GCC Residential Areas Design Guide Response

Glasgow City Council Design Guide : New Residential Areas
Consultation response - Page\Park Architects 20/09/12

We welcome the approach taken by Glasgow City Council (GCC) to combine roads, SUDS and planning guidance into one document and to shift the emphasis of residential roads design towards Placemaking and zero carbon forms of transport. After a prolonged consideration process it is finally good to see the principles of Designing Streets beginning to be incorporated into city guidance.

We do however feel there is scope for more development of the design guide to fully carry through the principles of designing streets and putting the pedestrian first. Although the first strategic step of combining roads and planning guidance has been made the full implications of this step have not been fully considered and as a result a number of conflicts come out in the body of the text.

One of the more encouraging parts of the document is the prominence given to images of the masterplan areas of Crown Street, Queen Elizabeth Square and Oatlands with which we have been involved. Much of the design of these areas involved going against the Roads Department guidance of the time, indeed we have been told on many occasions that Roads consider these areas 'mistakes' that are never to be repeated again! You would expect the text to back up these exemplar projects; some of it does, praising the use of communal gardens and the use of street trees to break up parking and street widths, establishing a perimeter block. Other parts of the text undermine them, merely repeating Road’s guidance from the past: courtyard parking to the rear, in-curtilage parking preferred over on-street. There is also the new requirement to not have parking in front garden areas, which goes against an essential feature of the mews terraces in these masterplans.

Another hangover from former guidance is the insistence on sticking to the parking levels of the past - 125% overall. This has always been a struggle to achieve and was not achieved at Crown St, where a level of 115% was established, and was only made possible by extending the parking to neighbouring streets beyond the development sites. It is worth mentioning that exceptions for Social Rented housing and for RPZ's and CPZ's have been included in the document and there is a recognition that parking levels for tenemental developments will be difficult to achieve. But why not turn these exceptions into new rules and employ a more pragmatic approach for determining parking for high density developments?

The great tenemental streets of the city were built without parking quotas - why should the City Council be tied to these numbers? Glasgow should be promoting sustainable forms of transport. Edinburgh City has maximum and not minimum quotas. Glasgow should be following suit. This is particularly relevant in the context of falling levels of car ownership. It is now widely acknowledged that car ownership in the UK and US peaked 5 years ago and has steadily declined since then. Oil prices continue to rise, even in a recession, and the country is in the grip of an obesity epidemic. Why are we still worrying about the car?

The example layouts of the tenemental blocks in the document make the case for this themselves. There is a U-shaped block with a backcourt parking area lacking in perimeter definition. When you look more closely you see you get just under 50% of the parking required in the back court (there's always more space outside the doughnut than in it) and with a loss of amenity (see diagram) as you've built much more road than you need to access the back court. The balance of the parking has to no found on-street but there are only 30 more spaces there as the street has been filled up with Suds measures - which brings us to our next point:

If you think of all the memorable Peacemaking typologies of the city, the square, the courtyard, the street you bring to mind multi- functional spaces, able to accommodate people, traffic, events and play. The elements of these spaces have to be flexible and adaptable to different uses. It's what gives the city life. It's good to see references in the text to opportunities for informal play. It would be good to see a few examples to inspire.

It was also good to see some joined up thinking in trying to link SUDS to amenity and landscaped features and it is possible that ponds and basins can serve both recreational and drainage functions. The problem is they take up vast acres of space and have to be located in the lowest parts of the site - which is often where you want to build. There are few decent examples that you can show that actually look good. The SUDS ponds built next to the M74 are all fenced off with 'DANGER DEEP WATER' signs in front of them. One of them is right next to Outlands near the map on the front cover of the report.

Another appealing idea is the notion of bio-retention shrub beds and street trees watered by SUDS. The trouble is that they simply don't work. The trees and shrubs will either drown or be heavily contaminated with run-off from the roads. I doubt that any of the examples shown in the booklet have survived to this day.

What is puzzling is that swales are even considered at all in the text. They take up vast amounts of space, look terrible and have only one function: drainage ditch. You can't park, plant, play or walk in them. There is a good reference in the text to creating public spaces people can take ownership of. Who's going to take ownership of a swale?

There needs to be a realisation of the limitations of space in the city for SUDS measures and more compact methods of delivery need to be pursued. Underground attenuation tanks, soakaways, porous paving - all taking up less space and not dependant on surface levels for success.

Getting back to the examples, while they all show a good understanding of creating decent street widths and edge definition, and accommodate some on-street parking, the swales and bio-retention areas eat up too much of the parking space and, although adding some greenery, aren't adding much useful space to the street. It would be better to allocate these SUDS spaces to parking, broken up by street trees and utilise some continuous porous surface to deal with SUDS. I'm aware that there are issues that the Roads Department has with porous paving, but surely there could be other ways of creating drainage areas you could park on - Grasscrete? Grass reinforcement? At the end of the day no SUDS measure is going to be maintenance free.

Despite our earlier comments we do see benefits in prohibiting parking in front gardens and the suggestions for semi-detached housing are particularly brave and hark back to the urbanism of the Edwardian semis and terraces lining the streets of Netherlee or Burnside. Indeed the layouts showing Terraced housing follow the Netherlee model further with back lanes and garages - maybe too much, because the 4.8 m lane widths shown don't look like they could provide enough turning room for cars as they don't do in Netherlee, where most people with garages park on-street. Still it's good to hark back to traditional street typologies and these layouts, notwithstanding the lack of on-street parking, could be worked into something worthwhile.

What they do lack is the ability to turn the corner and complete the block, which the great terraces and tenements of the city do. The end terraces need to have a returned end to close off the garden areas at the side, and the Semi's need special Corner villas to create a frontage to both streets. It’s disappointing that the example diagrams don’t meet the placemaking aspirations of the text at the beginning of the document and run the risk of becoming a turgid exercise of ‘fitting the parking in’. Where is the cycle storage or cycle routes? Where is the integrated amenity space? Where is the play space? Why aren’t there examples of shared spaces referred to in the text and streets used as courtyards as we are doing at Laurieston?

Overall there is a frustration that the message about the prime importance of the pedestrian, although stated in the text, isn’t given a role in structuring the text or indeed becoming a key strategy in the design guide. If you do this you would see that placemaking becomes an essential (functional) part of creating an environment people want to walk-in, creating benefits not only for the city but also for the health and well-being of its inhabitants. It's a message that planners in Holland and Denmark know well. Glasgow would do well to learn from Copenhagen where measures to promote walking and cycling have produced huge benefits and a capital city that has probably the best quality of life in Europe. If I can leave you with one thought, it is the diagram from the consultants Copenhagenize Consulting which illustrates quite poetically where their priorities are. Glasgow could do well to emulate this.