The government’s advisor on Improving the quality of Life through good design is CABE, formed in 2006: – full title “Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.
With the launch of the National Planning Policy Framework, a boost was given to Regional Design Panels additional to the National Design Panel. Regulated to be objective, with a fresh viewpoint identifying flaws and the policies the designer has failed to consider. For success it is important to “Stay public.” Local residents, groups and the press will always be interested in the Design Panel’s early views on a forthcoming Planning Application. The principles and practice advocate important Design Review Panel meetings to be held, open to the public.
In 2008 the Torbay Cultural and Environmental Partnership established its own Torbay Design Review Panel. In the early years the Torbay Council web site openly gave details of their Design Review Panel Pre-Application Services and how important applications will be referred to the Regional or National Review Panels, but not anymore.
National Design Review, Devon Regional Design Review, Cornwall Design Review have their web sites simply with details of their aims and independent services, Improving the quality of Life through good design.
There is a veil of secrecy with the Torbay Design Review Panel – no brochure, no web site, no profiles of Panel members to inform, or means of communication. No Council replies to requests in 2014 for applications to be considered by the Regional or National Panels. The Localism Act 2011 contains a wide range of measures to devolve more powers to neighbourhoods and give “local communities” greater control over local decisions on planning and the environment.
Design review panels are set up to act in the public interest, but not in Torbay. Constant panel approval exists in Torbay for proposals that blatantly do not improve the Torbay character and quality of the area nor the way the area functions.
One poor planning recommendation meeting by TDRP was outrageously held at the developer’s own premises! It took 5 years before the minutes of that meeting were released, revealing the breaches advocated by the Panel of Torbay Council’s indisputable adopted Planning and Design Policies.
A recent Freedom of Information request revealed why a TDRP meeting was held for the developer’s benefit at the developer’s premises. TDRP meetings are not an event by Torbay Council, the event and fees of the Panel are paid by the developer applicant, therefore the TDRP minutes and advice are the property of the developer. Not to be released, for the benefit of the local community’s knowledge and involvement. To maintain secrecy as Torbay Council’s statement quotes: – “The interests of the person/company supplying the information would be adversely affected by releasing the information requested at this stage” quote:- “The disclosure would harm the relationship between the developer and the Council”
The TDRP developed over the years to be a connected syndicate. The developer chooses one of the affiliated architects with the best overall connections on five major sensitive overdevelopment proposals in Torquay. The architects instructed move from one side of the table to the other side, to obtain their colleagues’ approval. Both sides of the table are paid by the developer’s business venture.
The developer for sometimes years ensures the local Community is kept in absolute ignorance of the negotiations and results, knowing by enforcing secrecy, and with the cooperation of the Planning Authority requisite publication is delayed. The Planning approval is a fait accompli, as has happened in Torbay. The thousands signing their objections were shrugged off. Only in Torbay. sincerely — Trustees (12) of Torbay Coastal Heritage Trust