that the lack of the masterplan has created the most fertile and vibrant areas of our cities, as they evolve from one idea to the next - but they can only work if English Heritage stops protecting the mistakes of the past.