Lunchtime Talks


Wednesday 1st February, 12:30-2, Design & Heritage

TOPIC: Heritage at the heart of placemaking and The Local Plan

Presentation from Rebecca England Thomas Sild, RBK
Response: Amanda Lewis

Rebecca ENG; is an architect and the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames’ Heritage and Conservation Lead, within the Placemaking team. She is the council’s lead advisor on managing the borough’s historic environment; liaising with various council services and stakeholders on development management, spatial planning, capital delivery and regeneration.

Thomas SILD; is a senior planner at Kingston Council, currently leading on the draft heritage policies of the new Local Plan. Thomas has previously worked as a planner for the London boroughs of Camden, Richmond and Ealing. Whilst at Kingston, Thomas has also led the Local Plan drafting on the themes of climate change and transport, as well as the borough’s latest Strategic Flood Risk Assessment.

Amanda LEWIS; Amanda qualified as an architect and worked in practice for 12 years, managing retail and residential construction projects, in and around London. In 1994 she became an academic at Kingston University and is currently senior lecturer for the BSc and MSc Historic Building Conservation programmes, specifically focussing on the interaction of built heritage assets and the regeneration of urban environments. Her voluntary work includes 6 years of serving on Kingston’s ‘Conservation Area Advisory Committee’ and Chair of the Surrey Historic Building Trust.

Her key comments on protection of urban fabric whilst seeking a certain type of ‘sustainable development’; retention and refurbishment of old buildings over their demolition; lack of connected public realm thinking in town centres – pointing out the poor state of EdenCampus/RoyalExchange connectivity and “that poor roundabout” were spot on!


Wednesday 8th February, 12:30-2pm Housing

Guest Speakers : Duncan Bowie, a senior lecturer in spatial planning at the University of Westminster and a visiting lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning. He is also the author of a number of studies including, People, Planning and Homes in a World City Housing and the credit crunch: The Government and property market failure and The Politics of Development in an Age of Austerity. Mr Bowie worked in housing and planning policy, investment and research roles for the Mayor of London, the Association of London Government, the Housing Corporation, the LDDC and the London boroughs of Newham and Lambeth. He has a keen focus on affordable/not so affordable Housing.

Tom Bright, RBK’s Principal Planning Policy Officer.

Addressing a mixed audience of members, residents and Councillors, Mr Bowie covered wide range topics including Housing, social rent and Affordability, Density and design, Location – town centres and opportunity areas v suburban intensification. He also touched subject of housing needs and site identification, Student housing and Short term lets. AirBnB and more:

On Affordable housing: Instead of relying on the private sector to deliver affordable housing, the public sector should take a more proactive approach to planning and provide more direct support to the development of affordable housing. The definition of affordability must be based on a realistic assessment of the average household income in the area and should not be tied to the market value of properties. The revised definition of affordability should be based on the principle that housing should not cost more than 30% of the net income of households in the lowest quartile of London household incomes. This would ensure that the housing developed is truly affordable and accessible to those in the greatest need.

On density and Units: The way density policy is set, implemented and enforced has a direct impact on the type and affordability of housing that is built. When density policy is based solely on units, it can lead to over-intensification of developments and contribute to the affordability crisis. The density policy should be revised and linked to the number of habitable rooms, which would give a better indication of the number of people that are likely to live in a development. This would also help ensure that adequate social and transport infrastructure is provided to support the new development in Kingston.

On Site Locations: The location of new housing developments is a critical issue in planning. In the past the focus on town centers as opportunity areas for maximum developments by the mayor has led to an increase in land prices and unit intensification, rather than sustainable developments. Is this the direction Kingston wants to follow?

On Green Belt: It’s important to strike a balance between protecting the green belt and addressing the housing crisis. The green belt is a crucial aspect of the Kingston’s landscape and provides a much-needed break from urbanization. However, it’s also true that the housing crisis in Kingston is severe and there is a pressing need for more affordable and sustainable housing options.

Evidence-based decision-making is crucial to ensure that the solutions to the housing crisis are effective and sustainable. The London Plan and Kingston’s plan should be updated regularly to ensure that they are based on the latest data and information

On neighbourhoods: Kingston Local plan Neighbourhoods focuses on developing town centers, with a little attention given to suburban areas. It is unclear what the plan specifically proposes for suburban town centers in terms of getting more appropriate homes. However, it should re-focus on building medium to low-rise flats that are well-connected to transport and social infrastructure, rather than simply adding more units in Kingston Town Centre without considering the impact on the surrounding community. This approach could help to ensure that Kingston developments are sustainable and contribute to the well-being of the local residents.

On Housing Quality: In the case of high-rise tower blocks, these buildings can often be expensive to maintain and repair and may not be suitable for families or other types of households. Additionally, service charges can be a significant burden for residents, particularly if the building is poorly maintained or has defects.

