Planning and localism

Building design capacity at a local level

Design review

Many architects are already working closely with local authorities, offering support and expertise to help deliver better design outcomes, whether through involvement in a design review panel or as a Client Adviser. With the move to localism, local authorities may be looking for additional support in terms of community consultation, procurement or in helping support communities navigate the neighbourhood planning process and create a vision for their local area.

Local Authority Survey

With the Localism Bill making its way through parliament, a new planning policy framework due to be published this summer and a new set of financial incentives for local authorities seeking to ensure that they build new homes, businesses and start up enterprise zones, the planning system is undergoing its biggest overhaul in a decade

A lack of resources and particularly the lack of design expertise and capacity in many local authorities has been a barrier to delivering good quality development over the years and many poorly designed schemes have slipped through the net. But with the need to cut costs, putting further pressure on many planning departments and major changes to planning ahead, how do local authorities see the future and what additional support might they need?

To assess this changing picture, RIBA regions undertook a snapshot this year of design capacity in local government, working with councils to identify their specific needs, assessing the role of architects in a localised world and looking at how the RIBA can offer tailored support.

Main findings

Nearly 30 local authorities responded to the survey during the consultation period of February - March 2011.

In-house design skills/capacity

  • The survey showed that just under half of the local authorities who responded had an in-house architect and three quarters an in-house urban designer.
  • However, several local authorities were expecting imminent cuts, including redundancies, and anticipated considerably reduced resources from April 2011. One authority stated: 'From April 2011 there'll be severe reductions in design activities'.

Access to design advice

  • The audit also revealed that local authorities that had used a design review panel were overwhelmingly positive (over 80%) about using it again.
  • One authority commented that they would 'definitely use design review again - it was extremely helpful'. And another stated that their 'local design review panel is working well - we hope to hold on to it'.

Localism - new or different needs?

Local authorities identified the following areas as where they expected to need most support:

  • consultation and community engagement
  • support for neighbourhood forums and their plan-making
  • design expertise for planning decisions. 

The survey also found that:

  • Almost three quarters of local authorities said that they would welcome both a contribution from architects in organising consultation and participation of the local community in developing neighbourhood plans, and also a service that identified architects qualified in facilitating community engagement activities.
  • One in five thought that advice on drafting local authority and neighbourhood policies in relation to design would be of use.
  • Support in establishing a design review panel and support by an individual expert at decisive points were said to be needed.

Read the full survey breakdown.

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