Monday, 23 May 2011

CABE Slam Liverpool Waters.

Liverpool Waters


A mixed-use masterplan including tall buildings for the central docks in Liverpool's Northshore. Designed by Chapman Taylor.

25 February 2011

Planning application: 10O/2424

We applaud Peel for responding to the advice of CABE and English Heritage during the design development process and for working with a CABE enabler with the aim of ensuring the outline planning process delivers a high quality scheme and can evolve over the 30 year timeframe. In our view, the planning application does not fully articulate the nature of what is being applied for in the material submitted and, in its current form, does not provide the confidence that a high quality scheme will emerge. It is critical that the planning application contains a clear, unambiguous written description of development that confirms this. This written description should relate directly to a defined set of scheme-specific principles to guide and manage future development on the Liverpool Waters site. We recognise that Peel is in the process of restructuring the planning application material to enable Liverpool City Council to progress the assessment of the development. We would like to comment on the restructured application alongside the qualitative aspects of the scheme once submitted.

Scheme principles

In our view, the principles detailed in the Masterplan and Key Principles document are mostly generic and are not organised or expressed in a meaningful way. A case in point is the principle relating to land use: ‘making the most efficient use of the land to meet the anticipated needs and aspirations of all sections of the future Liverpool Waters community’. It is difficult to grasp how this principle and the explanation that accompanies it reflect the unique opportunities and challenges particular to this site and this scheme, leaving it open to interpretation by the planning authority and developers. It is, therefore, critical that scheme-specific principles are developed to provide the local planning authority with a clear sense of the rationale underpinning the scheme parameters that flow from them.

Planning parameters

We support the strategy for a parameters-based planning application. This could prove an effective way of implementing agreed principles by setting the physical confines within which development should come forward. However, in our view, the parameters proposed in the drawings and referenced in the documents submitted will neither provide an effective mechanism to assess reserved matters applications against, nor give developers the necessary direction on what will, or will not, be acceptable. There is a crucial need for a greater level of commitment in the parameters. For example, whilst the submission seeks to fix maximum floorspace for each use class across the neighbourhoods proposed, this is not translated into identifiable block footprints with limits of deviation. Likewise, whilst the application sets maximum building heights relating to each illustrative plot, it does not provide minimum height thresholds. As a consequence, the usability of these parameters is severely limited as it leaves developers without a prescribed building ‘envelope’ to adhere to. Further, by not defining the ratio of uses across development parcels - in particular, how uses could be arranged both horizontally and vertically within buildings - it gives the local planning authority little sense of how richness across neighbourhoods will be secured in relation to the overall masterplan character. It is imperative that the outline application addresses this to provide a sense of the special quality and typology of the buildings proposed; this is particularly critical for the tall buildings, civic buildings and buildings addressing water, public spaces and key routes within the development.

Our concerns are not limited to those examples expressed above. Rather, they highlight a need to re-cast the parameters proposed to provide a more practical tool to guide those implementing future phases by setting ground rules that establish what is fixed in the masterplan and what can change over time. Other parameters might establish building lines onto major public spaces and the relationship of buildings to defined street types through the use of street sections. This could identify where active building frontages should be focussed. Given the significant heritage context for Liverpool Waters, parameters should be explicit about what highly significant historic fabric should be retained and incorporated to ensure that proposals protect historic features, waterfront character and key views across the City. We would expect the line of the building frontage along the waterfront to be exactly set out, for example. Parameters could prove a useful means to distinguish between background and landmark buildings and identify key groupings of buildings (such as those addressing public spaces). Equally, they provide an opportunity to define a hierarchy of public spaces, key vehicular movement and parking strategies, and principal connections to Northshore and the City Centre. Taken alongside parameters that promote architectural variety across the site and set out a key materials palette for the public realm, the suite of parameters can start to paint a clear picture of the nature of the neighbourhoods proposed.

We note the inclusion of a development parcel phasing diagram but think its scope could be extended to include triggers for physical and social infrastructure delivery on a phased basis. In our view, parameters could also be employed to codify sustainability targets, setting a baseline against which developments should be measured. Inevitably, some parameters will need to be fixed and some will remain loose. Therefore, clarity about their status in the approved submission will be essential.

Ultimately, the key test for any set of parameters should be whether it allows the masterplan intentions to be clearly understood and, in turn, how it can ensure design quality is maintained over the lifetime of the development. We do not yet have the confidence that the parameters submitted will provide a sound basis by which to control design quality across the Liverpool Waters site. We ask that the design team revise them to address the concerns raised above.

Spatial masterplan

It is critical that the outline submission includes a fully illustrative spatial masterplan for the whole site in sufficient detail to demonstrate that the scheme principles could be applied so as to achieve a positive outcome. The planning application refers at various points to the ‘spatial masterplan’ although no such document has been submitted. In our view, the 2-D ‘Illustrative Masterplan’ (Drawing CTL-016-01), submitted as one of the scheduled submitted plans, does not fulfil this role. It neither articulates a vision for Liverpool Waters, nor demonstrates how land use, landscape, transport, energy, infrastructure and building form considerations have been integrated into a coherent whole.

We recognise that the masterplan will need to be adaptable enough to accommodate change over the 30 year build-out of the site. Nevertheless, it is an important instrument to be used alongside the planning parameters to set a scheme which is ‘fixed for now’, that establishes a quality benchmark against which the impact of any future departures proposed can be measured. In other words, it should provide a full illustration of a potentially positive outcome for Liverpool Waters. We urge the design team to provide such a plan in its submission.

Masterplanning process

In order to help both the planning authority and client control the evolution and detailed design phases of the masterplan, we think that the outline application should be explicit about what will be defined at a later stage through detailed neighbourhood masterplans and reserved matters planning applications. We understand that a design panel would be established to review individual detailed planning applications but there will be a need to step back to review the scheme as a whole as it develops. Reviews of the masterplan will need to take place at key points in build-out of site to ensure that the intentions expressed in the approved masterplan are carried through. In our view, it is essential that an independent design review process is a condition of the planning consent as proposed.

The framing of planning conditions will be a crucial element in the delivery of a successful scheme for this historic and highly significant site. Their role will be vital in ensuring that the pace of development is managed so as to ensure successive phases do not commence until the necessary social and physical infrastructure is in place. Equally, the conditioning of any outline approval should ensure that detailed masterplans and reserved matters applications which deviate from the approved masterplan and associated parameters will not be permitted unless it can be demonstrated that they improve upon or equate to the permitted scheme. The local planning authority will need to work closely with Peel Holdings to develop a set of robust conditions to the satisfaction of both parties.

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