Confidential CABE/Design Council design review for Mount Pleasant reveals serious flaws in the planning process

The Mount Pleasant Association (MPA) has acquired a copy of a leaked letter from Alan Thompson, former Design Council Cabe Head of Design Review, to Dp9 who have been masterminding the Mount Pleasant application on behalf of the Royal Mail Group.

The letter was written on 4 April 2013 in response to the Design Council Cabe’s review meeting on 20 March 2013. A PDF of the original letter is available below and so too is a copy of the MPA’s official response to Design Council CABE sent today.

In summary, two aspects of the letter are particularly alarming.

Firstly, the uncritical and ingratiating tone is not what one expects from a formal design review. While some conclusions are plainly misguided (‘We think the design team has successfully captured the spirit of this diverse and historic part of London’) others flagrantly dismiss basic planning principles (‘We think it sensible that a proportion of car parking is made available for residents, rather than adopting a car-free development’).

In the light of the local community’s profound concerns, the MPA’s published views, and the resounding rejection by both councils, Mr Thompson’s letter reads like satire. One may well ask how his position could be so contrary to widespread local and professional opinion. Could the answer lie within Design Council Cabe? Among the list of advisory ‘experts’ is Paul Monaghan, Director of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) and the Board of Trustees includes Jim Eyre (OBE), Partner of WilkinsonEyre Architects. Both firms have contributed designs for the Mount Pleasant proposal.

The second point of serious concern about this letter is the lack of any attempt by Design Council Cabe to engage the local community yet they claim on their website that ‘Great design can change lives, communities and organisations for the better. It can create better places to live, and bring communities together.’ How can such statements be anything but empty soundbites if the organisation that makes these claims does not even engage the communities they claim to be improving?

Yet another episode in the unpleasant saga that is Mount (un)Pleasant.

 

Click here to read the letter: CABE Report

Email sent by the MPA to Design Council CABE on 31 March 2014:

Dear Design Council CABE,

We have been given sight of a copy of your confidential circulated letter (attached) to Oliver Sheppard of Dp9 dated 4th April 2013 regarding his presentation of the Royal Mail Group’s Mount Pleasant proposals.

We write both as professionals and as founding members of the Mount Pleasant Association (MPA), a community organisation that has been in existence for nearly two years and was established in response to the total lack of meaningful public engagement in the planning process over this extremely important site. We note the letter’s circulation list and must express our surprise and dismay that CABE has so conspicuously ignored the five local communities that surround a vital, but missing link between Kings Cross and the City.

In this era of localism and state-encouraged Third Sector participation, the MPA feels gravely let down by all the organisations on the circulation list. This letter is proof, if any more were needed, of why so many feel so disappointed by the way this scheme has been handled. We are well supported and recognised as a legitimate community organisation, soon to become a formal neighbourhood body under the Localism Act. The developer’s tokenist approach to planning would have been at home in the bad old pre- Skeffington days. Perhaps we might have expected this from as a newly formed profit-oriented plc, but we are shocked by the uncritical and acquiescent tone of CABE’s letter. We are particularly concerned that our considered list of urban design and built-form criticisms plus the flagrant contraventions of the joint Camden/Islington Supplementary Planning Document and the Roseberry Avenue Conservation Area Guidelines, have been so comprehensively brushed aside.

The Mount Pleasant proposal is above all else about business, and while we applaud business and want this site developed as speedily and brilliantly as possible, we cannot support such an overtly commercial approach that disregards local conditions being described as ‘regeneration’ worthy of a round of ‘applause’. This is not just our view; you need only look at reports published by the planning officers in both Islington and Camden councils who have unanimously rejected the scheme. Had it not been for the Mayor’s recent and controversial ‘call in’ the RMG would be back at the drawing board.

Since you have taken the time to listen to the applicant, we would be very happy to present our case to you. In addition, we would ask you to visit our website (https://mountpleasantforum.wordpress.com) where you can not only read everything that has been said about this scheme in the media and can also watch two films we have put together explaining our objections and outlining suggestions that would be to the benefit of all concerned.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Edward Denison and Mike Franks

On behalf of the Mount Pleasant Association (MPA)

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One thought on “Confidential CABE/Design Council design review for Mount Pleasant reveals serious flaws in the planning process

  1. It is an extraordinarily craven document that has little to do with the critical urbanism that CABE / Design Council purports to foster, and may even betray a conflict of interest.

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