How “independent” is the Council’s design panel?

When Hammermsith and Fulham Council approves hideous new developments the planning officers retort that actually it’s of good design as it has been approved by an independent Design Panel of experts.

So who is on the Design Panel? Four or five members are gathered to review proposals. Here is the full list of members:

Andy Barnett
Nigel Bidwell
Dan Burr
Niall Cairns
Roy Collado
Peter Eaton
Jonathon Manser
Robin Partington
Fred Pilbrow
Max de Rosee
Alex Rook
Paul Sandilands
Paul Simms
Barbara Woda
Charles Young

Overwhelmingly these are modernist architects.

Just Google a name and see the monstrosities they are responsible for. So the design review process is circular and self fulfilling.

An exception, but not a welcome one, is Barbara Woda. Her background is of a planner rather than an architect – but with the same modernist prejudices. For many years was Head of Urban Design and Hammersmith and Fulham Council and she has had a crucial role in making our borough uglier.

A national design panel for new housing was recently announced by the Government – to include neo-classical architect Quinlan Terry, Professor of aesthetics Roger Scruton and a representative from Create Streets.

So why is the local design panel a modernist monopoly? Why couldn’t the Council include on it local architects who champion beauty such as Peregrine Bryant? Or local residents such as Anthony Jelley – who has done detailed work with the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community?

The reason is that the planning officers want a rubber stamp. They want a committee of tower block enthusiasts that can be relied upon to endorse proposals for more tower blocks. Then they can claim a spurious endorsement in an effort to stifle criticism.

In their manifesto for the Council elections last year Labour promised “to work with an independent design panel on all major developments”. That rather implied they felt something different should take place to what was already happening. But the Panel has the same people and operates in much the same way. There are no plans to change it. So another broken Labour promise.

One thought on “How “independent” is the Council’s design panel?

  1. Your views about Barbara Woda don’t square with my recollections of her, Harry. Barbara was one of the finest officers on the council in my experience there; focused on making new buildings look the best they could and protecting the existing townscape wherever possible.

    To imply she disdains conservation does not square with my dealings with her: not least in respect of the fact that she oversaw the original drafting of the borough’s conservation area profiles in the 1990s. I defy anyone reading them not to appreciate the passion and commitment to protecting the history of the borough that runs through them.

    In respect of dubious buildings, we share more common ground – but H&F is not an island unto itself: there is a trend at present for exceptionally ugly high rise buildings, clad in the most dour, colourless materials it’s possible to find. Look at some of the monstrosities built in, or planned for Wandsworth before you attempt to make this a party-political fight. Heck: look at some of the stuff that was built on your watch between 2006 and 2014! That glass thing next to the Hammersmith & City line station, or what you want built on the West Ken estate for starters.

    But then, modern attempts to build homes in a neo-classical style simply end up looking like toy-town poor imitations too. And one of the most hideous buildings in the borough: the Hammersmith Broadway Centre – is what happens when we attempt to merge the modern and the classical: god-awful post-modernism.

    I’d love to see low rise, high density town houses with ornate decorative features just as the Victorians and Edwardians managed. But the trend – encouraged by the national lack of leadership on housing we’ve had since the 1980s (both parties) – is what is causing these high-rise monstrosities, not a buildings panel.

    I’m not sure, in this context, and with ever more curbs placed on councils’ ability to influence the design of the built environment what you imagine a panel stacked with more of your choice of architects could achieve. And besides, don’t play down the power councillors have here. It’s councillors, not the design panel that sign off (or not) these big developments. I defeated a slew of bad planning applications in Crabtree. I’m sure you have in Ravenscourt.

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