TONY WIMBLE
Guidance and inspiration for Kent design
A design guide, an architecture centre, a design initiative, a series of beacon projects and
work with schools are putting design on the agenda in Kent.
St Dunstan’s Gate, Station
Road West, Canterbury.
A new generation of
high-quality town houses
with reduced car parking
standards and narrow
streets exploits the benefits
of city living.
 
The emergence of design guidance in the modern era
is usually attributed to the publication of the first
Essex Design Guide in the mid-1970s. Conceived as
a genuine attempt at redressing the tide of soulless,
anywhere housing development that was sweeping the
country, it was quickly followed by similar residential
design guides in Cheshire, Kent and elsewhere.
Over the years, the UK government has blown hot
and cold on the involvement of the planning system
in design. But at times it has been a strong advocate
of good design, weighing in with publications such as
Design Bulletin 32: Residential Roads and Footpaths;
Places Streets and Movement (companion guide to
Design Bulletin 32) and, with CABE, By Design: urban
design in the planning system and Better Places to Live
(companion guide to PPG3). Government agencies
such as English Heritage (with Power of Place)
and English Partnerships (Time for Design and The

Urban Design Compendium) have also been prolific
publishers.
Despite this and (much) more guidance,
improvements in housing design have been slow to
arrive. True, some of the messages have filtered
through, delivering improvements in some areas of
design – aspects such as the use of local materials
and better window design, for example – and more
schemes do seek to achieve a sense of place, reducing
the dominance of cars and the highway.
While progress on housing has been slow, the
commercial sector and financial institutions increasingly
recognise the added value that good design can bring
to investment. Developers specialising in providing
high density, mixed-use solutions on tight urban sites
recognise that design is the key to maximising the
value of their investment. It is becoming evident that
good design will be crucial to achieving higher density
housing on urban brownfield land – the post-PPG3
challenge.
People are increasingly aware of the need to reduce
the environmental impacts of development, and of
ecology and the need for energy conservation. Little
progress has been made, however, on reducing demand
for those materials that are a finite resource or that
have high embodied energy. Development continues
to be carried out piecemeal, with little attempt to take
advantage of the benefits of combined heat and power,
or to use renewable sources of energy. Construction
and buildings in use currently account for 50 per cent
of CO2 emissions in the UK.
Design guidance still has a crucial role to play at
national and local level. Nationally, policy can be
formulated from best practice in the UK and abroad.
Locally, it can be tailored to the aspirations of local
Bluewater, near Dartford.
The attention to detail
and quality of design has
played a large part in the
commercial success of this
retail and leisure centre,
located in a former chalk
quarry. The development
has given confidence to
other developers in the
Thames Gateway area.


Ingress Park, Greenhithe:
a development by Crest
Strategic Projects of 950
homes, retail, office space,
parkland and community
facilities on brownfield land
adjoining the River
Thames. Density averages
60 dwellings per hectare,
150dph maximum.

 


 

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BT Workstyle Building,
Sevenoaks. Design plays
a key role in creating
company prestige. A green
travel plan forms part
of the package of
environmental benefits
associated with this scheme.

 


Turner Centre, Margate.
The scheme by Snøhetta
and Spence won an
international architectural
competition.

 

communities and the characteristics of the area. In
Kent, through a range of design initiatives, we have
evolved a comprehensive approach in which design
guidance is the central tool in a broader programme
of activity.
In the early 1990s, Kent County Council joined with
the RIBA South East Region, and sponsors Costain
and Ibstock, to promote a series of 12 high-profile
lectures by leading architects and designers, targeted
at local architectural practices, house builders and
planners. Local radio covered a live question-time
debate on the impact of development on the
countryside, and an ideas competition was held for
five key sites in the county. As a result, many hundreds
of professionals were engaged in this early programme
and the seeds of a local, industry-wide, recognition of
the importance of good design were sown.
Out of this collaboration came the idea of creating
a local architecture centre to give a permanent focus
to the promotion of good design. With other partners
successful bids were made to the Arts Council and
Government (under SRB round 1) to establish a Kent
Architecture Centre. Following a feasibility study, the
centre opened in 1995 under its director, Barry Shaw.
The centre continues to be a key partner in the Kent
Design initiative, is stronger now than ever before, and
has grown to fulfil a wider, regional role.
This was the background in 1997 to the review
of the Kent Design Guide. The Kent Association
of Local Authorities (KALA) agreed that a radical
review should be undertaken, and that it should be
an inclusive process embracing all sectors of the
development industry. A wide range of organisations
was invited to form the initiative’s steering group and
was represented in working groups.

