Contributed by Darren Price
Architecture and Urban Design Advisor
I work as the Architecture and Urban Design Advisor at Urban Vision North Staffordshire which is one of twenty-three Architecture and Urban Design Centres located across the United Kingdom. Urban Vision is a not-for-profit company and a registered charity set-up with the aim of bringing about successful, physical and economic regeneration, and social inclusion by creating a better and more sustainable urban environment, improving the image of the area and raising the quality of life for the citizens of today and tomorrow. In my day-to-day work I provide a range of advice, manage Urban Vision’s renowned Design Review Panel and we have reviewed and commented on almost two-hundred significant development proposals in the sub-region in the last five years. As a result of this it has become evident to me that rewarding good practice is every bit as important as criticising and helping to improve that which is not so good.
So when I was approached initially by Jim Worgan and then shortly after by Louise Wallace of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, to act as a judge for the recently revived Civic Society Awards my first reaction was to say ‘yes’ and my second was to try and find a way of being able to honour the commitment! By way of explanation I was at the time in the process of organising the inaugural North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership Awards and was already confirmed as a judge for the Southern Staffordshire Partnership that covers the remainder of the county and time was at a premium. I am happy to report that all three awards went very well and I was very pleased that I was able to take part in each of them.
There were some buildings of real quality on the Civic Society awards shortlist, including the overall winner of the North Staffordshire Architecture and Urban Design Award and numerous other accolades ‘Blue Planet’ in the Chatterley Valley. This building is not only of local, regional and national significance but is quite probably the most sustainable logistics building in the world and this is something to be really very proud of. Alongside this the other category winners – the Knutton Terraces Heritage Refurbishment and the Newcastle-under-Lyme Guildhall as well as the commended schemes – the Maer Estates cottages and the stained glass window at St Luke’s Silverdale – were also of significant quality, if of a completely different scale, and this was pleasing to see.
In the three years that I have been working in North Staffordshire I have noticed a marked improvement in the quality of the buildings being developed, though there is clearly still work to do and we should all be reminded that the current recession is no excuse for letting standards slip. With this in mind, I look forward to being involved in future design awards when we can once again recognise and reward this raising of the bar.