I entirely agree that that beauty in the built environment is in fact objective, measurable, and not at all subjective. However, as an architect and the manager of The Design Review Panel (www.designreviewpanel.co.uk), providing regular design review panel sessions across the south west, I do not feel that all local authorities are ignoring the advice of design review panels. It is important not to criticise the design review panel process generally, and therefore potentially damage it, because of a few local authorities that may not yet be giving the correct regard to the feedback of a design review panel.
The Design Review Panel (www.designreviewpanel.co.uk) has reviewed, and continues to review, many Para 55 projects (as well as many commercial and large scale housing projects) and our Panel has several examples in the last 18 months alone of Para 55 applications where engagement by the design team with our Panel, throughout the design and pre application process, has directly led to an approval being granted by the local authority. We also have many other examples of other project types that have gained approval, and have been improved, as a direct result of engaging with our Panel. We have very positive testimonials from applicants, architects, local authority development managers and case officers that concur with this assertion.
Across the south west we have found that most local authorities are extremely welcoming and supportive of the use of design review panels. In particular Plymouth City Council, Exeter City Council, North Devon Council, Mid Devon Council, West Somerset Council, BANES and Taunton Deane Borough Council all regularly refer projects to Design Review Panels and they should be applauded for their positive and proactive approach.
In order for the Design Review Panel process to be useful and meaningful to all parties (applicants, design teams and local authorities) it is vital that design teams engage with the DRP process at an early stage and on several occasions throughout the design process, and not simply try to use a Panel as a mechanism for obtaining approval for their designs once a design has been completed and or an application has been submitted; this very often results in the frustration being expressed in the above article.
The Design Review Panel process should be used as part of the design stage, not the decision making stage.
I feel the design review panel process is an extremely useful and valuable tool for local authorities, applicants and design teams, and its use should be encouraged. What would help to give the design review panel process significant weight would be for the Planning Inspectorate to begin to rely on the independent and expert feedback given by design review panels in their appeal decisions when considering issues of design.
The Design Review Panel - Panel Manager