 


It was quickly established that the guide needed to
address all forms of development, not just residential,
and that it should embrace the sustainability agenda,
though none of us was very clear at the time how this
could be delivered through the planning system. The
steering group advised that the guide should not
be prescriptive but suggested it be loosely modelled
on the building regulations, in which objectives and
principles are made clear and examples are given of
‘deemed to satisfy’ solutions. The Project Management
Group, a sub-group of Kent Planning Officers’ Group
and the Kent Technical Officers’ Association, agreed
this approach.
The project team, drawn from the county council’s
Urban Design Group and Transport Management
Unit, managed the process from the initial working
groups through to the launch conference. This was
followed by an extensive training programme for user
groups, including planning officers and members,
architects and house builders.
A summary of the guide is available on our website
at www.kent.gov.uk/kentdesign. A detailed evaluation
of the stakeholder process will be available on the
enhanced web site shortly.
The guide itself is very much a child of itsvery interesting time. It reflects shifts in national
and regional policy on issues such as sustainable
development; mixed use and mixed tenure; increasing
densities; greater emphasis on the use of public
transport, walking and cycling; and the use of urban,
recycled land in preference to greenfield sites, coupled
with the much-desired urban renaissance. The Kent
authorities would not claim to be leading national
policy but they were certainly among the first to
attempt to respond to it in a comprehensive way,
ensuring that all the issues relating to new development
were inter-connected.
Part of the task of the steering and working groups
was therefore to develop a shared understanding
of these national and regional policy issues and to
translate them into a Kent context, taking account
always of the need to maintain local distinctiveness –
a very clear political touchstone. The guide remains
neutral on issues of style, advocating instead the
importance of quality in contemporary schemes
and accuracy of detail in traditional or historicist
approaches.
All 1,500 copies of the guide were sold within 15
months following its publication in March 2000.
The guide is currently available only on CD-ROM.
The CD also includes a directory listing products
and services for sustainable construction which are
available in the Kent area. Work is about to commence
on revisions to the guide in order to bring it up
to date with policy and legislative changes, and to
incorporate feedback from users.
The review will also look at the possibility of
including targets for sustainability and consider the
implications of monitoring progress. We would be
interested to hear from others who may have already
gone down this route. We aim to publish this new
version of the guide in July 2004.
In May this year KALA published a review of
projects undertaken since the launch of its guide. The
publication includes high-profile projects such as
the BT Workstyle Building, Sevenoaks (designed by
Aukett Europe) and the new Turner Centre, Margate
(Snøhetta and Spence), as well as examples of school
and housing design, architectural competitions and
urban design. If you would like a copy, email me at
the address below.
The Kent Design initiative has continued to pursue
other strands of promotional activity in support of
the objectives and principles in the guide. In 2000
the team set out to establish a series of live beacon
projects in partnership with developers. The first of

 


Page 3 these, an expanded settlement at Iwade, is being
independently monitored by Roger Tym and Partners.
Lessons learned from beacon projects will help to
inform the review of the guide. They are also a
vehicle for encouraging best practice through peer
group competition.
A second beacon project is looking at a fast-track,
low-energy office scheme and the partnering approach
to its construction. Monitoring will be via an
independent BREEAM assessment. Waste
minimisation during construction will be one of the
principles explored.
The team has also worked with education colleagues
to develop a Kent Design pack for use in schools,
and has undertaken several projects with individual
schools and local architects. Details of all these
projects will appear on our website shortly.
We recently carried out a survey of architects,
planners, highway engineers, house builders and
others. This demonstrated a clear perception that the
overall quality of design and degree of sustainability
have risen in Kent in recent years. Possible reasons
for this include the raising of standards generally and
a changing market which has seen increasing levels
of investment in Kent and more projects by leading
architects. It would be good to think that the guide
and other supporting activity have played its part,
but evidence is hard to come by.
Design is now very high on the political agenda
in Kent. The leader of Kent County Council will
invite district council leaders, planning committee
chairmen and senior officers to a seminar in February
2003 to underpin this commitment. We will be
launching a new Kent Design Award scheme, and
seeking agreement for the adoption of good design
and sustainable development as core values in all
Kent’s local authorities.
One of the key areas identified by our steering
group for development is training for planners and
engineers in design appreciation. We are currently
in discussion with the School of Architecture at

Canterbury about the detailed content of such
a course and its accreditation. There have been
strong indications of support from planning and
engineering colleagues. We are also discussing with
Kent Architecture Centre the content of design
workshops for planning committee members. The
centre has already used the format in Medway and
elsewhere in the region.
We hope to address one of the perceptive comments
from a planner who noted in our user survey that
the lack of design skills in local authorities made
it difficult to use the guide creatively. As Lord
Rogers’ Urban Task Force and the Government have
recognised, addressing the lack of design skills is the real issue.

Kent Design: a guide to sustainable development is currently only
available on CD-ROM, price £17.50 plus VAT (£12.50 + VAT for
local authorities). Telephone Catherine Dane on 01622 221526 to order.
Kent Design 2000–2002 is available free. Emaitony.wimble@kent.gov.uk

Tony Wimble is Kent
Design Project Manager
(Assistant County
Environment Officer, Kent
County Council
Environmental
Management Unit).
Tel 01622 221557;
tony.wimble@kent.gov.uk