Negrini’s architecture debate that promises Marx and sparks

Is Jo Negrini, the council’s £187,000 per year chief executive, preparing to quit her job and take up a new career in stand-up comedy?

In the chair: Jo Negrini will be cosying up to her architect chums later this month

That’s one conclusion drawn from the news that later this month she is to venture forth into deepest east London (well… Haggerston) to chair a debate about the stifling over-regulation of the local authority planning system.

It’s not as if Negrini hasn’t got enough on her plate to deal with in her day job, after all. There’s the stalled Westfield development in the town centre, repeat visits from Ofsted inspectors still anxious about the state of the borough’s children’s services department, the delayed £30million refurb of the Fairfield Halls, the worst performing primary schools in London, oh… and a pre-election Council Tax decision to be sorted.

Undaunted, Negrini – Hon FRIBA, donchaknow – is finding the time to go off to the heart of Hipsterdom to rub shoulders with her architect chums and devote an evening to an event which its organisers describe thus:

“The intersection of design and democracy should be an exhilarating moment of civic and spatial richness. Instead British architecture is blockaded by a byzantine planning culture at best onerous and at worst corrupt. Feckless backseat-designer planning officers take out their churlish frustrations on the smallest of schemes, demanding ill-conceived arbitrary alterations bleeding the vivacity from our streets and homes as vast bland monocultural developments are nodded through. Nostalgia for a brief era of post-war planning heroics is hopeless.

“Given anarchic freedom we created the Georgian great estates. Given paternalistic planning we created Taylor Wimpey.

“Fire the planners and tear up the rule book – anarchy for the UK.”

Does Tony Newman and his Gang of Four in the Town Hall realise there’s a potential architectural anarchist on the loose in Fisher’s Folly?

As the former head of Croydon’s planning department, Negrini might be expected to defend the reputation of “feckless backseat-designer planning officers”, as she presides over a panel which includes a property investor, an urban designer working at the GLA, the co-founder of an “architecture and art collective”, and “an outspoken Marxist critic of the British planning system”.

Tickets for this not-to-be-missed event are £8.

The Croydon Dildo: Negrini will be able to discuss landmark architectural designs

Though beware.

The organisers, Turncoats, seem to have the measure of this kind of event. “Architecture debates are rubbish,” they say.

“We’ve all been there: a panel of similar people with similar views taking it in turns to talk at length about their similar work – too polite, too deferential, too dull. At best they are lukewarm love-ins, critically impotent, elitist and stuffy.”

Turncoats promise something different. “Framed by theatrically provocative opening gambits, a series of debates will rugby tackle fundamental issues facing contemporary practice with a playful and combative format designed to ferment open and critical discussion, turning conventional consensus on its head.”

In the past, they’ve described RIBA – the Royal Institute of British Architects, the body which pompously doled out that honorary fellowship to Negrini – as “a stagnant, antiquated, and irrelevant institution which demonstrably fails to enrich the lives or practice of architects anywhere”.

Has anyone told Negrini?

The event is “at a secret venue” on January 25. If you want to find out more about the Croydon CEO’s comedy debut, click here.

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14 Responses to Negrini’s architecture debate that promises Marx and sparks

  1. In other words, the debate seems to be that all the rule books should be torn up and developers be allowed to build whatever they want wherever they want in sole persuit of profits, leaving the rest of us to live with the consequences.

  2. Helen Benjamins says:

    Stifling over regulation . . . Didn’t realise that she actually paid heed to any regulations that didn’t suit her plans.
    I would be more concerned that whilst she plays away, all eyes are being averted from something else she is trying to do under the radar. Thank Heavens that we actually do live in a democratic society and there are sites like this one who keep us informed at the touch of a button. Thanks insidecroydon.

    • If you think that we live in a democratic society Helen, you could not have attended any of Croydon Council Planning Meetings chaired by the dictator and bully-boy Scott. Sadly democracy is not on their agenda

  3. Stand on the bridge over the Croydon Underpass and look around you. Almost all you can see was designed by Architects and “approved” by Planners. I suspect the ordinary person doing the looking will think what they built was generally of poor design quality and who is to say that what they design and approve for Croydon now is any better?

  4. derekthrower says:

    When she bursts on stage in this scintillating debate celebrating the dynamic laissez-faire of our property developers, will they be playing “God Save the Queen and the fascist regime. They made you a moron. A potential H bomb”?

  5. Lewis White says:

    When I see some of the carbuncles inflicted on London– some by ego-tripping “superstar architects” , and others by very mediocre architects, under pressure from clients to design at the lowest standards, I wish that planning officers would have greater ability to stop or modify poor quality designs and buildings built with poor materials that look grubby instantly.

    Aspects of the UK planning system may be broken, and it undoubtedly is complicated, but some of the blame should be laid at the door of governments of both colours, who have chipped away at the freedom of planning officers to do their jobs , rendering planning departments as “Development facilitators”, always under acute time pressure to get projects processed and approved.

    One of the worrying aspects of planning, nevertheless, is that there are people at senior levels who care very little for the public’s valid concerns, and are as ego-tripping as the biggest superstar architects out there.

