Prince Charles has re-entered the planning debate with the following 10 principles for urban design and planning in an essay for Architectural Review.

  1. Developments must respect the land.
  2. Architecture is a language, with grammatical ground rules.
  3. Scale is key. Buildings should relate to human proportions.
  4. Harmony – the look of each building should be in tune with its neighbours.
  5. Avoid jagged clusters  by creating well-designed enclosures.
  6. Use local building materials and regional, traditional styles.
  7. Don’t over-use signs, lights and utilities.
  8. Put the pedestrian first by reclaiming the streets from the car.
  9. Don’t resort to high-rise tower blocks which alienate and isolate.
  10. Try not to be too conventional. Flexibility is the key to achieving the above.

I for one believe that the more people that enter the planning debate the better. We have a crisis in planning delivery and we do need more debate about the kind of society we want to create. Prince Charles’ intervention in many ways is welcome in so much as it puts the spotlight on the interface between planning and design, but its language raises important issues about environmental  and social justice. The principles are laudable when read in isolation and as a planner I would support many of them.

Interestingly much of what is said is actually found already in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework but this is often trumped by issues of viability for developers and the developer free for all in the absence of a local plan. Furthermore, in a recent piece for the Birmingham Post  I highlight how issues of recently permitted development enable changes of use to buildings with negative cumulative landscape impacts in both urban and rural settings. The golden thread of sustainability that pervades the NPPF appears somewhat frayed and vulnerable.

Looking at the examples Prince Charles uses to illustrate his principles there is clear evidence of elitism and his lack of empathy with the problems facing his peasantry. These socially regressive outcomes mirror some of the more negative aspects of the operation of the current planning system with provisions to opt out of affordable housing quotas and not deliver much needed community infrastructure if they are deemed too expensive.

As Prince Charles suggests the language of planning and architecture does need to be more inclusive but it does need to be understood; basically we need to build better places but for more people but the examples all point towards design credentials for a well-heeled Poundbury settlement than a major town or city with its attendant problems of deprivation, town centre decay and stagnation and lack of investment.  The lack of affordable housing and basic community infrastructure poses major planning problems. Incorporating ‘door cases, balconies, cornices and railings’ in modern housing estates would not be top of my design guidance. Furthermore, the problem of using local building materials and styles is appropriate in some protected areas but adds greatly to the average price for property (eg Cotswolds £411,358 detached Rightmove: November 2014), putting such property out of reach for most people. When he considers the “charm and beauty of a place like Kensington and Chelsea in London” he forgets that the average price of property is £2,085,950; well outside the reach of even university professors! We need principles for the real world.

Planning is about building quality places for us all. I remain concerned that the present planning agenda is neglecting issues of affordability, environmental  and social justice and we urgently need to have planning principles that are inclusive and egalitarian. I do welcome some of the points Prince Charles suggests about working with nature rather than trying to dominate it. This will bring significant benefits in terms of design and cost as in flood and drought management strategies.

Indeed there is real merit in looking back at the founders of planning with their ideas for garden cities. Yet we must understand that such developments are only a small part of our housing and planning problem. Despite government claims to the contrary we lack real delivery mechanisms for the housing and infrastructure we need now; we appear to have principles coming out of our ‘proverbial arses’ but the challenge is to deliver not to pontificate.

The following two tabs change content below.
Alister Scott

Alister Scott

School of Property, Construction and Planning at Birmingham City University