As a committee member you will make decisions on proposals based on your local knowledge and your understanding of council strategy and policy.
An understanding of good design and planning will give you the confidence to challenge the information you’re given and ensure that your area gets the buildings and places it deserves.
What committee members can do
- Read CABE guidance showing how good design delivers long-term benefits:
- well-designed buildings cost less to maintain
- well-designed schools boost attainment
- crime is reduced in well-designed streets
- bad design costs more through increased running costs and a shorter life for badly designed buildings and spaces.
- Make sure developers understand that you will not accept bad design in your authority – use your website and the local media to deliver the message about high-quality design. Once you stop bad designs from being built, you will start to get better quality design embedded in the process.
- If you are a member of the planning committee, develop your understanding of design and use it to inform your decision-making. Ways to do this include:
- asking for training for committee members. Many councils have officers whose job is to organise training for councillors in specialisms like housing, transport and planning.
- building a good working relationship with officers through joint events to formulate strategy.
- understanding the role of design review in improving the quality of applications and giving weight to design review comments.
- using Building for Life criteria to help you assess housing applications
- using CABE’s 10 key criteria for school design to help you assess school applications
- using the Department for Transport’s Manual for streets to assess road layouts in masterplans and residential areas.
- Look at what happens before and after the decisions you make at committee. For example, you can:
- get involved in pre-application discussions for major schemes – they can save time and costs and help make sure that developments deliver maximum benefits to the community
- follow up on applications after they’ve been built to see if design quality has been achieved - seeing the finished product will help you make better decisions. The London Borough of Hackney, for instance, organises tours of development sites for officers and members of its planning sub-committee so that they can see the results of their decisions.
- You can also influence design quality on other committees. On the overview and scrutiny committee, you can check that good design is embedded in council strategies and policies. Under the ‘Total Place’ initiative you will be able to scrutinise the policies of partners too.
How do you know if a proposal is any good? Use our seven principles of good urban design to help.
Resources for committee members
Guide to the CABE network of design review panels, which provide expert advice on major new development proposals in England.
Section of CABE website looking at local examples of where aspirations for design quality have been supported at appeal.
CABE guide promoting higher standards in urban design and providing advice on how to implement the government’s commitment to good design in planning policy statement 1.
The national standard for well-designed homes and neighbourhood, led by CABE and the Home Builders Federation
CABE guide for local authorities on delivering good design through core strategies.
CABE website offering advice on how to tackle climate change through planning, designing and managing sustainable places.
CABE guide on how to write, read and use them.
Committee members in action
Liverpool One: constant consultation
A members' working group chaired by the then leader of Liverpool City Council, Cllr Mike Storey, played a crucial role in facilitating the evolution of the Liverpool One development by acting as verbal consultees on all aspects of the masterplan as it developed.
The problem: As early as 1999, a city centre retail study showed that Liverpool lacked new retail space. The city had slipped to 17th on the list of top shopping destinations in the country and showed no sign of moving up the ranks. Elected members responded positively from the start to the study’s findings and discussions started in earnest to find a way of delivering a vision for improved shopping facilities.
The response: Members rejected the idea of a freestanding mall in favour of the site identified in the study, which lay between the core city centre and the waterfront. The development – originally known as Paradise Street – went to a public inquiry. From the beginning the comments of a members’ working group of six elected councillors would go to the planning committee. The group met frequently, usually every two weeks, with Mike Storey acting as chairman.
The result: Liverpool One was groundbreaking in many ways – from the number of separate architects involved in the genesis of individual buildings to the way that the existing built historic environment was ‘stitched on to’ the new build. The scheme aimed to re-connect the main shopping area in Liverpool city centre to the waterfront as well as re-landscaping a significant area of underutilised urban space. What emerged was the largest development in Liverpool for 50 years and one that is attracting two million visitors a month.
Mylor Yacht Harbour: finding solutions
Cllr Judith Whiteley was instrumental in securing improvements to a plan to build a marina on the Fal Estuary at Mylor in Cornwall. As a member of the planning committee of Carrick District Council and ward councillor for Mylor, she faced a difficult job balancing the arguments of supporters and opponents of the scheme and representing the interests of all users.
The problem: The landowner wanted to build Mylor Yacht Harbour on a site in a highly sensitive landscape and local beauty spot. In addition to arguments about conservation and the need for investment in the area, the development also posed problems for local fisherman, who had traditionally used the quay but had no legal right of access.
The response: Cllr Whiteley listened to both sides and made it clear that she would only support the right scheme. She backed the work of planning and conservation officers in insisting on a design that was sensitive to the location and persuaded the developers to make changes to the layout and infrastructure for the marina. Outside of the planning process, she also negotiated legal rights of access to the foreshore for local fishermen.
The result: Plans for the marina were approved and it is now thriving.