Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (CAB 01)


  1.  This memorandum aims to provide the Committee with information relevant to its inquiry into the Role and Effectiveness of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. The note comprises general background information, followed by information on the specific points highlighted by the Committee as issues it wishes to address.


  2.  The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) is an executive, non-departmental public body established in 1999 by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as the successor to the Royal Fine Arts Commission. DCMS is the principal sponsor Department for CABE.

  3.  CABE's purpose is to promote high quality architecture and design within the built environment, raising standards and providing advice and expertise to all those who create, manage, maintain and use the built environment. It aims to improve both the buildings and the spaces between them.

  4.  The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister aims and objectives are set out in its Public Service Agreement. The focus is on delivery: making a difference to people's lives by delivering effective programmes to help raise the quality of life for all in urban areas and other communities. This focus is encapsulated by the primary purpose of the Office to create "sustainable communities".

  5.   The Sustainable Communities Plan,[1] published in February 2003, provides the starting-point for a wide-ranging programme of action in support of this purpose, and two subsequent reports[2] have described progress in delivery, outlined further challenges and described how they are being addressed.

  6.  Supporting policy activity includes Planning Policy Guidance Note 1 published in 1997 that states that "good design should be the aim of all those involved in the development process and should be encouraged everywhere". The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the draft Planning Policy Statement 1 (Creating Sustainable Communities) on which the Government has just completed consultation, have reinforced these aims. The Government is keen to see that the role of design quality is widely recognised as the key to securing sustainable development and has placed design at the heart of planning system.

  7.  Following the findings of the HMT-led cross-cutting review of public space and the recommendations of the Urban Green Spaces Taskforce (Green Spaces, Better Places, May 2002), the publication of Living Places: cleaner safer, greener[3] in October 2002 set out Government's vision and programme of action to achieve better quality local environments.

  8.  Living Places signalled Government's intention to establish a national champion for urban green spaces. ODPM invited CABE to set up a new unit, CABE Space, in the belief that expanding an existing agency into which green spaces work could be integrated and complement existing activities, was preferable to creating a separate agency.

  9.  In support of its aim of creating sustainable communities and delivery of public service agreements, the Office has adopted five strategic priorities, as follows:

    —  Delivering a better balance between housing supply and demand by supporting sustainable growth, reviving markets and tackling abandonment.

    —  Ensuring people have decent places to live by improving the quality and sustainability of local environments and neighbourhoods, reviving brownfield land, and improving the quality of housing.

    —  Tackling disadvantage by reviving the most deprived neighbourhoods, reducing social exclusion and supporting society's most vulnerable groups.

    —  Delivering better public services, by devolving decision-making to the most effective level—regional, local or neighbourhood.

    —  Promoting the development of the English regions by improving their economic performance so that all are able to reach their full potential, and developing an effective framework for regional governance taking account of the public's view of what is best for their area.

  10.  The Sustainable Communities Plan recognises the importance of improving how we build and what we build—and the role that raising design quality should play in transforming communities and reversing the legacy of neglect. Improving the delivery of high quality design has an important role to play in the achievement of the Office's overall aim, and strategic priorities.

  11.  The Sustainable Communities Plan set out a role for CABE in raising the quality of communities through earlier and better attention to design and urban design. To create lasting solutions the ODPM recognises that the realisation of better quality design must be at the heart of policy and delivery. This will require greater attention to architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and spatial planning and the management and maintenance of the built environment.

  12.  Therefore, in support of the delivery of Sustainable Communities Plan objectives, ODPM jointly funds CABE by way of grant under Section 126 of the 1996 Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act, and under Section 153 (1) (rr) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.


  13.  CABE's corporate strategy Transforming Neighbourhoods published in August 2004[4] sets out core priorities for the period 2004-05—2006-07, and provides the context for the funding agreements between CABE and ODPM and with DCMS, as well as bringing together the shared priorities of the respective Departments.

