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Not my Hull

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I find myself disappointed at the not-very-positive tone of your article about Hull (AJ 11.01.07) and I am concerned that this puts my comments in the article into a different and unintended light. I said what I said, but in the course of the interview the positives seem not to be emphasised.Indeed they were ignored.

The Hull in the article is not a Hull that I recognise. Yes, Hull has its problems, but reinforcing the image as portrayed in TV programmes such as Location Location Location is to ignore the city’s good points, and some of them are very good. Get off that dual-carriageway and into the quiet lanes of the old town or along the marina promenade to the waterfront and a different Hull becomes apparent.

Hull is on the verge of great change, and the role of Citybuild in helping develop a clear vision for the city centre has been crucial. The key now is to make sure that this change is for the better by ensuring we get the right development in the right places and that the quality is exceptional. This is where the combined roles of the Humber Design Panel – hosted by Arc for the city council – and the planning committee are crucial.

The design panel has worked particularly well when developers and architects have brought their emerging proposals along and been given constructive criticism to help the evolution of their schemes. The planning committee has taken a lead in ensuring that new development in Hull is of the highest possible quality. As chairman I have pioneered an open-door policy to developers and new development, encouraging
them to meet with the committee at pre-application stage to iron out any potential problems. This has been very successful in improving the design quality of development in Hull. Equally, the high importance I place on design is reflected in ensuring the committee are offered training and coach trips to see best practice here and abroad.

I agree that some schemes can be dumbed down – we live in a commercial world. However, I do not agree that this happened at St Stephen’s – Holder Mathias took Foster’s early concepts and made them its own, improving on the design, with some nudges from
the planning committee. St Stephen’s has been very well received. However, proposals at outline stage can become firmly established as the iconic image for a site, and when later changes are made it can prove difficult to move on from those early images. This is what happened at the Boom – the detailed design simply was not as good as the early concepts. Nevertheless, as the planning committee we are currently working with the architects to push the scheme forward, and we will get a good development in the end.

So my comments about Citybuild and the Arc were not meant to be negative. If anything they arose from frustration that things are not changing quickly enough and that design quality is not rising as fast as I and the planning committee would like. It has been too easy for too long to say ‘It’s only Hull,’ and that as a ‘back water of a back water’ we couldn’t expect anything else. If we do not get top-flight architects on every scheme, we must make sure those we do get produce the highest quality design. Only the best will do!

John Fareham, chairman, planning committee, Kingston upon Hull City Council

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