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The Forum Exeter, Devon

An RIBA south west award wining building at Exeter University in Devon; The Forum. This building benefited from design review during the design and pre-planning stage

Design Review Panel Training 2018

Design Review Panel training session carried out in Taunton and the Somerset County Cricket Ground in November 2018. The event was extremely well attended by local authority representatives, house builders and design team members

Exeter Quay by Jonathan Braddick

Photograph of Exeter Quay taken by Architect and Design Review Panel Manager Jonathan Braddick. The Design Review Panel holds regular design review panel sessions at Exeter City Council

Design Review Panel Training 2018

Design Review Panel training event 2018. Jonathan Tricker, Highways Engineer, Urban Designer & Director at Phil Jones Associates, gave a talk entitled: ‘Highway Design in Placemaking’

Steiner School Exeter

The design review Panel was engaged by Willmott Dixon during the pre-application design stage of the project to help them prepare a design that would be acceptable to the local authority

Design Review Panel Site Visit Poole

Photograph from a 2018 design review panel site visit carried out in Dorset in 2018. A full sit down design review panel was subsequently held in the Poole Borough Council Offices

North Grays Farm Para 80 House

External visualization for a NPPF paragraph 55 (now 79) house that was presented to the design review panel. This project has subsequently gone on to achieve planning permission and is now built on site

Design Review Panel Training 2017

Design Review Panel training session carried out in Exeter, Devon in December 2017. The event was extremely well attended by local authority representatives, house builders and design team members

Exeter Quay - Rockfish Restaurant

A small but sensitive project in Exeter Quay; The Rockfish Restaurant has been designed by Grainge Architects who engaged with The Design Review Panel during the design & pre -application planning stage

Extra Care Development by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

Pegasus Life secured planning permission through public inquiry for a Sarah Wigglesworth Architects scheme for a C2 assisted living community at The Knowle, Sidmouth, Devon. The Design Review Panel ( were instructed by East Devon District Council (EDDC) to provide multidisciplinary, expert, independent and impartial guidance and feedback to the local authority, applicant and design team during the pre-application design stage.

Plymouth Hoe

Photograph of Plymouth Hoe, Devon. The Design Review Panel holds regular design review panel sessions at Plymouth City Council

Design Review Panel Training

Design Review Panel training session carried out in Exeter, Devon. The event was extremely well attended and incorporated a mock design review panel session and design workshop.

Independent Design Review Panel: Liberating Design from Local Authority Control

Updated: Apr 3

Colourful mapof England showing The Design Review Panel has national coverage
The Design Review Panel National Coverage

In the ever-evolving landscape of urban development, the importance of impartial and expert feedback cannot be overstated. Independent design review panels, such as The Design Review Panel, play a pivotal role in shaping our cities, ensuring that new projects not only meet current standards but also contribute positively to the environment and community. The expertise of The Design Review Panel spans nationally across England to all regions, including the South East, London, the South West, the Midlands, the North East and North West, providing invaluable insights that guide projects towards excellence.

The Imperative of Impartiality and Independence

The question of how crucial impartiality and independence are for design review panels, especially those run by local authorities, is not merely academic. It is a concern with significant real-life implications for the integrity of the design review panel process and the broader legal and competitive landscape of urban planning. A notable instance highlighting this issue was an appeal decision Appeal Ref: APP/W0530/W/22/3302832 in South Cambridgeshire in 2023. The Planning Inspectorate underscored the importance of considering independent and impartial design review panel recommendations in decision-making processes, spotlighting the critical nature of unbiased feedback.

Within the appeal decision the Planning Inspector states the following:-

“The Council have raised concern that their own design enabling panel (DEP), with greater local knowledge, was not used by the appellant … Regardless of whether using a national DRP or the local DEP, paragraph 133 of the Framework states local planning authorities should have regard to the outcomes and recommendations of a DRP. Whilst weight to be given to such recommendations is for the decision-maker to apportion, the Council’s case provides no rebuttal directly against the listed DRP recommendations and conclusions. I give greater weight to the DRP [The Design Review Panel] findings as a result”

The insistence by some local authorities on using specific design review panels, particularly those they operate or with which they have contractual arrangements, can be problematic. This practice might contravene Chapters I and II of the Competition Act of 1998, which prohibits anti-competitive agreements and the abuse of a dominant position. Such behavior not only raises legal concerns but also potentially undermines the integrity and effectiveness of the design review process.

Bridging Regions with Expertise

The Design Review Panel ( serves as a paragon of how independent panels can foster excellence in urban design. Offering targeted advice across the UK, from The South East Design Review Panel to the North East Design Review Panel, the Panel's role is indispensable in ensuring that developments are both innovative and respectful of their contexts. This independence is vital for maintaining the public interest and ensuring that designs are evaluated purely on their merits.

Upholding Standards and Legal Compliance

The South Cambridgeshire appeal decision (Appeal Ref: APP/W0530/W/22/3302832) not only underscores the importance of independent feedback from design review panels but also serves as a poignant reminder of the legal frameworks governing local authorities. Local authorities favoring internal panels may not only be deemed anti-competitive but could also infringe upon the principles outlined in the Local Government Act of 2020, which mandates fairness, impartiality, and compliance in public services.

The demonstrable independence and impartiality of a design review panel, such as The Design Review Panel, is paramount in safeguarding the integrity of the design review process and upholding the legal and competitive frameworks governing public sector operations. This adherence to impartiality ensures that the design choices reflect the project's quality and suitability, free from potentially politically motivated preferences of local authorities.


The role of independent and impartial design review panels is fundamental in driving the quality and sustainability of urban design proposals. By championing impartiality and adhering to legal standards, these design review panels not only maintain the integrity of the design review process but also protect the broader public interest. For developers, scheme promoters and other professionals across the UK, such as architects, landscape architects, town planners and urban designers, the guidance of an independent Panel such as The Design Review Panel is invaluable in realizing visionary projects that will stand the test of time and serve the community's best interests.

That is to say, upholding these standards is not just about maintaining the integrity of the design review process, it is also about adhering to the democratic, legal and competitive frameworks that govern public sector operations.

For further information on the importance of design review panels being independent from local planning authorities, see the below film of a talk given by Andrew Robbins a few years ago when he was Exeter City Council, Service Lead of City Development. Andy's talk explains his experience of working with The Design Review Panel, compared to other Panel models / options he considered. He explains why it is essential for a local authority that The Design Review Panel is independent, as well as why it is important that it is multidisciplinary; and not just a Panel of Architects or Town Planners. Andy also gives case studies of projects that have been reviewed by The Design Review Panel detailing the Panel's input into the decision making process.


For more information on how The Design Review Panel can enhance your next project with their unbiased, expert feedback email, call 01395 265768 or visit 

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