A Design Commission report launched by Richard Rogers urges the government to devolve power to local authorities to improve Britain’s architecture
The People and Places: Design of the Built Environment and Behaviour report calls on the government to give local councils and city mayors more responsibility over housing, healthcare and transport infrastructure.
Carried out by the Design Commission, the research arm of the All-Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group, of which Rogers is president – its conclusions are based on a year of research and evidence gathered from a broad range of experts in architecture and design from Cambridge University, The Bartlett, and the RIBA among others.
The report states: ‘It is clear that the relationship between government and local authorities demands reconsideration […] With the new government’s devolution agenda yet to be determined, the inquiry feels that it is an opportune time to do this.’
It notes that there are areas where local authorities and the private sector are better placed to incentivise public health outcomes by influencing the built environment.
And it says that over-centralised policy-making and a lack of flexibility in adapting standards, plus deregulation to the private sector, posed the risk of ‘totally disrupting’ the ability of local authorities to build to the ‘standards that people deserve’.
Rogers said: ’People and Places makes a valuable contribution to the debate surrounding the impact of our built environment at a crucial time when exiting the European Union means an imminent redefinition of our legal framework.
’The report provides solid evidence about the influence of the built environment on our lives in terms of our health and well-being, energy consumption and productivity and makes tangible recommendations for the government’s consideration.’
The report recommends that councils and mayors should ‘work to development the statutory planning system to improve the quality of design for all publicly-funded projects in the built environment’.
This could be achieved, it says, with the development of design frameworks and working with local designers, architects and universities ‘to create centres that work to develop design principles that are specifically designed around local needs and demands’.
In addition, the report recommends that local authorities should ensure there is enough capacity in the planning system, so as to allow best practice to be followed in the design and construction of new developments.
It also says that local authorities should set minimum design standards for public transport infrastructure and the public realm when making planning decisions.
The report also notes that a number of witness consulted for the report said the Localism Act 2011 reduced the information available to developers and planners by scrapping the Annual Monitoring report, which made it a requirement to share progress on public transport, built environment and planning with the Department for Communities and Local Government.
DCLG should develop a new framework to increase the knowledge base of local authority leader
It says the DCLG should develop a ‘new framework to increase the knowledge base of local authority leaders, and to promote information sharing at all levels’. This could be achieved through bilateral meetings, developing new partnerships between councils and the private sector, and engaging with universities and neighbouring authorities.
Elsewhere, the report examines how a design-first approach can increase access to affordable housing.
In 1998 Rogers was invited by government to set up an Urban Task Force to identify causes of urban decline and outline recommendations for the design of Britain’s cities, which resulted in the Towards an Urban Renaissance White Paper.
He also worked as chair of the Greater London Authority panel for architecture and urbanism, and was later chief adviser on architecture and urbanism to the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, a role he continued under Boris Johnson until 2009.