The use of poor-quality cladding and other building materials has led to a number of high-profile building fires in recent years, which has highlighted the importance of considering fire safety and building quality in the design and construction of new housing.

Ultimately, it’s important to take a holistic approach to housing development that considers all of these factors, and seeks to create high-quality, affordable, and sustainable homes that are suitable for a range of low income household types.

On Urban Design: Kingston’s planning policy should prioritize functionality and sustainability over aesthetics. Planning policies should be set based on the needs and requirements of the Kingston community and the design should be used to achieve those goals in the most effective and appropriate way possible. The role of urban design should be to support the planning policies, rather than dictate them based on stylistic preferences. Beauty should not be the sole consideration in the planning and design process, as the real objective is to create liveable, functional, and sustainable communities.


Wednesday 15th February 12:30-2pm

Beauty in the built environment – can it even exist ? National planning policies think so but how will it work at a local level with the new Local Plan ?

Kingston Society Chair, Tony Lancaster will updated us on the “Living with Beauty” report and the National Model Design Code (NMDC). The purpose of the National Model Design Code is to provide detailed guidance on the production of design codes, guides and policies to promote successful design tailored to their own context. It includes methods to capture and reflect the views of the local community throughout the process.

I wonder whether anyone here doesn’t think “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? (With not a single dissenter) So, I will tell the story of how our thinking about beauty could be seen as a single movement from certainty to doubt. Two thousand years ago the Greek Philosophers were very clear that ‘Beauty was next to Godliness’ and entirely objective and were much occupied by the meaning of beauty, which was counted among the ultimate values of goodness, truth, and justice. Whether beauty is subjective or objective is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy along with the nature of art.

Beauty continued as a primary theme for medieval philosophers, and was central to The Enlightenment (1685 – 1815) by such thinkers as Shaftesbury, Hume, and Burke, and their discourse on aesthetic taste theory. As were Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer in Germany.

Vitruvius, (70BC – 15BC) a Roman architect, famously asserted that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitatis, utilitatis, venustatis – that is, stability, utility, beauty and these values continued in formal architecture, if somewhat discontinuously, for 2000 years.One of the key ideas behind the Gothic Revival architecture of the late 18th was the idea that beauty was not simply a matter of aesthetics, but also of morality. This idea was based on the belief that beauty was a reflection of the divine order, and that buildings designed with this in mind would be more likely to inspire people to lead good and virtuous lives.

In the nineteenth century John Ruskin writes about beauty in architecture as ‘an aspiration towards God expressed in ornamentation drawn from nature‘ in ‘The Seven Lamps of Architecture’ and William Morris of the Arts and Craft movement said ‘Have nothing in your houses you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’.

But running parallel with a post industrial revolution wish for a return to beauty, American and German architects were challenging the need for ornament – “The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects” wrote Adolf Loos in his 1910 essay ‘Ornament and Crime’

By the beginning of the twentieth century, beauty was in decline as a subject of philosophical inquiry, and also as a primary goal of the arts. A changing world, in thrall to emerging industrial technologies that brought a democratised and increased wealth to the masses, particularly after the first World War, gave birth to Modernism, an architectural philosophy that has endured for a 100 years and still informs the curriculum of Architectural education. Represented famously, if incorrectly by the phrase ‘Form follows function’ Modernism ensured that beauty was not so much suppressed as forcibly moved from the sacred to the secular.

By the 21st century a renewed interest in Beauty as a rational objective attribute began to emerge. In the 2010s Philosopher Alain de Botton wrote ‘The Architecture of Happiness’ and another philosopher Roger Scruton wrote ‘Beauty’ as a plea for the return of it as a moral value.

It’s curious to note how a similarly value based concept – justice – is far more comfortably held as objective. It is endlessly reviewed, revised and tested, often absorbing major shifts to reflect changing societal views. It is deeply detailed and codified, why could we not do this for beauty?

From 2015 onwards a raft of different groups and think-tanks considered the role of beauty in the planning process and the built environment. Scruton was to appear again, this time as co-author of the definitively influential report ‘Living with Beauty’ by the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ commission. The thrust of that report recommended: Ask for Beauty – Refuse Ugliness – Promote Stewardship. And in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) included the phrase “well-designed, beautiful and safe places“.

The Government confirmed that the term ‘beautiful’ should be read as a high-level statement of ambition rather than a policy test and planning authorities, communities and developers are encouraged to work together to decide what beautiful homes, buildings and places should look like in their area. This should be reflected in local plans, neighbourhood plans, design guides and codes, taking into account Government guidance on design.

A scheme in Ealing was referred to the Planning Inspectorate, where one of the parties placed great emphasis on the concept of beauty. The planning inspector concluded:

‘There is I believe something of a tension between identifying a building as an exemplary piece of design which is an objective finding based on established architectural principles, and adorning a building with the epithet ‘beautiful’, which is a subjective one.’

