OPUN has seen a huge demand for its Design Review Services over the past 12 months, with 48 schemes being put forward by 16 local authorities across the East Midlands since April 2012. That means the panel of experts at OPUN have been extremely busy, providing independent advice and support to at least one development proposal each week!
“We’ve seen a huge spectrum of projects coming through the pipeline, and have carried out a number of desktop assessments as well as full panel reviews,” explained Dharmista Patel, OPUN’s Head of Design Support Services.
“These have ranged from infrastructure schemes involving bus stations, to student accommodation, housing, enterprise centres and large scale mixed use regeneration initiatives.
“Despite the ongoing economic challenges, this just goes to show that councils and developers are still keen to bring forward development schemes and get the design right at the start of the planning process.
“We’re delighted that our services are seen as offering value for money and are an integral part of the approach to ensuring that good design is at the heart of the planning system to improve the quality of places and ensure greater prosperity for all.”
Julian Marsh, from Marsh Grochowski architects, is a keen supporter of Opun’s Design Review Service. He explains: “It brings calm rationality to planning situations that are difficult, sometimes emotional and often full of prejudice. Our design for a new low energy theatre for the Nottingham Girls High School was a case in point.
“Set within a conservation area on a prominent site, the project was initially fully supported by the Local Authority. But faced with vociferous opposition from residents, it started to backtrack as pressure was applied by Councillors and unnecessary design changes were demanded to appease the residents.
“A desktop review by Opun showed the Planning Committee both the good points of the scheme and outlined some reservations. This, in turn, gave a prescriptive list of appropriate amendments that should be made to improve it, completely independently of the views of the local residents. On the basis of OPUN’s suggested amendments, planning approval was given.”
Helen Oaks, Urban Designer for Derby City Council, sees Design Review as a vital ingredient of her work: “As part of the quality assurance process, we present most regeneration projects including masterplans, architecture, public realm and public art to the Opun design review panel to get an objective view on design quality. Partnership working has been seen as the key to our projects successes. The makeup of the Panel provided a strong mix of built environment skills, experience and disciplines that met with the schemes requirements i.e. architect/urban designer, landscape architect, and arts experts.
A series of city centre public realm projects were taken to review in early February 2013. Three city centre public space projects were considered in one half day session, including the arts-led Tunnel Vision project, which gave positive comments about engaging with young people in a creative way.
The review also considered the schematic design of the Aquatics centre, raising issues regarding legibility, and suggesting links with wider riverside; this has resulted in a wider focus being considered.
The review has assisted Derby City Council by reinforcing the strengths of projects, whilst re-focussing some aspects, and has ensured an efficient momentum on the projects, so that they can meet timescales in line with a tested design vision.”
Similarly, Barry Gaffney, Urban Designer for Leicester City Council said “At Leicester City Council we have long recognised the importance of Design Review and the benefits it provides to all parties involved in the development process. OPUN have delivered a valued service by providing independent and impartial design advise. By having access to industry experts, solutions have been found for contentious issues. Their Design Review service has provided us with confidence in our own approach, as well as enlightening developers on the benefits of good design. In addition to being creative, their advice has always been highly professional, dependable and pragmatic.”
If you’re a local authority, developer, consultant or any other group seeking design and planning advice, then OPUN’s services are for you. To find out more, contact Dharmista or phone 07967 638 786.