An exhibition, put together by the Max Lock Centre of the School of Urban Development and Planning at the University of Westminster, toured Britain in 1998. But just as Max Lock is little known in spite of developing what has become the accepted approach to physical planning, so too this exhibition seems to have gone unnoticed at the time.

His architectural practice was based in Bedford, but his planning work was world wide and pioneered many of the research techniques now used in Third World developments and inner city regeneration.

The title board for the exhibition quoted Moffatt's translation of Proverbs 15v22, "When no-one is consulted plans are foiled. When many are consulted they succeed." - which brings out the community development aspect much better than, for example the NIV, which could imply that only professional consultants are necessary.

Max Lock trained at the AA in 1926-31, and travelled through Scandinavia where he was impressed by their humane and rational welfare policies. To put these into practice in Britain he joined the Housing Centre Trust; promoted his views with articles in the professional press; and in 1936 became a local councillor in his home town of Watford, where he campaigned for better housing provision, including subsidies for those on low incomes.

Then in 1937-9 he taught at the AA using live projects. It was in studying a slum clearance scheme that his students discovered that there was little correlation between what the LCC were proposing and what the tenants wanted. This led him to becoming a planner, influenced also by the writings of Patrick Geddes.

In 1939 he designed an exhibition for the Housing Centre Trust to highlight a response to the 1938 Holidays with Pay Act, and was commissioned by Lambeth Council to design a flagship scheme to begin a national programme of holiday centres for the urban poor. However the war intervened and he became acting head of Hull School of Architecture, having become a Quaker and conscientious objector.

Here he produced the Hull Regional Survey, using not only staff and students, but also local societies and secondary schools in data collection. It was entirely new in its presentation techniques, using overlay maps, photographs and diagrams understandable to the public, and became widely regarded as a basis for post war reconstruction.

Through this Lock gained his first real planning commission, from Middlesbrough Corporation, and further developed his research and participatory techniques, to produce a viable redevelopment plan. In many instances Lock was called in to resolve conflicts between boroughs and counties, and between planning authorities and business or residents groups. Indeed in 1967 the Linthorpe Road Traders Association in Middlesbrough asked him, as author of the original plan, to oppose the Teesplan which now proposed demolishing their shops.

At Bedford the Borough, with a charter dating back to 1166, objected to the upstart county planning authority making plans for their town. So on the day he was to have been one of two candidates interviewed for the post of Chief Architect to the LCC, Lock responded to a secret and urgent telephone call to go to Bedford at once!

Max Lock usually moved to the town where he was working, and here as elsewhere he recruited a local team, and again involved secondary schools in collecting data. Bedford by the River, published in 1952, was a much more visually orientated report than previous ones.

Unfortunately Bedford, and this was not unusual, does not seem to have learnt from the report, and 15 years later it had, and still has, a dual carriageway each side of the river and no bridge joining them. Since then the town centre has had three different one way systems, and now has a one way dual carriageway south of the river, a dual carriageway which bypasses the High Street, except that the latter remains the main southbound route, and has just introduced contraflow bus lanes, having decided to free the pedestrian precincts of all vehicles. In the mid sixties a route was cleared through Victorian housing for a western relief road which has never been built, but Bedford has gained a southern bypass, though through traffic continues to travel through the town centre.

However Bedford did gain one of Lock's two architectural offices, the other being in London, and at first being combined with his home in Victoria Square.

Then as planning work for consultants began to dry up in Britain a new field opened overseas where his reports had been widely acclaimed. After a lecture tour of the Indian subcontinent for the British Council, and working in Jordan and Iraq, he was invited by the Ministry of Overseas Development and the state government of Northern Nigeria to draw up a master plan for the capital, Kaduna, in 1964.

Here Lock recognised the importance of land law and cadastral registration, as well as carrying out a social survey analysing family size, shared accommodation, ability to pay rent, overcrowding and sanitation. His resulting layouts were made for many types of sites and densities, using the topography to provide natural drainage, and pioneering what became known as 'sites and services' developments. He also paid particular attention to different cultures, for example the need of Moslem communities to have a male reception house entrance area, with secure women's and children's quarters behind.

However lack of planning laws and control, and misunderstanding of the key elements of the master plan resulted in indiscriminate development. Nevertheless he returned to Nigeria in 1972-88 to produce a master plan for Maiduguri, capital of the North Eastern State, and six provincial towns, where oil wealth was stimulating rapid growth. Maps were out of date and topographical information lacking, and master plans were soon outdated by rapidly changing pressures on the urban fabric.

Field observations from the land use surveys and analysis of preliminary aerial photography, identified major constraints of topography. The structure plan was produced at an early stage to emphasise opportunities and show constraints. A hierarchical network of road reservations was plotted on grid sketch maps or the most recent aerial photos. Land applications could then be judged against the emerging development plan.

Site Boards were used with applicants arguing their case in the field with the consultants.

After his retirement Lock brought his papers together to form an archive on which he could work, but he died suddenly in 1988 before they were sorted. The University of Westminster acquired the papers and the Max Lock Centre is cataloguing them, with a view to writing a book on his formative role in modern town planning, in particular blending the physical, social and participatory aspects vital to its success.

To sum up Max Lock's planning achievements, he pioneered:-

"Above all he knew that planning was a matter of personal commitment to the place and its people. He lived in the towns he was commissioned to work on, among the communities, and with them got under the skin of officials, representatives and steering committees to expose the reality below."

What could be more incarnational?












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