The panel of archaeologists, historians, urban designers and local government officers is chaired by Geoffrey Wilson, former chairman of property developer Greycoat. It also includes architects Piers Gough and Terry Farrell, structural engineer Alan Baxter and Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment commissioner Les Sparks. Gough denied that the group would upstage the commission.
He said: “There’s now much better co-ordination between English Heritage and CABE than there used to be. If English Heritage can get involved earlier on, it makes it better for the applicant.”
A senior post has also been created at English Heritage to ensure that the panel’s policies are carried out. Peter Beacham, formerly head of the building listings division, has been appointed. His title will be head of urban strategies and listings.
“There is at present a great wave of major redevelopment schemes proposed for our historic city centres,” said Beacham. “Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, Norwich and Chester all have such proposals.”
Beacham said the Historic Buildings and Areas Advisory Committee at English Heritage could not handle large schemes without help. “It only has one hour to look at complex proposals,” he said. “The new panel can spend a day or two looking at the sites.
“Large commercial retail schemes often have an impact on the historic environment and are rarely single-issue schemes. For instance, English Heritage is not normally concerned with transport. But retail often involves car parking, which can have an impact on building forms, and the traffic generated can have a wider impact.”
Beacham wants English Heritage to become involved in such major proposals at an early design stage. “The urban panel should put conservation on the front foot. We don’t want to isolate the historic environment as an impediment to development. We want to help the process of development.”