Design Review
in London


Underpin throughout 2017, this study examined a range of design review cases in London.

Design review is a formal peer review process focusing on the design of built environment projects. The research findings are based upon in-depth interviews with applicants, designers, panellists, and panel managers. This provided a 360-degree analysis of the diversity of design review practices across London and the benefits that flow from high quality provision.

Main findings

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 investment. 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.  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.

Design Review Panels Case Studies:

London Borough of Haringey

Transport for London

London Borough of Merton

CABE Design Review Panel

Mayor's Design Advisory Group

London Borough of Wandsworth

London Legacy Development Corporation

Urban Design London Design Surgery

About the research:

What is the 'Design Review'?

Design review is the peer review process for the design of built environment projects. Whilst in London this process is sometimes referred to by other names including: quality review, place review, project review, and design surgery, in this report the universal term ‘design review’ is used to cover all such practices.

Who are the people you interviewed?

Interviews were conducted with 40 key individuals across six main categories:

i) Design review service providers

ii) Local planning authority officers and councillors

iii) Panel chairs and other design review panellists

iv) Highways authority project officers

v) Applicants for planning permission (developers)

vi) Architects and other designers (working for applicants)

What time period does your data refer to?

12 projects that had been reviewed cover the period 2011-2017. The interviews were conducted between March and December 2017.

Further Readings:

UDL – Design Review in London Updates

Over the last five years the number of Design Review panels in London has grown significantly, both at the borough level and in areas with significant development. The panels play an increasingly important role in the quality of development in London. 

London Panels include those that are called ‘Design Review’ Panels, as well as ‘Quality Review ‘or ‘Place Review’ Panels. Many panels are now managing the review process remotely. Read our takeaway for more information on best practice 

This information was last updated on 20.04.2020

Find information on Panels across London  →

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