Increasingly I find myself not only acting as a consultant - working to try and understand communities, places, and come up with viable and relevant strategies to help them evolve - but also being a consultee. Sometimes this is as a 'valued' or high status consultee - for example, due to being chair of Creative Colchester, the creative industries partnership board for Colchester; being a local business owner and investor in the city centre of Colchester. Sometimes it is simply as a resident, observing and commenting on upcoming plans. And sometimes it is due to my industry networks - being asked to provide some insight or help shape propositions for professional teams looking to work in our local area. I have spent many hours over the last few years participating and engaging at various levels - wanting to have my voice heard on behalf of our business; the cultural sector more broadly; because I want to speak up on issues that matter to me personally; or because I think I do ha

Productivity, regulation and resources

Oh, the bonfire of the red tape rears its head again. We are told that the problem to our dragging productivity - the sea anchor holding us back from boldly and swiftly 'growing the pie' - lies with excessive regulation. At the risk of sounding like a definite greybeard, there is no doubt that - since I started out in work twenty-one years ago - the amount of regulation and due process we work under has increased. A planning application used to be a hand-filled form and a handful of drawings, not reports on everything from contaminated land to light pollution. To discharge planning conditions requires even more. To lay a sewage pipe or connect to the electricity grid requires a forest of forms and permits. There are licensing requirements for everything from A-boards to hanging baskets.  Red tape gone mad! Well, not so fast. It is in the public interest to control whether a new building - or even a house extension - will cause harmful impacts to the environment. A wheelchair us

Reflections on engagement and the proptech industry

I sat in on a webinar today run by the DLUHC proptech team showcasing projects from round 1 of the Proptech Engagement Fund. The aim of which is to encourage local authorities to pilot potentially innovative and gamechanging methods for using digital tools to increase and streamline engagement with the planning process. When I was at GCSP my fantastic colleague Nissa won funding from the round but unfortunately we were too far along with the Local Plan consultation work I was doing for that to be eligible, which was a shame. But we had already been piloting a lot of really interesting digital and hybrid approaches over the previous two years so it was with interest that I tuned in to hear what I could learn from others. There were great case studies and it was also good to hear the LPA officers involved being very frank about the downsides as well as the upsides. But one thing that was barely mentioned was what was actually done with the increased amount of feedback, the more streamlin

Peter Brook and the Bouffes du Nord

On a non-descript street round the back of the Gare du Nord, at first you might wonder how a theatre could sit behind this frontage which looks like any other residential Parisian building – tall windows with metalwork balconies, a café at ground floor. The café was typical Paris –dark bistro chairs, small tables, a traditional bar with a wooden panelled front and mirrored shelves, a menu of cassoulet and steak-frites and salade frisée. It was the front of house for the theatre, but nothing in it spoke of anything that could not be found on any Parisian street. Going through into the theatre was like stepping through the looking glass. The theatre had been found by Brook in a near-derelict state, and he had done the bare minimum to make it work. It was once an incredibly ornate music-hall theatre, with arches and mouldings and balconies arranged in a perfect oval above which a domed ceiling was decorated with fine metalwork. But the gilt was long gone, the plaster falling down,

On architectural academia

I've got to be honest. I've never understood academic architecture or the culture of architecture schools. I've never understood the mysterious process by which some people end up as tutors and then heads of something and then professors, working often simultaneously at multiple universities, on the basis of a body of work which often seems slight, whimsical and irrelevant. I have occasionally taught in a guest capacity, I'm invited onto crit panels maybe once or twice a year, and I've been an external examiner (representing practice) and on a RIBA validation panel, but I've never felt inside the academic club and that club has rarely reached out to me either.  People have often asked if I or we teach, and while my usual answer is that we lack of time and want to focus on the practice, particularly of the truth is I don't know where I would start if I did want to teach or consider an academic post. There seems to be some magical process whereby appointments

Politicians and planning - part 2

Last week I set the cat among the pigeons by suggesting that local politicians should lose their role in determining the outcomes of planning applications.  Just as you wouldn't expect local councillors to have a say on whether someone gets council housing, or a school place in their preferred school, it seems to me that they shouldn't get involved in deciding if an application is policy compliant. Once the policies are set  they should be applied apolitically.  But, there is a vitally important role for politicians, and that's in setting those policies in the first place. In my world of (currently) intractable policy ideas, local politicians would be able to set out their stall with regard to the vision for their area, and to have the tools available to implement this.  How many campaign leaflets were delivered recently, containing a promise to stop development on this or that site in a Local Plan that is already halfway through the process, when the writers know full well

One intractable idea a week

  Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”   “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” This well-known quote from Alice in Wonderland captures the importance of stretching one's idea of the possible. If you practice imagining impossible futures, they will become more possible. It's just like yoga. The other day I was at a dinner with my old friend Ben Yeoh and he asked everyone an 'intractable' policy idea as a conversation starter. The idea of what is tractable and intractable in policy terms - the Overton window as policy geeks refer to it - and how to stretch or move the window - is much discussed. Most efforts are focused at the margins of the window - trying to stretch it ever so slightly - or in posing something that's deliberately so far beyond the wind

Intensification and how to achieve it

Above: backyard development behind an existing historic home in Austin TX. By my friends at Thoughtbarn . There’s been talk this week, following the FT reporting that cities can’t deliver to the government’s proposed ‘urban uplift’ housing targets , about whether this is a genuine complaint or simply a lack of imagination. Some pointed to the potential to intensify existing urban areas with low-density homes as a way to provide plenty of new homes without needing either brownfield or greenfield land. And it’s true that we have lots of areas that were once suburbs but are now central in towns and cities, with great access to jobs, transport and local services, still formed of individual homes on big plots. If we want to avoid unnecessary greenfield development and to reduce car use, it's perverse to say that these areas should remain unchanged. Intensification, in some forms, is common practice. People buy bungalows or small homes in good locations and rebuild th