‘Treat the place as the client’, Farrell tells designers

Friday 6 February 2015

London and the UK’s design community should ‘treat the place as client’ if they want policies and funding to follow.

So said Farrells partner Max Farrell at a half-day conference ‘Towards Place Review’ at the NLA last week at which he revealed that the Farrell Review organisers were meeting housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis to push for a change of ‘design review’ to ‘place review’.

The conference was kicked off by Max’s father Sir Terry, who outlined the Farrell Review’s progress, two years on from Ed Vaizey’s commissioning of the practice. Vaizey had said since that the best way of progressing many of the report’s findings was to avoid going down the ‘cul de sac’ of government, said Farrell, and that what the review represents is a movement rather than a report. ‘We need to get more architects who aren’t at the top of haute couture, as it were, to do more for the everyday’, said Farrell. ‘We need to get every layer concentrated on the review of place, and improving place.’ Place review should look at existing hospitals, housing estates and roads, added Farrell, while design review at the moment is little more than an adjunct to planning applications, triggered when they are submitted. But Farrell said he had always been a believer in a more proactive way of making a place, envisaging the place as the client, and then writing a programme that no-one else asked the practice to do. ‘We have a system in this country that is purely and solely based on reactive planning’, Farrell added. ‘Planners are traffic wardens of the built environment’.

Sir Michael Lyons, author of the Lyons Housing Review, said that local authorities should be ‘place shapers’, but that this was only more likely if much more devolved local authority finance could be provided. But the provision of homes was at crisis point, with the deficit likely to be as much as two million homes by 2020, and communities need to be given the tools to provide for their future, Lyons said, with infrastructure created first. ‘We are selling the youth of today a pup if we are leading them to believe that they should aspire to home ownership when in fact nothing could be further away from them, given the shortage of housing we are actually building.’

The conference also heard from other speakers including Cllr Tony Newman, leader of LB Croydon, who agreed that the housing crisis is more urgent than many people realize and needs more devolution of spending to let local government keep receipts, along with an unblocking of land banks. There’s an opportunity now to inform and influence policy that hasn’t been there for a generation’, said Newman.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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