Urban design shaker

Former inspector Jonathan Bore feels that his move into consultancy puts him at the heart of the action in creating sustainable places, he tells Nancy Wainscoat.

Leaving a key position at the Planning Inspectorate at the pinnacle of one's career is a bold move for any planner. Inspectors who rise to the upper echelons usually stay on till retirement. Instead, Jonathan Bore has moved to take up the challenge of the consultancy field.

Bore's bravado has brought him to Urban Initiatives, the RTPI's Planning Consultancy of the Year in 2003. The move has taken him to a minimalist office with an enviable West End postcode as a board member alongside five other directors. Set up by Kelvin Campbell in 1989, with a string of ground-breaking publications such as By Design under its belt, the consultancy has grown fast in recent years and now has nearly 40 staff.

The regeneration of Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, the revamp of Liverpool's Lime Street station and a development framework for the expansion of Ashford feature among its portfolio. Teams from different specialist areas work on a project-by-project basis. "We do not regard ourselves as multidisciplinary but inter-disciplinary," Bore explains. "I am excited about where the firm is positioned in the urban design field. It is a key issue and Urban Initiatives was there at the outset."

After 15 years at the inspectorate and a dozen years before that working at three local authorities, a house builder and an architectural practice, Bore has a wealth of experience. At the inspectorate he progressed from a field inspector role to a management position as head of quality, policy and training, providing guidance and advice to inspectors and serving on the management team.

Bore subscribes to the adage once an inspector, always an inspector.

"I used to love the work. Everybody loves the job because something different happens every time. You work from home, you go off to conduct a public inquiry or hearing, visit new places and listen to different arguments each time. Then you go home, write your report and your decision is final."

But he admits that he was becoming disenchanted with both the development control and the development planning systems. "The development control system expends too much public time, money and energy interfering with very minor developments and changes of use that are of little real importance to the public interest. Control is often exercised far in excess of what is necessary and is frequently diverted into protecting private self-interest," he maintains.

One of his most interesting experiences came during a secondment to the ODPM as divisional manager of the central casework division, which assesses inspectors' reports before making recommendations to the secretary of state. Bore has no problems with ministers' involvement in the most significant planning cases and has a high regard for the ODPM staff reporting to them.

But he voices reservations about the efficiency of this part of the system.

Many cases are relatively straightforward and involve unnecessary duplication of work, he points out. Inspectors' reports do vary and it may sometimes be necessary for the ODPM to review the evidence. But this should be very much the exception, he insists. The number of cases called in or recovered for ministers' attention and the time spent on them should be reduced.

Bore regrets that planning has been a prime cause of inertia, hindering rather than harnessing the energies and creative forces that shape urban areas. "So many policies have been geared up to cling on to old uses whose economic life is long past or to hold fast to discredited standards and development patterns. The system has focused excessively on buildings, their scale, materials, access and servicing, and not enough on the whole town or city. As a result, we have been almost wholly unsuccessful in building attractive and liveable cities," he suggests.

"The professions mostly work out of silos. I have conducted so many inquiries where there have been interminable arguments between the various professions about storey heights, materials, need, the sequential approach, parking provision and traffic generation. Meanwhile, people outside are picking their way around the traffic arms, guard railings and car parks of the incoherent gap-toothed towns created by the very same planning process."

The emergence of spatial planning gives planners a more creative role, Bore believes, seeing this change as a spur for firms like Urban Initiatives. While he argues that the reformed development plan system is too complex, he feels that it gives a boost to development frameworks, masterplans, public realm projects and supplementary planning documents. It marks the return of proper spatial planning and will help to bring together different professions and skills, he predicts.

Urban Initiatives is busy on a number of such plans, focusing on the relationship between human activity and movement, the street, the public realm and sustainability. "We work closely with local authorities and development agencies but bring together a variety of skills such as project management, design and commercial knowledge that councils do not always have," says Bore. He feels that planners have started to raise their game in looking at the links between these issues in the round.

He says he is using the skills that he brought to the inspectorate but in a more creative environment. His interests in archaeology, history and European travel back up his passion for planning. But he admits to other enthusiasms that are less relevant. He can often be found behind the goal at The Valley and blames his Essex roots for being a bit of a "petrol head". His car collection includes two ageing BMWs and a Jaguar.

But, he quickly adds, they decorate his drive most of the time since he cycles to work and uses public transport as much as possible.

Bore is very happy with his latest move. "I am really pleased to be working in this field and see it very much as the future of planning. These latest types of plan look a long way ahead, so they must be adaptable and robust. They have to reflect both public aspirations and commercial reality while being able to carry their urban design philosophy forward to implementation. I really want to be there when our frameworks and masterplans start to be tested at examinations and public inquiries."

CAREER DETAILS

Age: 52.

Family: Married with one son.

Education: BA (Hons) in town and country planning and diploma in urban design, University of Newcastle, 1977.

Career: Student placement, Northumberland County Council, 1974; planning officer, London Borough of Camden, 1977-82; principal planning officer, London Borough of Hackney, 1982-85; head of development control and head of forward planning, Canterbury City Council, 1985-86; planning consultant, Ward Homes, 1986-87; planning consultant, Clague Architects, 1987-89; planning inspector, 1990-2000; principal inspector, 2000-02; head of quality, policy and training, Planning Inspectorate, 2000-05; director, Urban Initiatives, 2005 to date.

Interests: Cycling, car collecting, European travel, archaeology, Charlton Athletic Football Club, history, geology and geography.


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