Monday, 6 February 2012

Design Council CABE Slam Liverpool Waters.

DCCABE Slam the Liverpool Waters scheme even before the Unesco report. They condemn the incoherent and ridiculous Peel Holdings proposals that Liverpool City Council seem willing to support. Meanwhile Joe Anderson Liverpool City Council leader says;
"Whatever happens in 2012, let me be absolutely clear about one thing: we will back Liverpool Waters.”

Liverpool Waters, Liverpool

Designed by Chapman Taylor

Planning reference: 10O/2424

Previously reviewed: 25 February 2011. Read the previous Design Review comments

We continue to applaud the level of ambition of Peel Holdings for the Liverpool Waters scheme. We appreciate the work carried out since the initial submission of the application in an effort to clarify the intent behind the application. We see the potential in the proposals submitted, but we think that this continues to be hindered by a weakly expressed masterplan and parameters that are not yet strong enough to serve as an effective planning tool by the planning authority or useful guide to developers. In our view, while the principles and objectives are broadly more scheme specific, they remain difficult to grasp due to the complex structure of the application. There is a need to convey these in a more straightforward manner in a single place alongside the scheme vision to give the planning authority a clearer sense of how the proposals will secure a development that draws on its special history to become an attractive place live, work and visit.

Scheme principles

We welcome the decision to revise the principles governing the Liverpool Waters scheme. Those contained in the Design and Access Statement are now more closely tied to the Liverpool Waters site. However, this is undermined by the variously referenced ‘key principles’, ‘overarching principles’ and ‘overall principles’ found across the application documents, including the Building Characterisation and Precedent Study and Public Realm Characterisation Study. Many of these continue to be generic or vague, for example ‘to connect spaces’ and ‘visibility of landmark buildings’. Therefore, overall the principles remain difficult to grasp and lack coherence. Every principle should be specific to the site and give a clear sense of the rationale underpinning the scheme parameters that flow from it. Clear, unambiguous principles are vital to assist the local authority in determining the acceptability of reserved matters applications, particularly in cases where applications challenge the approved outline scheme but still remain within the spirit of the masterplan.

Planning parameters

We continue to 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, while we appreciate the submission of further illustrative detail intended to support the parameters submitted, we continue to think there should be a greater level of commitment in the parameters themselves. As noted in our original response to the application, the decision not to define block footprints with limits of deviation or set minimum and maximum height thresholds for buildings highlights the limited value of the parameters as currently proposed. Developers will be left without a prescribed building ‘envelope’ to adhere to, causing potential uncertainty and confusion. The local planning authority will also find it both difficult to assess the compliance of reserved matters applications against the masterplan and harder to resist schemes that challenge the intentions of the masterplan if these are not translated into usable parameters that are expressed spatially.

The Building Characterisation and Precedent Study’s illustrations of the intended type and form of blocks and how the uses within them could be arranged gives some sense of the typology and quality of buildings sought and how richness across neighbourhoods may develop. We also welcome the analysis and guidelines on how significant historic fabric should be protected and incorporated across the neighbourhoods proposed, including buried archaeology across the site. We support efforts to create a hierarchy of public spaces, although it is unclear how the parameters will define this. For example, parameters might have set building widths and frontages to roads and water to show how blocks framing these spaces will support such a hierarchy.

We understand the intention to control all of the above through planning conditions and the sub-masterplans for each of the neighbourhoods. However, in our view, it will be very difficult to capture requirements in conditions that are best expressed spatially. While the sub-masterplans might provide that spatial dimension, the intentions of the outline masterplan could be misinterpreted if this is left to be defined at a later stage, neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Therefore, we remain of the view that the outline masterplan is the best vehicle to secure this. It would help to ensure a consistency of approach across the site, giving clear direction on aspects like the definition of building frontages along the waterfront.
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.
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. Therefore, if they are to serve as a practical tool to guide those implementing future phases, setting ground rules that establish what is fixed in the masterplan and what can change over time, it should be evident as to which parameters are absolute and which will remain loose. As submitted, we do not yet have the confidence that the parameters 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. While the sketch 3-D axonometric gives some sense of the intended scale and massing of the proposals it is not a replacement for this. The 2-D ‘Illustrative Masterplan’ (Drawing CTL-016-01), submitted as one of the scheduled submitted plans, does not fulfil this role either. It neither articulates a vision for Liverpool Waters, nor demonstrates how land use, infrastructure, landscape, and building form considerations have been integrated into a coherent whole. Instead, it raises serious questions over the level of connectedness Liverpool Waters will actually achieve with its hinterland, especially the North Shore Area. It also suggests an overly complex network of routes within the site, making the legibility of streets and connections difficult to grasp.

We recognise that the spatial 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.

Sub-masterplans and selection of architects
Given the importance placed on the sub-masterplans to translate principles and parameters into well-functioning neighbourhoods, it is critical that these are subjected to a high level of scrutiny by both the lead masterplanner and the local planning authority. Therefore, we advise that the process of selecting sub-masterplanners should be agreed with the local planning authority to ensure that appointed designers have the necessary experience and skills to masterplan these neighbourhoods. The lead masterplanner should then continue to oversee the sub-masterplanners to ensure that they carry through the intentions of the Liverpool Waters masterplan. This has been critical to the success of Hafen City in Hamburg where both the lead masterplanner and the City maintained strong control throughout the detailed masterplanning process. This ensured that the ‘non-negotiable’ elements of the masterplan like block scale in relation to street widths were respected while other aspects like architectural expression could be varied. If this approach is adopted at Liverpool Waters it will give the City the reassurance that a minimum quality threshold will be met by every building on the site regardless of the experience of the architects involved in its build-out. The most prominent building projects should, however, be subject to international competition, particularly in cases like the Shanghai Tower where the impact will be felt much more widely than just the site itself.

Planning conditions
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 the 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 sub-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. The design team should consider how other projects of a similar scale and complexity have been conditioned, such as London’s Kings Cross.
The outline planning application does not make clear how Liverpool Waters will achieve truly sustainable economic development, as defined in the new National Planning Policy Framework. We think this critically important aspect of the proposals needs to be more clearly defined at this stage. Generic statements, such as ‘buildings will generally face south’, are not helpful and give little confidence that this has been considered as fully as it needs to be. The development will need to encourage its residents, workers and visitors to adopt environmentally sustainable patterns of behaviour, for example in respect of travel habits. The local authority will need to satisfy itself that areas such as public transport provision have been given enough attention to ensure that attractive alternatives to the private car are provided.

1 comment:


    with thanks to the architects journal