Joanna Rees, a Partner in the Blake Morgan Cardiff office, has been announced as one of four new appointments to the board of directors of the Design Commission for Wales.
Along with Mike Biddulph, Jon James and Cora Kwiatkowski, Joanna will take up her role on 1 April of this year and serve until 31 March 2025.
Established in 2002 by the Welsh Government, the Design Commission for Wales (DCFW) is a national organisation that champions good design for better buildings, spaces, and places now and for future generations. The DCFW draws on the skills of a multi-disciplinary team of professional planners, urban designers, architects, transport planners, sustainability specialists and engineers to deliver expert advice and support for commissioning clients, training for local planning authorities and built environment professionals, placemaking guidance and Wales’ national strategic Design Review service.
Joanna, who has been with Blake Morgan since 2000, specialises in construction and development schemes and heads the firm’s cross-discipline Infrastructure team. She has considerable experience in large-scale public and private development work, regeneration schemes and infrastructure projects.
Originally from Porthcawl, she graduated from Bristol University and worked in the City before rediscovering the attractions of Welsh life. She now lives with her family and two large Airedales in the Vale. Jo is also a trustee of Wales Millennium Centre, a Cardiff Business Council member and is a Welsh speaker.
We caught up with Joanna to find out about her new role and her vision for her tenure.
What inspired you to apply for a position on the board of the Design Commission for Wales?
The significance of place, offering community and safety, has rarely been as prominent as over the last few months. The pandemic has highlighted the co-dependent relationship between public responsibility and government policy. This relationship, however, has always existed in the influence that the government plays in shaping and developing communities, planning infrastructure and enhancing the built environment in which we live and work.
The Design Commission for Wales plays an influential role in promoting good design and providing client support; its influence is apparent from the groundswell of employer support for the Placemaking Charter. I was attracted by the opportunity to support the commission to continue to develop its important role in the Welsh economy.
What do you hope to bring to the role?
This is a role that I believe I am well placed to fulfil given my years of legal experience of advising clients, often local government, NHS, social housing, universities and private developers on construction, infrastructure and regeneration schemes. My clients recognise me as a “trusted advisor” who is unafraid to challenge complex issues and find an acceptable pragmatic resolution within governance requirements. I understand the strict requirements of accountability, transparency, and value for money that the public purse expenditure requires. I am fortunate in having experience of advising parties embarking on partnership and collaborative working, so have a keen sense of the challenges that these opportunities present. My career to date has featured several key transport systems which are a testament to the regenerative power of infrastructure – such as Croydon Tramlink, Docklands Light Railway, Jubilee Line, Transport for Wales Core Valley Lines together with major road schemes. I am looking forward to bringing this experience to the commission.
What are your thoughts on good design in the built environment in Wales? Why does it matter?
I have been fortunate to be involved in several key regeneration schemes in South Wales, such as the inner-city development of Swansea and Porth Teigr and Loudon Square in Cardiff, acting for developers and employers. This experience has given me a good insight into the conflicting pressures presented by regeneration schemes, the importance of design and community engagement. I also have experience working on renewable energy schemes wind, solar, tidal and anaerobic digestion and the resilience they bring to developments. As a mother of two children living in the Vale of Glamorgan, I have a vested interest in ensuring that Welsh society continues to create opportunities for the future generation.
What are you looking forward to most about your new role?
I am looking forward to using my governance and influencing skills and learning more about rural and urban design and placemaking. I am very keen to embrace the challenges of becoming a Design Commissioner with enthusiasm and rigour. I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck in!