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05 Aug 2015

Peter Murray: "Planning has lost two visionaries"

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Peter MurrayJune was a sad month for planning. The funerals of two giants of the profession, from two very different eras, were held within a week of each other.

The careers of Derek Walker, architect and planning officer of Milton Keynes in the early 1970s, and Clive Dutton, who had been director of regeneration at Newham Council during the build-up and delivery of the 2012 Olympics, reflected very different eras of city-making.

Although the firm of Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks Forestier-Walker & Bor was responsible for Milton Keynes’s Los Angeles-style layout, it was Walker who set the character and style of the place.

The last of the post-war new towns, Milton Keynes was also the last piece of detailed comprehensive planning to take place before the public sector was dismantled by Margaret Thatcher. Walker’s funeral ended with the singing of William Blake’s Jerusalem and it was hard not to feel a lump in the throat as we sang “Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand: till we have built Jerusalem, In England’s green & pleasant land”.

Landscaping was at the heart of Walker’s vision for Milton Keynes and as the funeral congregation filtered out into the city – the summer foliage in its prime – they could see for themselves the success of the mature infrastructure, a place that was both green and very pleasant.

Clive Dutton

(above) Clive Dutton

By contrast Clive worked with existing cities in a period when “planning” had become interchangeable with “development control”. But he had great boldness of vision. A man of energy, passion and boyish enthusiasm, his vision and appetite for change brought to mind Chicago planner Daniel Burnham’s quotation: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

Clive liked nothing more than standing in front of an audience, armed with a PowerPoint of outrageous images, and stirring its blood with plans for improving places and people’s lives. It is apposite that when he was director of planning at Birmingham city council his strategy was christened the “Big City Plan”.

I helped Clive with the exhibition of Mecanoo’s winning scheme for the new Birmingham library. Today the building’s distinctive facade of interlocking circles dominates Century Square and is a key part of the legacy Clive gave to the city, which also includes the ongoing Big City Plan and the £600m New Street station redevelopment.

When Clive took over as head of planning in 2005, the city boasted the largest local authority planning and development department in the UK, covering planning, regeneration, economic development, major projects, architecture, urban design, building consultancy, highways and transportation, with a development portfolio of £20bn.

Such was the ambition that, in the depths of the recession, Clive flew to China with the idea of setting up a “Bank of Birmingham”, funded in the Far East with the second city’s enormous landholdings as collateral.

In 2009 he moved to Newham, the principal host borough for the Olympics. There he was responsible for the Stratford Metropolitan Masterplan, the regeneration of the Royal Docks and Canning Town as well as the borough’s Core Strategy and Local Development Framework.

Derek and Clive operated in very different climates, but were driven by powerful visions. As Fred Lloyd Roche, the general manager of Milton Keynes and also an architect, said in a special issue of Architectural Design on the new town that I edited way back in 1973: “If you set yourself piddling goals, you get piddling achievements.”

newsletter 2015