So, if beauty remains, at least for now, a subjective quality how will an aspiration for beauty be created? In truth it won’t! The new National Model Design Code (NMDC) introduced in January 2021, is a toolkit for designed contextualised local developments, and ‘good design’ is a far more attainable if still incomplete goal.

The NMDC was piloted across the country and revealed that most all the pilots struggled with the notion of beauty and few found it useful in either their analysis, engagement or coding. Instead, codes tended to prioritise tangible issues such as landscape, density, height and building line as the enduring qualities of places that, it was argued, define character.

There is growing evidence, according to the Place Alliance that Design Review Panels (a meeting of independent professionals with architectural and design expertise who assess pre-application) can make a big impact on outcomes. Here in Kingston, it is quite the opposite and the process is opaque and the output improves very little.

Elsewhere, though, The Place Alliance has monitored 32 cases where poor design resulted in application failure as a direct result of the change in the NPPF that said: “Development that is not well designed should be refused” (para. 134, 2021).

The draft Local Plan in section 6 ‘Design and Heritage’ (which it was noted are perhaps odd bed fellows) under its heading ‘Delivering High-quality Design’ states:

  • The council expects the highest standards of design for all development.
  • All development must follow a design-led approach
  • Development will be refused if it is of an unacceptable design.
  • On large or strategic sites masterplans and design codes should be used delivers high-quality design. And should include full engagement with the local community.
  • Development proposals will be supported where they help to facilitate good physical and mental health.

Conclusion So there is everything to play for, and still everything to lose. The good news is there is a potential framework that will help to define both the broad and detailed definition of good design. But we are visual creatures, hard-wired to respond to our exterior world, we can and we must make judgments on what us before us, for our safety, for our well-being for our happiness and delight. The use of the word ‘beauty’ is an up-lifting marvel in a world in thrall to cold dead hands of those who will make a profit from our basic needs and aspirations.

I am great believer in technology, and whatever it’s downsides the fact is industrial, electrical and digital technologies have incrementally brought comparative riches to more of the population than at any time in our history. It could well be possible to define a usable definition of beauty in the built environment using AI, and eventually quantum Computing.


Wednesday 22nd February 12:30-2pm

Chaired by Liz Meerebeau from New Malden Residents’ Association, guest speakers discussed Infrastructure, Biodiversity and Sustainable Local Plan.

12.30 Intro Liz Meerabeau

12.40 Local Plan overview- aspects of social infrastructure, natural environment and green infrastructure, transport and connectivity Hannah Harris

12.50 Transport John Allen

In its Shaping the Future paper the Council stated that it intended to promote what it and the Mayor of London calls ‘good growth’. But the Mayor of London’s Plan identifies an undefined Opportunity Area in Kingston where new development is to be focussed. Previous documents produced by the Council have suggested that this Opportunity Area would be focussed around the Crossrail 2 route and stations within the borough but, as we know, Crossrail 2 is unfunded and unprogrammed and effectively kicked into the long grass. What is the Local Plan therefore going to say about the Opportunity Area and associated housing targets? What exactly is Zone of Influence?

1pm Biodiversity and the Local Plan Alison Fure:

Will artificial constructs (rather than stewardship) deliver benefits for biodiversity and the natural environment?

1.10 Retrofitting buildings Patrick Manwell

What is meaningful retrofitting in Local Plan context? How to improve our homes and Council can support retroplanning.

1.20 Education and health care Liz Meerabeau

Issues around the infrastructure provisions, school places update and how to address GP closures and health care needs of emerging new neighbourhoods in the new local plan.

1.30 Questions and panel discussion:

Carbon neutrality of recently planted trees, Need to educate people on biodiversity; Exemplary place making – what is that even mean?; 15 minute city and Local Plan? is it mentioned; Cost of demolishing v retrofit? who pays the cost?; Lack of Healthcare provisions and transport connectivity in new built neighbourhoods; why Enviromental Factors is missing in Tall Buildings Strategy document? How many Units Kingston will provide next 10 years? Question of affordable housing and how can councils extract more affordable housing from developers? “Is harm is ok if we can get more back?”

Wrap up and official launch of the Urban Room Peter Karpinski

*Our umbrella community group consists of Kingston upon Thames Society, North Kingston Forum, Chessington District Residents’ Association, and New Malden Residents’ Association. We are also thankful to Kingston University School of Architecture for their immense support. Aoife Donnelly, architect and senior lecturer, has led a fascinating vertical project with students to design the fittings and branding for Open Frame. So we are also benefiting from the University’s involvement.

**We ask for your understanding that there may be changes at short notice to above programme. Please do come and support us nevertheless!

Download our Manifesto and info sheet here: KUR_Info.
Briefing paper: An Urban Room for Kingston upon Thames?

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Last Updated on March 21, 2023 by Kingston Society