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17/04/2015

How can we make design review work for all?

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Involving communities in the process of reviewing designs early in the planning stages of bew developments can reduce antgonism and create better places for all, says MADE chief executive David Tittle

David Tittle of MADEI am a big fan of design review. Hardly a surprise when my job is to promote and deliver it. But I’m also its biggest critic because I can see how tricky it is to make design review meaningful and effective for all parties.

Despite clear NPPF guidance, planners are often reluctant to force developers down the review route unless the development is seen as a trophy project or one that could have controversial impacts. But that can mean a late review for designs that have already had a lot of time and money invested.

At MADE and the wider Design Network, we try to reverse the reputation of design review as antagonistic and alienating. We have looked to develop a process that works alongside rather than against developers, becoming part of the process early on to make it profitable for design teams, rather than requiring hurried amendments to documents that are halfway to being submitted for planning.

The key is to build design review into the process of design development alongside pre-application discussions and community engagement.

"We try to reverse the reputation of design review as antagonistic and alienating"

We were overjoyed with the Farrell Review’s recommendations for harnessing the civic pride, energy and expertise of local professionals and channelling it into PLACE reviews and other initiatives. We are fully on board with the idea of a broad multidisciplinary process that looks beyond the red line to review the wider location. We believe that, managed effectively, this could both ensure genuine community engagement and produce results that have lasting benefits for all.

MADE is a charity. While our income from design review and other services helps keep us afloat, our connections in the industry mean we can find professionals willing to give time to working with communities and young people from poor areas, giving them opportunities, training and access to the built environment professions. It has been a rewarding stream of our work and shows the passion people have for their hometowns.

The more we can make design review and place review locally owned and part of local industry-led design initiatives, the more it will be accepted by all parties and the more effective it will become.

That doesn’t mean panels becoming parochial. The Design Network can always bring national expertise to the table when a detached outsider’s view is needed, but we believe that should be alongside local professionals who understand the issues of a specific community. This will deliver a review process to benefit all parties.

David Tittle is chief executive of MADE, providing design review services to the Midlands, and chair of the Design Network, England's leading source of independent design advice.

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