Terms of Reference and Design Enabling Panel Fundamental Principles

Terms of Reference and Constitution - updated on 15 April 2014

1. Purpose of the Design Enabling Panel (DEP)

The Design Enabling Panel aims to support South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) in delivering the Government’s design objectives set out in Section 7 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2012) and the Council’s Core Strategy DPD (2007), as well as policies DP1 and DP2 of the Development Control Policies DPD (2007), in order to secure the highest possible design quality of buildings and spaces and to enhance the historic environment. The Panel’s work will complement and support in-house officer expertise.

The key role of the Design Enabling Panel is to advise the Council on the design merits of any major or otherwise significant development proposals. The Panel will consider a wide range of schemes within the district and will follow procedures and guidelines established by the Design Council - formerly known as the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).

2. Make up of the Design Enabling Panel

In order to avoid any potential issues with conflicts of interests, it is paramount that the majority of the Panel Members are professional and external to the Council, to ensure high quality and independent advice.

The Panel will be made up of up to five Panel Members at each meeting, from a pool of 30-40. The pool of experts will include innovative and distinguished architecture and design practitioners. They will comprise design practitioners with skills in architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, planning, sustainability, inclusive design and the historic environment.

The Panel will consist of design experts from local and national architectural and/or multi-disciplinary practices that have completed a significant amount of high profile schemes in Cambridgeshire and its nearby areas including London, recruited via advert.

The following bodies will be invited to nominate one or more members:

  • Design Council
  • The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
  • The Urban Design Group (UDG)
  • The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)
  • The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
  • The Landscape Institute
  • The Institute of Historic Building Conservation
  • English Heritage
  • Cambridge Past, Present and Future
  • Local Authority Building Control (LABC)
  • Cambridge University
  • The Glass-House Community Led Design

In order to avoid fettering the ability of Members to comment and vote on applications when reported to the Council’s Planning Committee and to avoid pre-determination of issues, Members of the Planning Committee will not be included in membership of the panel.

The Council’s Design Champion and/or Planning and Economic Development Portfolio Holder may attend ex officio.

The Chair of the SCDC’s Planning Committee can attend the Design Enabling Panel meeting strictly as an observer, subject to agreement by both the Chair of the Panel and the prospective applicant. The Chair of the Panel must endeavor to ensure that the Chair of the Council’s Planning Committee is made aware of any confidentiality issues related to the scheme concerned.

Panel Members must endeavour to attend all meetings that they have indicated they will attend. Panel Members are required to send their apologies to the Chair and the Council’s Urban Design Project Coordinator (who manages the Panel) when they are unable or do not wish to attend. Panel members unable to attend, but wishing to make comments on an item should submit brief notes at least one day in advance.

3. Chair

The Chair and Vice Chairs will be appointed, by invitation, on behalf of the Council by the Director of Planning and New Communities and the Head of New Communities and the Council’s Design Champion and/ or Planning and Economic Development Portfolio Holder following an interview process. The Chair and Vice Chair posts will normally last for two years.

4. Renumeration

Membership of the Panel is voluntary and unpaid, but it is recommended that the Chair and Vice Chairs be remunerated with an honorarium annually.

5. The meetings

The Council’s Urban Design Project Coordinator will arrange the Panel meetings, which will normally be every six weeks, and held at South Cambridgeshire District Council. Each panel meeting will assess three schemes, always assuming that there is an appropriate scheme to be considered. Meetings will be scheduled annually (one year in advance). Dates will be changed only in exceptional circumstances. Additional meetings, and meetings on site may also be arranged as necessary.

Agendas will normally be produced by the Council, in agreement with the Chair where necessary, and will be circulated by email. Agendas will identify the timing for meetings, the proposals and the key issues to be considered at each meeting.

The meeting will commence with a briefing of the scheme(s) by the Urban Design Project Coordinator who manages the Design Enabling Panel. Each scheme will then be allocated a one-hour slot with a 20-minute presentation by the architect or the designer. Panel Members will then have 20 minutes to ask the architect or the designer questions. The architect or the designer will then have to leave the meeting. The Panel will then have 20 minutes to discuss and form views on the proposals. The applicant’s design team will then be invited to return to the meeting room to have a 10-minute session with the Panel; during this time the Chair will summarize the Panel's advice.

Following the Panel Meeting, within ten working days a written report will be produced by the Urban Design Project Coordinator with support from a Business Support Officer. This report will be checked and approved by the Chair prior to distribution. The report will provide comments on the architectural qualities and design implications of each development proposal, and recommend actions or options to improve the design quality of the proposals. These comments will be distributed to all those invited to the meeting.

