Based on the analysis of eight Design Review Panels practices in London and the interviews with 40 key individuals across various Design Review related professional bodies, the research concluded:
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- A success story of more and better provision.
There is widespread agreement about the range of benefits that design review can bring and collectively that these underpin a solid case for investing in it. These impacts benefit all parties with a stake in the outcomes from the development process: society, the design team, the applicant (developer) and the planning authority.
Reviews form part of a larger process of securing better design. Design Review has its limitations and should never be seen as the sole means to achieve design quality – it can never replace the on-going dialogue that it is possible to have with a permanent design advisor within a planning or highways authority. In-house design advice and independent design review are most effective when working together.
- Refining the process of design review
There is no ‘right’ way of managing design review. There was no evidence revealed that any of Review management models is intrinsically superior to the others. All are capable of delivering excellent design review services.
Demonstrating independence is important. To be effective at offering impartial design advice, panels need to be independent, with their role and status made clear.
Good design review comes down to the panel members being open-minded and constructive in their criticism. Panellists with very fixed stylistic views, for example, should be avoided in favour of those with a more open and pluralistic attitude to architectural design.
Review works best when its role in relation to the wider processes that shape projects is properly established and well understood. This should begin with consistent criteria for determining which projects should normally be subject to design review.
- Challenges for the future
Despite the benefits, negative perceptions about design review remain widespread. Panels argue that they continue to battle against what they see as outmoded associations with the old (Pre-2011) design review model. The fragmentation and commercialisation of design review services after 2011 has meant that the sharing of good practice has often been absent.
The need to be transparent and accessible: The research showed, however, that the majority of panels are not ‘transparent’ or ‘accessible’. Given that some panel hearings are already far more open than others, without obvious damage to their processes, levels of engagement or reputation, a greater degree of transparency should be the norm.
The need for a learning culture: There is also a need to be less secretive and better at sharing the experiences and practices of design review between panels and across the sector. A learning culture should begin by establishing robust mechanisms for securing feedback on how local design review practices are operating. Currently this is a neglected aspect of most design review services.