    The power of elected Councillors on the Planning Committees of the UK has also been curtailed, as somehow the number of Planning Applications decided by the Committees has reduced, and number decided by senior officers under “delegated powers” has increased. It’s a tragedy when both architects and planners talk in the meaningless and obscurantist “designer speak” , which is designed to exclude the public from the debate. It tends to end up with buildings being approved like the stick-on abstract outline of a violin case monster planned by the Chinese for George Street .

    In spite of all this, we still have a planning system that many countries envy. But it needs to have a serious overhaul, as at present, there is a serious democratic deficit, with the public being denied a real voice. Example?…… yes, the Beddington Incinerator. There should have been a proper Public Inquiry, not a window dressing “Examination in public.”

  6. Nick Davies says:

    Who designed, who approved The Bridge To Nowhere? Built with the stairs on the wrong side so you have to run back and forth along the platforms to change trains. And built with foundations which blocked up forever the perfectly user friendly tunnel. Did anyone ask the passengers who use it? Did anyone ask the staff on the station? Have any of them tried getting a suitcase and a kid in a pushchair up and down those stairs when the lifts are broken? How much more rubbish do we have to tolerate that surely is nodded through at a Friday afternoon powerpoint show after a busy lunchtime in The George?

    • derekthrower says:

      Come on Nick. This lot would not be seen dead in the George.

    • Nick this is what Croydon Council call “consultation”: Someone on the Council having a “bright” idea, all their colleagues saying “What a wizzo idea, lets all agree”, and already making their minds up. THEN they pretend to ask the general public for their opinion and however many objections there are, the planning committee will pass the original “bright idea” normally 6 – 4. Job Done

  7. The 6-4 reference is I suspect an oblique reference to how on the planning committee the 4 Conservatives there are more often than not against the planning applications considered. By contrast Executive decisions are not made through a committee. Under the strong Leader model, adopted at the beginning of a four year council, the Leader of the council makes all the decisions or devolves the decisions to a nominated individual councillor or councillors. The council tax rate or very major policies like the Croydon Plan go to the full council of 70 councillors.

  8. Lewis White says:

    Just a further thought about planning.

    I am sure that there are obstructive planning officers out there in the UK who DO impose their own design detail alternatives on perfectly good designs submitted by architects, surveyors and builders, but we should bear in mind that most of the countryside within the M25 would have been be covered with speculative housing estates in the last 50 years if the Green Belt had not been designated by Planners ( and politicians of all parties) responding to the ribbon development tide.

    Our crying need for more houses and flats needs to be met in a way that creates well-designed, living communities, not just covering the fields of Surrey and Kent with semis and terraced houses of the 1930s patterns or little boxes of the 60s. So real planning is needed……. and we need people who care about design and planning to enter the planning profession, as well as the building design professions.

    The many faults of the East Croydon Station’s “Bridge to Nowhere” are not in my view the failure of “Planners” but of the architects, engineers and other designers employed to design the new structure. Steep steps facing wrong way (so herds of passengers changing platforms can’t transfer quickly enough, to a changed arrival platform over the tracks, so miss their trains), the infilling of the former ramps (which gave a far quicker transit time from platform to platform), ridiculous canopies that don’t extend outwards (so don’t stop any rain that doesn’t fall vertically–which is most rain), slippery deck surfaces which don’t slope enough to drain the water away (so that the decks have to be studded with yellow warning cones advising of dangerous slippery surfaces in English, Spanish and Portuguese), the original absence of a centre handrail on steps (so people fell down the steps), and the pathetically small typefaces used on the tiny little TV screens (both aspects which fail in the basic rule of public transport signage for easy visibility) …… yes, award-winning design failures of high level.

    • Nick Davies says:

      But presumably planning departments exist in part to advise planning committees on the worthiness or otherwise of the designers’ and engineers’ and architects’ efforts and to assist them in their deliberations.

      Surely The Bridge To Nowhere’s design would have been presented to them in more detail than the back of a fag packet sketch that it seems they consented to?

  9. veeanne2015 says:

    Details of the proposed bridge and platform changes were in the East Croydon Masterplan Consultation in 2010. However, like most ‘consultations’, the various and many flaws to the plan were ignored.
    An example was public comment that ‘Concern removal of underpass will make platform to platform interchange more difficult’.
    And the response ? ‘The bridge has been designed to accommodate platform to platform interchange by both stairs and lifts. The slope of the existing ramped underpass access does not comply with DDA requirements, and is narrower than the proposed stairs and walkway.
    As such the bridge is expected to improve platform to platform interchange.’

    Subsequent public comments on the safety aspects on the stairs with fast moving and slow moving passengers, position of lifts and stairs regarding rush-hour crowds, and the subway being safer etc. all ignored,

  10. kevinashton says:

    I think one of the biggest problems in UK local government today is the ridiculously high salaries these officials pay themselves. Local government in general, need more money from central government to fix roads and fund social services etc, but they also need to be thriftier when it comes to executive saleries.

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