Last week, architecture and design watchdog Design Council Cabe announced a partnership with Thurrock Council to run a new design review and support panel. Andy Millard is head of planning, growth and transportation at the council.
Q. Why is this partnership needed?
A. For a while we have been looking at ways of upping the quality of development to help improve perceptions of the place. Not everyone knows where we are and those that do tend to have a negative impression due to our industrial and port heritage. We have been very successful in attracting business investment in recent years but the housing market has lagged behind. We want to change that.
Q. When did conversations with Cabe start?
A. The initial contact came through some work our housing department was doing with Cabe. The director of housing and I had a conversation and said that this was the sort of partnership we wanted to enter into. After a couple of early chats I jumped on a train to see them. There was an obvious mutual benefit and things moved quickly.
Q. How does the review panel work?
A. It is very hands on – we make contact with applicant at the pre-application stage. We usually have a half day session, which includes a site visit with Cabe advisers, the applicant and the council. Then everyone will travel back to the council offices where the applicant will talk through the scheme and then go through appraisal processes. It is semi-structured but it allows people to come out with ideas to improve and tweak the designs. At the end, the chairman will sum up and within days a formal letter is sent picking up the issues raised.
Q. How have developers reacted?
A. We have already run a couple of these sessions and the reaction was positive. The developers are asked to pay a small amount to cover the costs and nobody has baulked at that. They see the value it brings. Our main fear was that the volume housebuilders might resist but the exact opposite has been the case. They are bringing their standard designs and tweaking them with something suited to the local context.