The Design and Historic Environment Champions Network Inaugural Event

February 2005

‘This network provides a real opportunity for learning, sharing and supporting Local Authorities and other organisations to understand and demand quality for the built environment’.

image courtesy of CABE

The Need for a Network

One of the main barriers hindering the wider appointment of Design and Historic Environment Champions was a lack of knowledge about the role within a local government setting, the level of skills required, and how Champions could interact with existing networks and hierarchies. There also appeared to be a lack of understanding of the potential benefits the appointment of Champions would bring about.

To address this Cabe, EEDA / Inspire East, English Heritage and Shape East wished to provide direct support for Champions or those that were thinking of becoming Champions in the Eastern Region.

This partnership promoted the inaugural networking event to look at the requirements of the network and to start to further develop the capacity of Local Authority Design and Historic Environment Champions.

The Inaugural Event : ‘High density: High quality’ >>

The initial event provided a mix of formal presentations by expert speakers, a networking lunch and afternoon breakout sessions to discuss issues that Champions faced and what training they would find useful in the future.

In a region where there is a projected household increase of 18% by 2021(ODPM), the subject chosen for the event is a very pertinent issue to those involved in local government.

Speakers from CABE, English Heritage and the Kent Architecture Centre discussed the national context, the role of the Design and Historic Environment Champions and the function of a regionally based architecture centre in providing support to the South East network. A representative from Cambridgeshire Horizons outlined the role that Cambridge City Council had in ensuring the quality of the built environment. The final presentation from Chelmsford Borough Council focused on high quality housing design in a high density environment. Discussions and lunch followed.

The afternoon workshops involved a mix of members and officers from different authorities to ensure that there was as wide a range of experience as possible and to promote future partnerships between officers and members. Delegates looked at two areas; the issues that were of concern to them and therefore, what training and support they felt they needed delegates were asked to prioritise their requirements.

The event finished with discussion on initial ideas for a future programme of activity for the network.

Who Attended?

A total of 68 delegates who came from 23 of the 53 authorities in the region. Each county was represented. 25% of delegates were Historic Champions and 2 % Built Environment Champions. The remaining delegates described themselves as planning and design and conservation officers (34%) or other (39%). Some had considerable experience, others were completely new to the subject. All delegates felt they benefited from the event and both the presentations and workshops met with approval. Delegates found the mix of authorities, officers and members and the various perspectives stimulating. The workshops enabled them to really think about the issues with a greater breadth of view.

Delegates Requirements for the Network

Delegates felt that additional work and support would be welcome. The need for training was prioritised, both through site visits and workshops, some specialising in specific topics. The chance to network and share experiences was much appreciated and members felt that it would be beneficial to continue this. A number wanted help to explain the issues to colleagues and members. Overall delegates prioritised practical issues: being an effective Champion, seeing how other more experienced Champions fitted into the local authority process and gaining additional knowledge of good design briefs, which would enable members to be more confident in negotiations with developers. A large percentage of delegates were Historic Champions and were keen to think further about how their role fitted in with the expansion of the region and the juxtaposition of old and new. Delegates suggested that ‘ there was a lot of work to do’ in order to ‘ensure we create the historic buildings of tomorrow’.

The Future

Shape East has put together a programme for sustaining and supporting the network based on delegates' views. This was discussed with its partners to ensure that there is a viable and useful network in the Eastern region and a number of further events were held in 2005-6. This included Shape's subregional event "Stewarding Design Quality".