The Farrell Review

An overview of the Farrell Review

On Monday 31 March Sir Terry Farrell CBE and a panel of 11 industry experts published the Farrell review of Architecture and the Built Environment.  The review was held in consultation with a variety of individuals, companies, groups and institutions, including Urben Director Paul Reynolds who participated in a workshop on Urban Design & Landscape Architecture.

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The Farrell Review contains five chapters, namely:

1.         Education, outreach & skills

2.         Design quality

3.         Economic benefits

4.         Cultural heritage

5.         Built environment policy

We think that the Farrell Review is a valuable contribution to raising the profile of built environment issues like this and the next step should be to allocate adequate resources to implementing its recommendations, a few of which we have highlighted below.

‘Recommendation #01 – PLACE institutions and agencies should develop online resources for teachers and professionals to teach architecture and the built environment across a whole range of subjects…’  The challenges faced by cities globally need collaborative solutions from a range of professional disciplines and at a micro level, individuals need to be more aware of their environmental impacts.

Given the dire state of many UK high streets, ‘Recommendation #11 – PLACE institutions and built environment agencies, the Design Network and the LGA could research the feasibility and viability of urban rooms (or “Place Spaces”) and establish pilots in different-sized towns and cities where there are no architecture and built environment centres. They would need a facilitator, supported by volunteers, and some costs might be offset against planning receipts like Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levies’.  John McAslan and Partners are leading with a similar initiative, having established their N17 design studio in Tottenham to partner with the local authority and college to improve urban life for residents living in the area where riots ignited in summer 2011.

The review authors may well have also seen some of the cringe-worthy Councillor moments in episodes of BBC TV’s “The Planners” when thinking about how to deliver better quality development – ‘Recommendation #12 All individuals involved in making decisions about the built environment should receive basic training in placemaking and design literacy and it should be given the same status as legal and financial training for elected Councillors. Local planning authorities throughout the country should formalise the role of architecture and built environment centres and PLACE Review Panels in skilling up decision makers, including planning committee members and traffic engineers…’  Organisations such as ‘Open City’ have been running this type of Councillor education in London for many years, and it is a model that could easily be rolled out more widely.

A current misconception surrounding town planning as a profession is that it is limited to development consent management.  Though a statutory planning system is needed to guide and sometimes restrict development, planners need to have the skills, willingness and ability to proactively improve our towns and cities or we risk diminishing the profession to a generic, bureaucratic role.  Therefore we agree with ‘Recommendation #19 – The PLACE Leadership Council (PLC) outlined in the “Built Environment Policy” section of this document (chapter 5) should work with government and representatives across the industry to bring about a revolution in support of proactive planning in this country…’

As Urben Director Paul Reynolds provides expert advice to the Northern Ireland Ministerial Advisory Group; Islington Design Review Panel; and Chair’s Hackney Design Review Panel we support Recommendation #22 – Design Review Panels should become PLACE Review Panels (Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering) and include professionals from each of these fields. The “Design Review: Principles and Practice” guidance produced by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Cabe at the Design Council, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Landscape Institute (LI) makes the case for panels to be cross-professional and underlines the importance of best practice. This guidance should be adopted by all PLACE Review Panels used by local planning authorities. At the same time, they should become less like a crit at architecture school with peers passing judgement, and more enabling and collaborative’.

Given our general distain for pedestrian guard railing, we also endorse Recommendation #27 - ‘There should be major reviews of highway regulations and specifications and the design education of highway professionals. All highway schemes could be subject to a credible system of PLACE Review and local authorities should take a lead on implementing these’.

Just as planners should be fully skilled in understanding complex urban environments, we need to collaborate with our colleagues internationally to help share knowledge and build professional capacity.  By informing better local decisions, cumulative positive impacts can be created globally.   UK Trade and Investment already arrange trade missions to raise the profile of UK expertise in eco-cities and we therefore support Recommendation #41 - ‘The Department for International Development (DFID) could focus its support on the effects of urbanisation and the skill sets UK professionals have to solve problems like climate change and to develop water, waste, energy and transport infrastructure. We should be cultural leaders on the effects of global urbanisation, helping local governments and communities to help themselves’.

‘It is important that property values begin to reflect life cycle costs and design quality as well as land.  ‘Recommendation #50 – The RICS, the Construction Industry Council and PLACE institutions should work together to define a universally adopted set of definitions and criteria for assessing property values to include measurable space standards and design quality. The RICS is already leading some international work in this area and the institutions should join forces to take this forward in the UK’.


A full copy of the report can be downloaded from