Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
600. Like the station master, that has long
(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
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.
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
(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.
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.
608. One of the main problems is that people
who are the designers do not live in the communities that they
(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
(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
(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.
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
(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
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.
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