  14.  ODPM recognise CABE as an important agent in implementing key elements of departmental policy and in implementing the commitments made in the policy initiatives identified in paragraphs 4-12 above. In particular CABE will assist with:

    —  Championing and promoting the value of good urban design amongst decision-makers, industry, practitioners, professionals and the community—highlighting the benefits of well designed public buildings, spaces and places.

    —  Developing a robust evidence base highlighting the benefits, and the value, of good design, and identifying policy that will assist its delivery.

    —  Working with partners to deliver better design quality in urban growth areas, and in the housing market renewal pathfinder areas.

    —  Delivery of the urban renaissance by ensuring the design skills required within the key professions are available, and that equal opportunity exists within the professions.

    —  Assisting Government in meeting its commitment to create a high quality public realm, including a network of parks and diverse green spaces, and our wider goal of cleaner, safer, greener public spaces.

  15.  Thus ODPM's grant is provided to deliver a specified programme of works that assists with the achievement of Departmental policy and relates to CABE's core functions. Prior to the publication of the Sustainable Communities Plan, ODPM initially provided (£0.71 million) funding to CABE in 2002-03 for a small programme of work. ODPM and DCMS share the core costs of the organisation, and Table 1 below sets out funding over the three years from 2003-04 to 2005-06.

Table 1

CABE RESOURCES: 2003-04—2005-06 (£ million)

Expenditure line 2003-042004-05 2005-06*Total
DCMS3.504.03 4.5312.06
ODPM7.358.00 6.0021.35

*2005-06 figures are provisional

  16.  The ODPM funding agreement is complementary to that of the sponsor Department, DCMS, and sets out a number of strategic outcomes—some of which are shared with DCMS:

    A1.    An enhanced awareness of the need for, and a greater focus on achieving, good quality architecture and urban design among clients, professionals and the community at large.

    A2.    Development of a comprehensive evidence base that (a) can be used to readily demonstrate the social, economic and environmental benefits of good design, particularly good urban design, and (b) which tests and understands public attitudes and needs, and which together can form a sound basis for policy and good practice.

    A3.    Working with a range of partners throughout England to ensure the delivery of better quality design in the built environment.

    B1.    Enhance awareness amongst the general public and professionals of the importance of good quality parks and green spaces and increase the number of volunteers involved in improving their local green space (shared with DCMS).

    B2.    Help to develop and deliver policy, and commission and publish research series on parks and public spaces.

    B3.    Support and enable local authorities and other providers of parks and green spaces to deliver better green spaces through development of a strategic approach. In particular to target all those local authorities without green space strategies and increase the number of local authorities with functioning green space strategies.

    C1.    To see an increase in the number of skilled practitioners in key built environment professions and greater design knowledge and confidence among decision-makers (shared with DCMS).

    C2.    To test if the use of urban codes should become a common-place mechanism as part of the masterplanning process in the promotion of new residential development within the land use planning system and in relevant land transactions.

  17. Examples of the programmes of work that CABE has developed to achieve the strategic outcomes set in the funding agreement include the following areas.

  18. Growth Areas: CABE are positively engaged to support government and local delivery partners to ensure that high design quality is achieved in growth areas. With English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation, they have established a Housing Quality Forum for the Growth Areas. The Forum brings together key players involved in commissioning and procuring new housing to share best practice, learn from partners and innovate practice across the regeneration and development industry.

  19.  CABE has also worked with the House Builders Federation and Civic Trust on Building for Life, the campaign promoting design excellence through engagement with housebuilders to champion best practice. The initiative organises workshops and training, and has developed an award to mark high standards (including design quality) in volume development.

  20.  CABE Space is also working with many of the local authorities in the growth areas, as well as others, on developing a strategic approach to their green spaces.

  21.  Housing Market Renewal (HMR): CABE are working with the HMR Pathfinders on a one-to-one basis providing support on all issues relating to design and the urban environment. Design is a crucial part of the HMR agenda to avoid the mistakes of the past and ensure that high quality buildings and environment are created in existing low demand areas. CABE also run a Design Task Group, that brings together English Heritage, HMR organisations and Local Authority teams to share best practice.

