“Who on earth allowed that to be built”: Exploring decision making processes leading to poor quality buildings.

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Submission Summary
In England, most new developments in the urban built environment result from a process of a local municipality approving/refusing individual developer proposals. This process has a crucial role in shaping the quality of the urban built environment and the subsequent impacts on people’s health and wellbeing. As it currently operates, the English planning system is a negotiated system wherein the nature of site-specific development outcomes are negotiated between the planners representing the Local Authority and the developers who put forward a proposal. Such negotiations take place within the parameters set by national and local legislation, with inputs from ‘public consultation’ with a variety of ‘statutory consultees’ and ‘non-statutory consultees’ depending on the proposal. In terms of policy input, the quality of the built environment in England as it results from the planning system has received renewed attention in the recent past; both from reports highlighting that the quality of housing in England has barely improved in ten years (Place Alliance, 2020) and government commissions such as the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (2020). The work of the latter is directly influencing the government’s proposals for a revised planning system; proposals that promise greater attention to design quality whilst simultaneously threatening to reduce the possibilities for citizen engagement. Addressing the consultation aspect, citizen engagement in planning outcomes has been explored through a range of literature. Gulino et al (2019) for instance, studying the Peckam Coal Line project argue that there are four types of engagement between the community and state: state regulation and community implementation; cooperation; community autonomy; and community opposition. Johnston and Blenkinsopp (2017) studying local enterprise partnerships on the other hand argue that the distinctiveness of civic society is itself threatened by civic engagement. In our research we explore the nature of the space occupied by Civic Societies in England, especially with respect to safeguarding design quality through their involvement in consultation processes. Civic Societies are voluntary groups who represent local communities, most often in processes that shape the local built environment. In England the civic society movement is aggregated into a larger umbrella organisation – Civic Voice. This research studies the planning approval process around individual new buildings that are judged to be of poor quality. Case study selection is done using the Civic Voice website as a starting point. The research is currently at this stage. Ten Civic Societies will be chosen based upon a) geographical spread; b) range of relative deprivation and c) consent of Local Authority in participating in the research. Particular buildings deemed to be poor quality will be selected through dialogue with the chosen Civic Societies. The research will thereafter employ multiple qualitative methods, encompassing planning application analysis, virtual ‘walking’ focus group discussions and interviews with planning officers. The research is due to be completed and written up by the end of July. It is funded by the Reading Real Estate Foundation and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme of the University of Reading. References Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (2020) Living with Beauty: The report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission – January 2020. London: Building Better Building Beautiful Commission Gullino, S., Seetzen, H., Pacchi, C. & Cerulli, C. 2019, "Interpreting Patterns of Interaction between Civic Activism and Government Agency in Civic Crowdfunding Campaigns", Built environment (London. 1978), vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 248-267. Johnston, L. & Blenkinsopp, J. 2017, "Challenges for civil society involvement in civic entrepreneurship: a case study of local enterprise partnerships", Public money & management, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 89-96. Place Alliance (2020) A Housing Design Audit for England. London: Place Alliance.
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3: Smartness and development. Al-Souq: innovating for performance and management
Lecturer in Planning
Henley Business School, University of Reading
University of Reading
Research Assistant
University of Reading

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