The aim of the report is to assist and to encourage the potential to achieve high quality design at pre-application stage. With regard to formal planning applications, the contents of the report should be conveyed to the relevant Planning Committee through the planning officer's report and will be regarded as a material consideration. The Panel's report on pre-application enquiries will be confidential until such time as a full application is submitted.

6. Referral criteria

Development proposals referred to the panel will generally meet the following criteria:

Category A

Development proposals which are significant because of their size or the uses they contain. These include:

  • medium-Large scaled developments (20-100+ units) outside major growth sites (which will normally be assessed by the Cambridgeshire Quality Panel)
  • large buildings or groups of buildings such as schools, religious buildings, museums, industrial units, hospitals, shopping and leisure facilities, and office/commercial buildings
  • major changes in the public realm affecting village High Streets and important open spaces such as village greens.

Category B

Proposals which are significant because of their location. These include:

  • proposals which may affect important views to Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas, Scheduled Ancient Monuments and the Cambridge Green Belt, etc
  • proposals that are sited in such a way that may give rise to exceptional effect on their locality: A relatively modest proposal can be of strategic importance if it is situated at an important street junction, in a square, in a Conservation Area or in exposed locations. 

Category C

Proposals with an importance greater than their size, use or location would suggest. These include:

  • proposals which are likely to establish the planning, form or architectural quality for future large scale development of redevelopment
  • proposals which are out of the ordinary in their context or setting because of their scale, materials or detailing
  • proposals which are particularly relevant to the quality of everyday life and contain design features which, if repeated, would offer substantial benefits for society.

The Panel will not review schemes that have been presented to other design review panels like the Shape East Design Review Panel and the Cambridgeshire Quality Panel. The Panel may also be asked to comment on other applications at the discretion of the Director of Planning and New Communities.

7. Information provided to the panel on schemes to be presented

For each proposal considered by the panel, information will be sent at least two weeks in advance of the meeting to the Urban Design Project Coordinator who manages the Design Enabling Panel. The information generally includes:

  • One A4 page written summary describing the development proposals
  • Site Plan/Location plan
  • Floor plans/elevations/sections
  • Sketches/Computer Generated Images

Please refer see our “Presenting to the SCDC Design Enabling Panel” webpage for further information.

8. Decision making

Panel members should consider development proposals on the basis of sound design principles and policy guidance. They should identify, with detailed critical observations, the strengths and weaknesses of schemes and recommend ways of improving the design quality of the development proposals. Panel members should have regard to the design objectives set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (2012), the Council’s DPDs, the Council’s District Design Guide (2010), the Cambridgeshire Quality Charter for Growth (2009) and Building for Life 12 (2012).

Panel views shall be expressed to the Planning Committee without using jargon or complex terms, and should be clear and to the point. If Panel Members are unable to agree, the advice should clearly reflect the basis of the disagreement and the issues involved. Issues or points which the Panel consider particularly significant may be highlighted in bold.

9. Meeting agendas and presentations

Developers are encouraged to submit their development proposals to the Design Enabling Panel at pre-application stage, to enable the Panel to contribute at an early stage of a development proposal, However priority will be given, in drawing up agendas, to current applications. This is essential to enable the Council to meet Government targets for speed of decision-making. The scheduling of pre-application presentations will be at the Council’s Urban Design Project Coordinator’s discretion.

Proposals may normally be presented a maximum of two times to the Panel. Any further presentation(s) will be at the Council’s Urban Design Project Coordinator and the Chair’s or Vice Chairs’ discretion, and dependent on them being satisfied that the scheme has undergone a fundamental re-think meriting further input from the Panel.

Presentation information, including draft Design and Access Statements, must be provided fourteen days before the meeting, to enable prior circulation to, and briefing of Panel Members. Presentations not received by this deadline will be postponed to the next meeting.

The length of the presentation will be at the Chair’s discretion, with a maximum of twenty minutes. The architect will then answer any questions and be asked to leave the meeting before discussion on the architectural merit of the scheme takes place.

10. Reporting of decisions

While the role of the Design Enabling Panel is purely advisory, the panel's comments carry a lot of weight.

The Council’s Urban Design Project Coordinator will report the Panel’s design advice to the relevant case officer, who will in turn ensure that Panel’s comments are attached in full to feature in any relevant committee report. Any comments from the Panel are also fed in to planning inspectors and any planning inquiry.