  22.  Skills: Earlier this year the Deputy Prime Minister welcomed Sir John Egan's review Skills for Sustainable Communities[5] and announced that ODPM would be taking forward its key recommendation: to establish a new National Centre for Sustainable Communities Skills. CABE have been working closely with ODPM to develop the detailed proposals for this Centre.

  23.  CABE plays a key role in the wider skills agenda, helping to raise urban design skills across the built environment sector, and working closely with other Government departments such as the Department for Transport to ensure that cross-Government agendas are addressed.

  24. An early outcome of CABE Space has been a review of green space skills that will lead to an action plan that encourages the sector to work together in developing the necessary skills to delivery revitalised spaces. There will be links between this sector specific work and wider strategies to improve skills.

  25.  Green Space: CABE Space was established in May 2003 to champion public spaces, with an initial focus on parks and green spaces. Its objectives are to champion the need for good quality public space, develop the evidence base on the value of green space and support delivery of good quality green space.

  26.  CABE Space are also helping to develop and deliver policy through developing evidence via research and good practice. This takes forward many of the recommendations identified in the Urban Green Spaces Taskforce report.[6] Current research is examining the link between quality and expenditure, the economic value of green space, alternative models of management and resourcing and the link between the quality of public space and anti-social behaviour and a good practice guide on greenspace and housing market renewal and growth areas.

  27.  In supporting delivery CABE Space are working with local authorities and other providers of parks and green spaces through an advisory service to develop strategic approaches to green spaces. They have also undertaken a review of the Green Flag Award Scheme, which recognises excellence in green space management, and of the skills in the green space sector, which will influence the ability to deliver our green space objectives.


  28.  Non-statutory consultees have an important role in contributing specialist advice to local authorities on planning applications. The Royal Fine Art Commission (RAFC) was a non-statutory consultee for the purposes of providing advice on design related matters. Following the winding up of the RAFC, ODPM determined that CABE should become a non-statutory consultee in place of the RAFC.

  29.  In May 2001 a letter (see Annex A) was sent to all Chief Planning Officers outlining the role that ODPM envisaged for CABE. Projects that CABE are consulted upon are not of a singular style, nor limited to the major urban conurbations, but the role set out that regional and local projects are an important consideration, and that a wide range of areas are covered including "deprived areas, suburbs, small towns and villages".

  30.  In line with CABE's remit, schemes reviewed by CABE's Design Review Panel reflect the Government's concern to ensure that the planning system is used as a tool to improve design quality of buildings, spaces and places. Of more than 480 cases reviewed by the panel in 2003-04, a wide variety of schemes came under consideration including residential and mixed-use buildings, as well as retail, office, community and public buildings. The Design Review Panel also undertook a number of reviews of masterplans.

  31.  The Design Review process is primarily about achieving better quality places through ensuring that the constituent parts such as the housing, public buildings, streets and urban spaces in a town add up in a way that makes sense for the community that live there.

  32.  A key element of the Design Review Panel is to disseminate lessons to a broader audience. The review magazine, Design Reviewed, was distributed with Planning magazine reaching approximately 16,000 planning officers. This makes a valuable contribution to ensuring that well informed consideration of design becomes a primary consideration of planners across the country. In addition, lessons from the Design Review Panel on Residential Development, Town Centre Retail and Masterplanning have now been written up and are helping to reinforce the principles of the Government's Planning Policy Guidance notes, especially PPG3 Housing and PPG6 Town Centres and Retail Development.


  33.  CABE is one of three main non-departmental agencies receiving funding from ODPM in the field of built environment. Their roles and remits are complementary:

    —  English Partnerships: the national regeneration agency, helping the Government to ensure efficient land use and sustainable growth.

    —  Housing Corporation: overseeing the regulation of Housing Associations in the provision of high quality, affordable housing that meets local needs.

    —  CABE: raising the quality of architecture and design within the built environment.

