The Farrell Review - A Review

The Farrell Review – A review

by Richard Wilshaw

The Farrell Review has now been published; 12 months after it was commissioned by the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey. The Review, by leading architect Sir Terry Farrell, is a major independent examination of architecture and the built environment in the UK. The Review focuses on five key themes – education, design quality, cultural heritage, economic benefits and policy. The planning system has a key role to play in the future of our built environment and protecting and enhancing its history – so how has the planning system been represented in the Farrell Review and what do the recommendations mean for those working within the development world?

In respect of design quality the Farrell Review is somewhat damning of the existing town planning system under the guidance of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The Review finds that the planning system is too reactive, relying too heavily on development control and there needs to be a major revolution in the system to make it more proactive. One document the Farrell Review could have helped to shape is the National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG). Like its older brother, the NPPF, the NPPG, consolidates 100’s of pages of guidance (including that on design) into a handful of concise chapters. The ‘Design’ chapter touches upon the importance of good design, design objectives in planning and how the planning system can deliver good design. Unfortunately the NPPG was published 3 weeks ago and therefore the conclusions, findings and recommendations of this report cannot now shape the design guidance that the NPPG provides. Somewhat ironic given that the Review calls for better connectivity between government departments and increased joined-up thinking.

There is also criticism of our education system and the lack of awareness in design, both professionally and within the public domain. The Review suggests that increased public awareness needs to go hand in hand with a skilling up of public-sector workers involved in the planning process, many of whom have no background in design. Furthermore it suggests that parties such as decision makers, highways engineers and Planning Committee Members should receive basic training in placemaking and design literacy. A key conclusion proposes that newly elected councillors should receive placemaking and design training in order to ensure they can make appropriately informed decisions at planning committee meetings.

At a time when many Local Authorities across the country are struggling with crippling budget cuts, the Farrell Review suggests that the funds received from planning application fees should be used to recruit more design-literate planners for proactive placemaking teams whose skill sets could be shared by neighbouring authorities. The Review also recommends that Local Authorities should establish ‘interactive online forums’ for major projects to give the public better access to planning debates about the future of their local areas.

Whilst the Farrell Review does provide some interesting commentary and opinion as to how to best shape our built environment, it is unclear how the recommendations posed actually translate into the everyday life of those professionals working within the industry. The Review has already missed the boat in terms of national planning policy and its opportunity to shape the NPPG – the latter being formally published 3 weeks ago. So what will happen now and how will the wish list of recommendations be imposed? In this area the Farrell Review is lacking, however it does emphasise the importance of developers, landowners, applicants, etc engaging with the appropriate people and parties early within the planning process to minimise the risk of delays and disagreement prior to a decision being made.


Published: 04/04/2014

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