New London Architecture

LREF 2021 - a Civic Engineers perspective

Monday 18 October 2021

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Robert Westcott

Director
Civic Engineers

It’s been great to be at a live event this week with really well curated talks.

The theme of the conference is Resilient Cities, with a nod to COP26, which Glasgow Council’s leader Susan Aitken dubbed the COP of Cities in the opening session. The presentations and talks have understandably focused on the best of the best, large city shaping development such as Argent’s work at Brent Cross, British Land at Canada Water and outside of Manchester, U+I’s regeneration of the Mayfield Depot in Manchester, which we are privileged to be engineering. All of these have set themselves challenging net zero targets, are driving down embodied carbon and curating the public realm and surrounding links to promote active travel. All good.
 
Another theme repeatedly raised in questions and side discussions is how hamstrung local councils are by chronic underfunding. The developments noted above will be great places to live and work because these developers are working at scale, they have a social conscience and have a long term interest in the sites much like the Great Estates.
 
But what happens for the majority of smaller developments across the UK carried out by developers focused on a quick return. Having planning and building control departments with too few poorly paid staff who can barely cope with commenting on applications is not healthy, and how can they be expected to regulate ‘bad’ developers, let alone think ahead, update town plans at appropriate points and upskill effectively. On top of this they are undermined by poor central policy like Permitted Development, and having to have private entities deliver schools to serve communities where they are only delivered towards the end of the cycle when everyone who has moved in has had to find alternatives on the other side of town driving their kids to school in the process.
 
In design for councils this underfunding often influences our street designs. We develop and promote designs to make our cities more resilient to climate change and in particular flash flooding using nature-based SuDS measures such as raingardens and permeable paving. Often these are resisted because the council’s maintenance teams do not have the funding to train their staff for the different maintenance techniques, and they are hedging the inevitable future maintenance costs they are unsure of compared to traditional solutions.
 
As an industry if we are to create truly resilient cities, and not just exemplar areas, we need to seriously lobby central government to support local councils properly and help them get effective policy in place. London is in a position of strength with the London Plan and strong financial values. How do we roll out the ambition of this document across the UK? Is there a way of channelling private ESG funding towards the public sector rather than private entities to facilitate stronger local councils, and better outcomes for our cities? 
 

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Robert Westcott

Director
Civic Engineers



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