Opinion: Why Croydon needs design review

Croydon is vibrant but not beautiful. The council is aiming to change that perception with the help of an independent review panel, writes Heather Cheesbrough.

Croydon has long been known as a major commercial centre with excellent connections to other places, but these places in central London and the South East have been considered seemingly better and more attractive places in which to linger, live and socialise. People have been going through Croydon, and not to it.

It has suffered the effects of competition from other parts of London, with a commensurate shift in economic activity to places such as Canary Wharf, and newer retail developments across south and west London. In response, visionary plans have been proposed to reinvigorate Croydon; however over the last two decades, none has been implemented.

Action though, is now rapidly under way to change Croydon, and in particular people’s perception of this busy, vibrant but seemingly not beautiful centre. Central to this is the council’s desire to see the establishment of an independent, multidisciplinary place review panel as the next step in elevating the quality of its built environment, and continuing its commitment to deliver places and design of the highest standards. Recent developments have been driven by the aim to create a destination of choice. A locally sensitive review panel will help further this aspiration.

The time is right

After an admittedly patchy period, plans are in place to provide the strategic backdrop to regeneration, with work completed on a series of masterplan frameworks and infrastructure delivery plans. Recent schemes have set the bar higher on quality.

With an increasing number of high profile development proposals coming forward across the borough and a major uplift in the number of pre-application submissions and planning applications being received, the council sees the new panel as the next step in ensuring that this development cycle, which will account for billions of pounds worth of investment, leaves a legacy of built form that will be loved and admired by residents and visitors. In this context of significant growth and interest in developing in the borough, we decided that now is the right time to establish an independent review panel.

The council is looking to recruit approximately 20 high calibre panellists, encompassing expertise in planning, landscape architecture, urban design, architecture, conservation, engineering, placemaking and culture.

In line with the recommendations of the Farrell Review and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the panel will complement the services already provided by the council’s spatial planning and development management functions, and further ramp up the standard of design that will be expected from developers.

With the panel in place, Croydon will not only be able to scrutinise and verify the design quality that the borough, London’s largest, secures through the planning process, but will also send a clear message to the development industry. Developers will not only have to convince council officers and planning committee members of the quality of their proposals, but will have to pass the test of an independent panel made up of leading industry experts. In return, panellists will have to be passionate, committed and articulate, and importantly, carry with them the developers and elected members to deliver development of the calibre Croydon deserves.

Heather Cheesbrough is director of planning and strategic transport at Croydon Council.

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