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22. 11. 2005

Sharing the European Spatial Development Perspective

Fred Manson
London in England shares with Piran and Ljubljana in Slovenia the European Spatial Development Perspective. This land use plan at the European level is more of a description of topography and climate than a directive of where functions should go or perhaps more importantly should not go.

As part of the great European experiment the European Spatial Development Perspective approved in 1999 seeks way to reduce disadvantage and forge identity in each region. It has three main aims:
- economic and social cohesion;
- conservation and management of natural resources and the cultural heritage;
- more balanced competitiveness of the European territory.
Each member state is required to incorporate the European Spatial Development Perspective in its own national Spatial Development regulation. Though the perspective is so general that only proposal such as flattening the Alps or draining the Mediterranean risk going beyond its framework. Well I suppose some state could chose to remain poor but that does not sound probable.

The European Union also has a Committee of the Regions which has 317 members selected by the 25 nations. The UK has 24 region representatives, Slovenia has 9. Such a committee is an attractive idea for places like Spain where Catalina and the Basque regions see themselves as separate from other parts of Spain. In the UK since Labour party came to power in 1997, regions have gained varying degrees of devolved authority. Wales and Scotland now have their own assemblies. But in 2004 when a vote was held in some English regions, the voters rejected regional assemblies. The general impression was that it was another layer of administration with limited benefit. For us today we need to think about the associations individuals have with their locality, region, nation and with Europe.

The response to this issue by different locations reminds us of the differing links of separate nations with Europe. We know that individual nations have very different histories. These histories continue to influence how each country goes about Land Use planning and how they view quality of architecture and the built environment. Let us consider Britain

I will not take you back further than 1944 when Sir Patrick Abercrombie published his London Plan. In 1947 the town and Country Planning Act established the planning system which still operates in Britain today. It set up a role where the state was influential in deciding whether any new development should take place and where.

The 1947 Act in effect nationalized the right to develop land, require all but a small number of specific exclusions to secure planning permission from their local authority (although provision exists to appeal against refusal).

It is a very strong system with many consequences, some more unexpected than others:
- slower progress of development
- scarcity of land with development approval
- thus higher land prices
- sometimes land use policies are used to achieve other policy objectives. (Out of town shopping and in the 60s office development.)

The particularly strong planning system is accepted by most parties. It has accommodated a number of different forces to influence the course of development. One which is important for our discussion today was the directive in the 80s that planners should not consider aesthetics as a factor in determining planning (land use) applications. As a result many people realised that there was a great deal of difference between one housing estate and another or one commercial development and another and instead of being an irrelevant factor design quality is the summary of the scheme.

Design then was reintroduced as a factor in assessing permissions for land use proposals.

In 2000 Commission of architecture and the Built Environment (shortened to CABE) was established. The title already recognises the pressure of architects to claim leadership of design while acknowledging that the built environment which includes the public realm the wider setting of buildings is ultimately what we see. One of CABE’S prime functions was to provide design review for important projects. A Design Review Panel was set up consisting of recognised practitioners in design, development and related fields. They meet monthly to assess projects. They review about 75 projects at a committee. The proposers have a twenty-minute time to put across their scheme. The drawings are limited to 12 A1 boards. This is followed by thirty minutes of questions and comments from the panel members. If the scheme has been formally submitted as a planning application, the comments are public and posted on the website.

In all CABE comments on about 400 projects a year. References come from local authorities and from owners. Usually only schemes of significant importance are considered.

Let me draw attention to two factors. First the panel members are working in the field. They on occasion have projects they are working on presented to the panel. It is not their full time job yet because they are dealing with similar issues in their work they have a good grasp of the current issues in design. I think this works very well. Surprisingly members of the panel are not always predictable in their responses. Schemes from well-known architects can be rigorously challenged and stylistic preferences recede in the light of strong well thought out proposals.

Second even very challenging comments from the panel are usually seen as helpful by the owners. And this is the strength of the system.

England had devised an effective system of reviewing design for significant projects.

Now the reason the design review is so carefully listened to has much more to do with its role than with its skill in making positive criticism. It s’ power comes from its funder. This is John Prescott, the deputy prime minister whose department runs the planning system in England. In his role he can stop any major planning application from being determined by the local planning authority. He can require a planning inquiry and he personally reaches the final decision on such results. CABE advised the deputy prime minister on design. So when CABE design panel says they are concerned with a design that is an indication that unless the scheme is changed the deputy prime minister is likely to require the proposal to go to an inquiry which will add about two years to the decision making timetable.

I have been asked whether other countries should establish an organisation like CABE. My response is that they need a strong planning system with a centralised authority as well as CABE for it to have an impact.

CABE gets almost all of its money from central government and has branched out into other areas such as enabling, education, skills, CABE space, and of course research. In short they campaign to raise awareness of the importance of the built environment and of good design. This function is particularly useful when complex schemes like the 2012 Olympics arise. CABE can consider the overall proposals for the area and for the event itself.

CABE promotes education not only of young people but also training programmes of members of local planning committees. Open House is running a series of seminars at a very good building BedZeed where they discuss good design.

They have done a lot about drawing attention to good and bad examples. Here are ones from CABE space which are part of a campaign to improve the quality of the public space.

I have concentrated on the role of CABE because it is the national statutory agency which advises on good design. Many other groups such as the RIBA, the British Council promote good design as well but without the legal powers of CABE.

Now the question. Does CABE make a difference? I think in the particular circumstances of England it does. But if there was not a centralised planning system then their method of working would not be effective.

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Fred Manson is former Director of Regeneration and Environment at the London Borough of Southwark (1994-2001). Fred studied at the University of Michigan in the USA and the Architectural Association in London. He is a registered architect.

At Southwark he oversaw economic development, planning, property management, environmental management, regeneration, leisure and community services. He represented Southwark on projects such as Tate Modern, the Greater London Authority headquarters and the Peckham Library.

He is a member of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment design review panel. He was a design advisor to the GLA Architecture and Urbanism Unit from 2003 to 2005. In 2004 he accepted a non-executive directorship in Alsop Architects. Now he works with one of most inventive British architect and designer Thomas Heatherwick.

He is a member of Europan 8 Jury in Oldham, UK.

In 2000 he was awarded an honorary Order of British Empire.

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