Henry Goss Architects


BD Blog No. 13

Back to the Drawing Board

The “elected representatives” had made up their minds: “I’m perfectly open to modern design, but this just isn’t good enough.”  With dread in my heart and my client’s sighs in my ears behind me I waited for the vote. 

It suddenly became clear that a recommendation for approval from the planning authority and general endorsement from all statutory consultees amounted to nothing in the face of small minded conservatism and apparent disregard for the local authority constitution. 

Now I’m no expert on Section 70(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 or indeed the 1989 case of R v Westminster CC ex-parte Monahan but I can hardly believe that an unqualified remark such as “this needs to go back to the drawing board!” constitutes a sound material consideration.

Few architects relish planning committee meetings. Even at the best of times, the dry bureaucratic administration of democracy seems at odds with the lofty aspirations of creativity and positive contribution to the built environment that most architects strive for.

On this occasion the juxtaposition was no less stark. The proposed scheme, a four-bed private dwelling for a local couple, had been developed painstakingly though continued consultation with the Planning Authority, the Environment Agency, the Highways Agency and Conservation Officers for more than three years.

Only a few weeks prior to this, I was holding forth about how good the entire process had been and how open to consultation all parties appeared to be in a radical departure from my previous experience of such matters. This was largely due to an unusually progressive and enlightened planning authority who seem, unlike many of their regional counterparts, to understand that contemporary design is not synonymous with wanton vandalism and that the replacement of a butchered and near derelict Victorian coach house with a building which does not draw it’s inspiration from the time of the Norman Conquest, will not incite violence on the streets and wide spread civil unrest.

During my strictly timed five-minute endorsement of the scheme it hadn’t occurred to me to come out guns blazing with threats of appealing a refusal and claiming costs upon inevitable victory or other such fighting talk designed to intimidate a cash strapped local authority.  I merely rebutted the groundless policy arguments put forward by the local conservation society and reiterated my solemn belief that this addition to the town would indeed make a positive contribution to the “character and appearance of the conservation area”.

“I propose a motion” came from one of the more junior members of the committee sitting to the right. “I second the motion” said another a few seats down. Surely that’s at least two votes I reasoned, not allowing myself to acknowledge that a seconder need not necessarily favour the motion.“All those in favour,” boomed the Chair. The left hand side of the bench remained motionless, heads just slightly cocked back in staunch defiance, nostrils subtly flaring.

I awaited the sullen thumping kick of defeat. A congratulatory hand landed firmly on my shoulder. This could mean only one thing. Time for a beer.


henry goss