Feedback on the outcome of planning decisions will be given to Panel Members. The Council will arrange an annual day of site visits, to enable Panel members to review outcomes of applications considered.

11. Declaration of interests

Panel Members should declare interests on the same basis as members do at the Council’s Planning Committee.

Panel Members are expected to adhere to the Ten Principles and the Seven Nolan Principles of Public Life when conducting the SCDC Design Enabling Service. See “Fundamental Principles for conducting the Design Enabling Service” for further information.

It is important that Panel Members avoid any conflicts of interest that might arise from schemes they consider. Panel members who in the preceding 12 months have been personally or professionally involved with a particular proposal under discussion, or who may otherwise be considered to have a conflict of interest are required to notify the Urban Design Project Coordinator coordinating the panel in respect of the scheme concerned. The list of the projects to be reviewed will be provided up to a week prior to the meeting and Panel Members will be expected at this stage to declare any direct or indirect interests in the project. Panel Members should declare and interest and not participate in reviews where they have an interest. In the case of a direct interest the Panel Member leaves the room during the panel’s private discussion of the project and takes no part in the forming of the Panel’s views. Conflicts of interest will be recorded in the minutes by the Business Support Officer.

The Panel will review proposals which may be refused by the Council. If any of the Panel members are approached to become involved in sites that have been presented to the Panel which they sat on, they should not do so until at least 24 months after the Council has determined the scheme.

Panel Members may attend meetings as part of a team presenting a project; however they should not attend any other part of the same meeting in their capacity as a Panel Member.

12. Failure to declare conflicts of interests

Panel Member who fails to declare conflicts of interest will receive a verbal warning from the Chair on behalf of the Panel.

Ongoing failure to comply with the rules on Declaration of Interests will receive a written warning from the Chair on behalf of the Panel. If a Panel Member still fails to comply with the rules on Declaration of Interests and cannot offer a satisfactory explanation for his/her behaviour, a motion will be put to the Panel to suspend the person from the panel. Future participation by that person will be dependent on a commitment being given in writing to the Chair that such behaviour will not recur.

Any Panel Members or Officers can- and should- alert the rest of the Panel to any potential conflicts of interest by raising this issue with the Chair (or the Vice Chairs in the absence of the Chair) and the Urban Design Project Coordinator either at the time of the meeting or immediately after the meeting.


The 10 Fundamental Principles for conducting the Design Enabling Service

The Design Enabling Panel members should follow the below 10 principles as well as the 7 Nolan Principles of Public life. These principles aim to ensure consistently high standards in the management of the Design Enabling Panel and, most importantly, the quality of the advice it offers.

1. Independent 

The Design Enabling Service should be conducted by people who are separate from the promoter of the development proposals and the decision-maker, and protects against conflicts of interest. 


2. Accountable

The Design Enabling Panel should record and explain its advice and is transparent about potential conflicts of interest. 

3. Expert

The Design Enabling Service should be conducted by suitably trained professionals who are experienced in design and possess the knowledge to provide constructive advice. Design enabling services are most respected when they are carried out by professional peers of the project designers, as their standing and expertise will be acknowledged.  


4. Advisory

The Design Enabling Panel does not make decisions. It acts as a source of impartial advice for decision-makers.  

5. Accessible

The Design Enabling Panel’s advice should be written in a way that can be easily understood by decision-makers.

6. Proportionate

The Design Enabling Service should be used on development proposals that fall within the referral criteria, whose significance warrants the cost of providing design enabling service. Other methods for assessing design quality should be used for less significant schemes or schemes that fall outside the referral criteria. See using the design enabling service for the referral criteria. 

7. Timely

The Design Enabling Service should ideally take place at pre-application stage as this can save time and cost less to make changes. 

8. Objective

Panel members should appraise development proposals against the design objectives set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, our Development Plan Documents and the District Design Guide, rather than the stylistic tastes of individual Panel Members.

9. Focused on outcomes for people

Panel members should ask how the development proposals can better meet the needs of the people using it, and the public at large who are affected by it.

10. Focused on Improving Quality

Panel members should seek to provide constructive advice on ways of improving the quality of architecture, urban design, landscape, highway design and town planning.

The 7 Nolan Principles of Public Life

The design enabling service is set up to act in the public interest. All Panel members must therefore abide by the 7 principles of Public Life:

1. Selflessness

Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

2. Integrity

Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

3. Objectivity

In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

4. Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

5. Openness

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reason for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

6. Honesty

Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

7. Leadership

Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Contact Details

Was this web page helpful?

Feedback form

Your feedback
Do you require feedback from a member of the team?
Your details