Will the Government’s drive to give locals more influence over what is built lead to unhelpful, Eurovision-style voting on design, asks HOK’s Sherin Aminossehe
First came the ludicrous routines, the crowd pleasing add-ons, the little touches that you wouldn’t have ever thought of yourself: maybe a crenellation instead of the glass balustrade; a cupola replacing the penthouse suite/deconstructivist roof; or the dentil moulding taking the place of a shadow gap.
Before you know it, parts of your beloved creation have turned more into something that would win an architectural x-factor-style vote rather than the next Stirling Prize winner.
Why would you do this?
‘Local people need greater influence over what is built in their area,’ according to Eric Pickles thus taking localism to the next step and creating what is now dubbed as wikiplanning, a mechanism allowing locals to ‘edit’ schemes before they are determined. This is the evolution of the coalition’s original ‘open source’ planning, thus clearly taking the IT/tech analogy a step too far.
The logic is clear, the big bad developer, aided and abetted by the money grabbing architect (Michael Gove’s words, not mine) are obviously unable to design a socially responsible development without input from the community through a web-based popularity contest.
The strange thing is it doesn’t have to be this way. Section 48 of the 2008 Planning Act, specifically makes provision for community consultation during the pre-application process, but if this doesn’t work, the answer isn’t to bring Big Brother or X-factor style voting to the planning process, the answer is to give the process teeth to ensure that consultation occurs and is acted upon, rather than just being an unread section of the application that gathers dust in the corner. Also by having this separate system, the coalition further alienates the very same people they are trying to integrate into the process by putting them on the outside looking in and further elevates the adversarial nature of the planning system into all out warfare.
Delving even further, one also wonders about the repercussions on council appointed architecture review panels, the Design Council (RIP CABE) or the role of planning committees, if all that quality control can be wiped away by an easily rigged internet vote by a well-organised pressure group.
What also puzzles me, in the context of a government that is keen on destroying red tape and absurd regulations, and claiming that unnecessary planning legislation is, to quote another Picklism, ‘a drag anchor to growth’, why then didn’t any of the policy men detect a sense of irony in the extra barriers they are bringing to the planning system?
Is this just a total lack of understanding? Or have we just been Pickled?