Urban skill co-ordinator

Incoming Urban Design Alliance chairman Colin Haylock believes that the group is well placed to build professional and government dialogue on the built environment, Vicki Shiel discovers.

"The boat has gone," Colin Haylock tells me. The boat in question, the Tuxedo Princess, was one of my favourite evening haunts as a first-year student at Newcastle University. Despite its rickety revolving dance floor and permanent bad smell, the venue had a certain charm. So it is with a slight sense of loss that I listen to Haylock outline plans for the spot where it was moored on the Tyne waterfront.

"Gateshead Council thought that the new development would be more in keeping with its aspirations for the cultural quality of Gateshead Quays than the boat had been," he explains. The mixed-use scheme, comprising a cube of offices and entertainment space by Absolute Leisure, is one of his projects at Ryder Architecture in Newcastle, where he has worked since 1999 and is now director of urban design.

After growing up in London's suburbs, Haylock developed an interest in major provincial cities when he moved first to Nottingham to study architecture and then on to Sheffield while studying planning. "I did my professional growing up in two regional capitals. There is something special about places that are big enough to have lots going on but small enough for you to feel part of them," he reflects.

He took his "first serious job as an architect-planner" in Newcastle and has been there ever since, spending 25 years in local government, most of it at Newcastle City Council. He worked on high-profile projects from the outset and recalls the Byker Wall and low-rise development as being particularly fulfilling. "It was an absolute joy. What a wonderful way to start your career," he enthuses.

Other projects during his time at the council include award-winning schemes such as Newcastle's East Quayside, where he worked with masterplanner Terry Farrell, and Grainger Town, an experience he likens to being a parent. "Because roles changed I had to let go of the project, which was hard. But I am really pleased with how my 'child' developed. It has transformed the city centre," he maintains.

Haylock sits on the RTPI urban design panel, is a regional representative for CABE and became chairman of the Urban Design Alliance (UDAL) in June. UDAL was formed in 1997 to promote the value of good urban design. The group includes a wide range of more than half a million professionals involved in the built environment. As well as the RTPI, members come from RIBA, RICS, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Landscape Institute. "The big thing is that none of us are masters in all sectors," he says.

One of his first priorities is to strengthen strategic relationships between the alliance and CABE. "As one of CABE's regional representatives since 2000, I understand how extremely effective it can be at penetrating government agendas. As a collection of professions, UDAL can be very effective in penetrating the membership of those professions," he suggests.

"The two agendas overlap enormously, so we need to look at how CABE can use the practical experience of built professionals to become even more effective in working with the government. The two bind together very well. UDAL can be a channel between government and individual members in practice, but we can do an awful lot more with this relationship," he reckons.

Haylock is focusing his efforts on three key goals. After deciding to engage and co-ordinate different professions to work on common agendas, the skills shortage was an obvious first target. But the alliance will also concentrate on more specific agendas, he promises.

His second target is to explore experience of using the government's Manual for Streets, published 18 months ago. "The guidance allows urban designers to cluster places more tightly with a lot more development fronting roads. That creates friendly, intimate places that feel safe. We are working from the perception that the manual provides an enormous opportunity that isn't always realised," he says.

"We want to use UDAL's net- works to work out how widely the manual is being used, what is happening where it is being used and why some people are having difficulties with it. We will feed evidence back to the government and ask to work together to solve the problems. We will also feed back into practice and put those who use it confidently in touch with those who don't," he explains.

This aim locks in with the government's Safer Places initiative, whose attributes Haylock sees as very similar to those of good urban design. When the Home Office decided to increase awareness of urban safety, it seemed natural that UDAL should help out. "The Home Office is interested in injecting it into initial training and increasing its presence in everyday practice. We will be looking at where it is playing out well and examine any barriers," he says.

Finally, Haylock aims to raise the profile of UDAL's Urban Design Week and make next year's event much stronger. "While the alliance is good at bringing organisations together nationally, many member bodies already work together locally and regionally. I want to build on that and provide a platform for lots of local events. Much of the benefit of our work comes from better-connected practice locally. I am keen to score both goals."


Age: 61

Family: Married with two daughters

Education: Degree in architecture, University of Nottingham; masters in planning, University of Sheffield

Interests: Music, theatre, modern dance, film, sport, travel, food and drink

2008: Chairman, Urban Design Alliance

2008: RTPI executive board member

2000: CABE regional representative

1999: Urban design group leader rising to director, Ryder Architecture

1975: Planning assistant rising to senior planner, environmental design officer and assistant head of planning, Newcastle City Council

1974: Planning assistant, Tyne and Wear County Council.

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