Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600 - 619)



  600. Like the station master, that has long since gone.
  (Mr Whitby) We do believe that we do need to look with the DETR at the legislation and the guidance that goes with it. There are some good examples, particularly through the document called DP32, which identifies how one can look at existing legislation and reinterpret that legislation to the benefit of the urban environment.

  601. Why do we still get bad design in the streets, is it not down to money at the end of the day?
  (Mr Whitby) At a meeting with CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, there was a suggestion that there was such a thing as bad design in the urban environment. In truth most of the urban environment is not designed at all, it happens on an ad hoc basis by a series of different groups incrementally adding and subtracting from it, all with different interests, whether they are doing it with lighting, other pieces of street furniture or doing it with parking. There is a whole series of pieces which are brought into the urban environment which are brought in with very little co-ordination and control. In most cases there is very little urban design. Where you see successful urban design it stands out a mile and delivers very high value.

  602. Do you think there is some contradictory advice coming from the DETR, where one set of guidance supports better design for pedestrians, and as we were talking about before, another part of the DETR encourages clutter and advises staggered crossings, et cetera.
  (Mr Whitby) I would expect that from any organisation. What we need to do is point to where the conflicts are and help them resolve them. There is definite contradictory advice, but that is natural as we move forward. What I can say is that the advice is progressing currently in the right direction.


  603. Transport note 195 and 295, do they need to be updated?
  (Mr Blackwell) Yes, I think they do. One of the problems DETR have is keeping up to date with things as they happen on the ground and best practice and actually incorporating that into technical advice. I know from the work that I have done with the DETR they do like a long period of review of any new work, and that can be two or three years, where things will have moved on by the time they have done that review and something else will have taken their place. That is one of the difficulties they have. They like the security of knowing that something works over a long period before they introduce changes to their advice.

Mr Olner

  604. How far up the agenda do you think walking is now with highway engineers? It seems to me most of you professional guys would sooner see a nice six lane motorway than you would designing better streets for pedestrians?
  (Mr Whitby) I am the Senior Vice-President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and it is my intention that we celebrate the work of local authority engineers. There are a lot of engineers who are managing our local space, they are uncelebrated, they are not necessarily well paid but they do a job. We need to recognise what they do and we need celebrate what they do and we need to communicate with them the desire to do better. There is no doubt that historically the Institution of Civil Engineers may have stood for the building of roads and grand project, but in truth the majority of engineers are a caring profession and managing, with their councillors help, the local environment.

  605. The local borough engineer is now going to say to his local authority, "Let us raise the agenda for pedestrians"?
  (Mr Blackwell) I would say that is happening already. The introduction of the LTP, the Local Transport Plan, has redressed the balance away from the car and the road to a whole range of different travel modes. That is already happening.
  (Mr Whitby) Can I add to that, we are very keen that we are seen as a multi-disciplinary group. What we are seeing within the local authorities is the need for them to create equivalent multi-disciplinary groups which bring together all of the skills necessary to deliver urban design and urban engineering.
  (Mr Sellers) I think in the past we have been working in a rather fragmented way. We need to work with our colleagues in the departments and local authorities so that the budgets are actually assigned accordingly to enable people from different groups to work together in a much more integrated way.

Mrs Dunwoody

  606. I see this is all very admirable, but it is all in the realms of aspiration, really, because if you were to say to your local planners, "We have looked at this particular estate, it has ugly walls because of security and it has lots of cul-de-sacs with footpaths that are shut off because they are dangerous so we would like you, when are you considering this planning application, to tell the builders that you will not accept the design". What would be their answer? "I am constrained by law, there is no way can I do it".
  (Mr Sellers) If I put my hat on as a local authority officer, we have a policy there which suggests there should not be high walls fronting on to public streets, so we could use that as a policy.

  607. How effective has that been that in relation to design in your own area?
  (Mr Sellers) It has been very effective, indeed, they have come back and said, "We recognise that problem and we are prepared to address the street".
  (Mr Whitby) It is not purely aspirational. There are urban design groups being set up now within local authorities which are bringing together these specialties.

Mr Donohoe

  608. One of the main problems is that people who are the designers do not live in the communities that they design.
  (Mr Whitby) It is often a problem. It has been a problem with social housing, it has been a problem with urban design.

  609. I live in a new town and not a single one of the designers lives in that town and they have made an absolute hotch-potch of it. They are your members.
  (Mr Whitby) I hear what you are saying, but I cannot answer the question.

  610. How many of your members walk?
  (Mr Whitby) I walk all of the time.

  611. Have you ever done a survey of your members to find how many of them walk?
  (Mr Whitby) It would be interesting. You might find we are a very active group of people. It is important that they experience this. It might be interesting to find out how many of your members equally walk.

  612. Can I ask you in terms of what was said earlier about coordination, what have you done to bring about better co-ordination?
  (Mr Whitby) This Urban Design Alliance is literally bringing that to the fore and is actually coordinating a response from a whole number of institutions to yourselves and to other bodies, the DETR and CABE such that we are speaking as one, acting as one, and, more to the point, setting an example to others that they should behave as one.


  613. Who is in charge of street design, which profession?
  (Mr Whitby) It is worth saying there is no individual profession in charge but many engineers are placed within local authorities and are, as a result, managing that space. It is also worth saying that the Institution of Civil Engineers have a very large membership and it is likely that a reasonable, if not a majority, of the people managing urban space are likely to be civil engineers, although they have been balanced by town planners and such like.

Mr Donohoe

  614. Would it be better to have urban designers?
  (Mr Whitby) We believe that all of the professionals have a right to the title of urban designer as well as their original title. You could be a landscape architect and an urban designer; a civil engineer and an urban designer; an architect and an urban designer.
  (Mr Sellers) I think it is worth stressing again that it is important to work as a multi-disciplinary team. If you have a number of people from different professions working together the actual product of that team can be a great deal better than the sum of the individual parts. In the past we have all worked, to some extent, in isolation. The budgets from central government down to local level, to some extent, have reinforced that. We need to look at ways of working in an interactive way.

  615. Can you give us an example of a particular area where this is working?
  (Mr Sellers) The public realm strategy[1] is an example produced by local authorities.

  616. Can you give us one particular area of the country where this is working?
  (Mr Whitby) If you went to Birmingham and were to be shown around by their Urban Design Department and you saw the success they have had in the renaissance of Birmingham you would have no doubt of the value of what we are talking about.


  617. That is talking about the city centre, and it does seem relatively easy to do it for city centres, can you give us an example of somewhere where they have done the same sort of thing?
  (Mr Whitby) I cannot right now.

  618. Drop us a note.
  (Mr Whitby) We have to start somewhere in demonstrating what politicians, the people and professionals can achieve.

Mr Donohoe

  619. Surely that would be for you in part to try to drive toward it. It would be best to set up some kind of pilot scheme to see if it is worth having these multitude of professionals working together. If you cannot give me an example of that then it suggests that it is not foremost in your mind.
  (Mr Sellers) The report which has been produced on Designing Streets for People, which is a multi-disciplinary report, is certainly suggesting that as part of the funding mechanism one ought to look at pilot projects.

1   Note by witness: see page 23 of Designing Streets for People, Institution of Civil Engineers, for definition. Back

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