In the News: creating a built environment design advice panel

Published on: 2 Sep 2016

London Borough of Waltham Forest recently announced that it is to work with Design Council Cabe to create a specialist built environment design advice panel. Lucy Shomali is director of regeneration and growth at the council, and Ron Presswell is design and conservation manager.

Q. How did this initiative come about?
We have a lot of development coming forward and we want to ensure it is of the highest quality we can achieve. We had been thinking about the principle of boosting our design expertise for the past 18 months or so and had looked at the potential of setting up a local design panel in the way some authorities do. We wanted to bring in as much design expertise as we could, rather than just using local design professionals.

Q. How was the contact with Design Council CABE initiated?
We met with Clare Devine, executive director for architecture, built environment and design at CABE, about a year ago. The organisation understand the challenges facing authorities like ours. Once we had talked through our issues they were able to dovetail the panel with those. We set out to develop the model around a dozen key themes including new housing, quality architecture and
the public realm. The put the panel together with about 20 of their experts who possess a mixture of experience and expertise.

Q. What support did you have from elected members?
Our lead member on the built environment, Clare Coghill, was very keen to develop a mechanism to evaluate and bring forward the best quality design. She encouraged us to design a 10 point design charter which has been endorsed by the majority of developers working in the borough.

Q. How is the panel being funded?
We have had about £10,000 of set up costs which is our investment. The panel itself will be self funding. We have made it clear to developers that we expect them to get involved with the panel once we start negotiations on a planning application. The developers fund the process but it is a relatively small fee. It gives the developer comfort and strengthens their schemes. A standard workshop costs just under £6,000 and that rises to around £6,500 for a major scheme. Desktop reviews cost around £3,500.

Q. How does the panel operate?
There is a site visit from the panel, ourselves and the scheme architect. We then meet in a venue where the developer can present the scheme to the panel. We then make any comments we feel are key to the discussion. Afterwards, CABE sends written comments to the developer.

Q. What was the biggest challenge to getting the panel up and running?
It was quite a lengthy process. There was lots of documentation and paperwork to get through. 

Image of Walthamstow by Paul Hudson, Flickr