  34.  CABE, English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation collaborate on a number of projects including work to bring together design standards, and on ODPM's urban design coding pilot programme.

  35. In working to ensure that design quality is embodied in delivery programmes CABE also work with a wider range of national, regional and local agencies. In particular, ODPM has charged CABE with the responsibility to work with partners to deliver better design quality in housing growth areas, and in the housing market renewal pathfinder areas. These activities are expanded in paragraphs 18-21 above.

  36. Other areas relevant to ODPM priorities include the work CABE has been doing to build effective relationships with house-builders, local authorities and training providers amongst others. Through sponsorship of campaigns such as Building for Life, jointly with the Civic Trust and the House Builders Federation, CABE works in a practical manner to promote design quality amongst the volume house builders who are responsible for the major proportion of housebuilding.

  37.  The CABE Space Advisory Service works with local authorities to develop strategic approaches to managing their green spaces, drawing on the expertise of an advisory panel. CABE also works closely with local authorities through their training programmes in urban design for Transport Engineers, and through work to support local authority Design Champions. In doing so they have so far worked with over half of England's local authorities to improve the quality of the built environment through advice and training at all levels of these organisations.

  38.  CABE's enabling programme also has been working closely with health trusts, education authorities and police constabularies among others, ensuring that procurement policies and design outcomes are improved.

  39. CABE Space is supported by a Steering Committee, which includes the CABE Space Strategic Partners: Groundwork, Greenspace, Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management, The Landscape Institute, Community Development Foundation, and the Improvement and Development Agency.


  40.  CABE has a three-year funding agreement with its sponsor Department, DCMS, and a separate funding agreement with ODPM. The ODPM agreement runs to the end of the 2004-05 financial year. Once spending review allocations are known later this year a new financial agreement between CABE and ODPM will be prepared.

  41.  CABE's principal purpose is to promote a better quality built environment in England. In this respect it has and will continue to have a close relationship with the delivery of the Sustainable Community Plan aims and objectives, and thus with ODPM priorities.

  42.  CABE is also envisaged as playing an important role into the future in helping to secure the success of recent policy commitments shared across Government.

  43.  For example, as part of the theme of improving neighbourhoods, CABE Space will be an important partner in helping ODPM deliver its Public Service Agreement target (PSA8) to lead delivery of cleaner, safer, greener public spaces. It is our intention that the unit should eventually broaden its remit to consider all public space but the current priority remains urban green spaces.


  44.  Jointly with DCMS, ODPM has developed work with CABE over the past two and a half years. This shared relationship of two Departments with a non-departmental public body is uncommon. However, this has brought benefits in joining up policy agendas whilst minimising administrative burdens.

  45.  A recently completed independent stakeholder evaluation[7] demonstrated that, in the short time that CABE has been in existence, CABE has become an effective and well respected organisation that is making a difference.

  46.  CABE has also been instrumental in assisting with the delivery of key policy priorities. Evaluation of progress against targets shows steady progress, whether in the number of local authority Design Champions, take-up of training programmes, or increases in the number of parks being awarded Green Flag[8] status. ODPM therefore strongly supports CABE's role.

1   Sustainable Communities: building for the future, published by ODPM, February 2003. Back

2   Creating sustainable communities: Making it happen: Thames Gateway and the Growth Areas, published by ODPM, July 2003, and Making it happen: The Northern Way, published by ODPM, February 2004. Back

3   Living Places: cleaner, safer, greener published by ODPM, October 2002. Back

4   Transforming Neighbourhoods published by CABE, August 2004. Back

5   The Egan Review-Skills for Sustainable Communities-published by ODPM April 2004. Back

6   Green Space, Better Places-final report of the Urban Green Spaces Task Force published by DTLR 2002. Back

7   CABE Stakeholder Review conducted by Office of Public Management, March 2004. Back

8   The Green Flag Award scheme, managed by the Civic Trust, is a voluntary scheme that recognises excellence in the management and maintenance of parks and green spaces across England and Wales. Back

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