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




  The letter below was sent out by Christopher Bowden, Head Of Division, Development Control Policy on Tuesday 15 May 2001.

  The Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC) was a non-statutory consultee for the purposes of planning applications. Following the winding-up of the RFAC and the creation of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), the Department has agreed that CABE should become a non-statutory consultee in place of the RFAC. The present guidance on non-statutory consultation is set out in DOE Circular 9/95 and in the "Statutory and Non-Statutory Consultation Report" published by DETR in January 2001. This letter explains the arrangements for consulting CABE.


  The Government has charged CABE with the promotion of excellence in architecture and the built environment throughout England. It is doing this in a number of ways. Reviewing the design of projects which have been submitted for planning permission is only one of them. CABE is also devoting a high proportion of its efforts to becoming involved in projects at an early stage, helping clients, designers and local authorities to achieve the best possible quality.

  CABE sees design review as an important aspect of its work and its Design Review Committee meets monthly to consider proposals. It considers about 30-40 projects a year on the basis of full presentations and a similar number from submitted papers and drawings. In addition, CABE can offer informal advice on other projects on which local authorities consult it.

  In view of the limited number of proposals on which it can advise, CABE wishes to be consulted about projects which are significant in some way. This is difficult to define precisely because significance is not necessarily related to the size of the project, its location or type, but guidance is set out below. This will be kept under review in the light of experience.

  The Government wishes CABE to pay increased attention to proposals whose significance is mainly regional or local. This is a wide remit and is concerned not just with metropolitan centres and historic areas but, for example, with deprived areas, suburbs, small towns and villages. Design review can be used to help raise the quality of proposals for buildings and structures because they have the potential to enhance the quality of people's everyday lives and promote social inclusion. Such proposals may include housing schemes, mixed use developments and changes to public realm.

  An important part of CABE's remit is to scrutinise the quality of buildings in the public sector, in particular those procured through the Private Finance Initiative, and of projects involving public money. For this reason, the Department is particularly interested to see CABE consulted about such projects.

  To assist authorities in deciding whether to consult CABE, the Department has agreed with the Commission the following guidance on significant projects.

1.   Proposals which are significant because of their size or the uses they contain

  This category includes:

    —  large buildings or groups of buildings such as courts, large religious buildings, museums or art galleries, hospitals, shopping and leisure complexes, and office or commercial buildings;

    —  infrastructure projects such as stations, airports and other transport interchanges, bridges, power stations and waste incinerators; and

    —  major changes in the public realm such as pedestrianisation schemes or proposals to enhance public squares and civic open spaces.

2.   Proposals which are significant because of their site

  In this category are proposals which affect important views—into or from a World Heritage Site, for example—or are sited in such a way that they give rise to exceptional effects on their locality. A relatively modest proposal can be of strategic importance to a town or city if it is situated at an important street junction, in a square, on a river bank or on the approach to the urban area.

3.   Proposals with an importance greater than their size, use or site would suggest

  This includes:

    —  proposals which are likely to establish the planning, form or architectural quality for future large scale development or re-development;

    —  proposals which are out of the ordinary in their context or setting because of their scale, form or materials;

    —  proposals which are particularly relevant to the quality of everyday life and contain design features which, if repeated, would offer substantial benefits for society.


  CABE's staff are happy to advise planning authorities whether they wish to be consulted about a particular proposal. They can be contacted at:

  The Tower Building, 11 York Road, 16th Floor, London SE1 7NX. Tel: 020 7960 2400. Fax: 020 7960 2444. Or through

  In line with the recommendations in the report mentioned in paragraph 1 of this letter, authorities should set clear deadlines for comment by CABE, as for other consultees, having regard to the Government's Best Value target for handling planning applications and to the circumstances of the case.

  As well as offering formal advice on planning applications, CABE is prepared to become involved in some schemes more closely, offering advice at all stages including the preparation of the brief and during the design process itself. CABE wants to contribute to the quality of urban areas in the widest sense and is prepared not only to advise on landmark buildings but, for example, housing developments, retail facilities or townscapes. It therefore welcomes approaches from local authorities and others at the earliest possible stage, when it will consider and advise whether it wants to become involved in a project in this informal way, and whether it wants to review the design of a project formally at a later stage.

  If CABE does not want to become involved in a project on which it has been consulted it will say so in writing. In such cases, there is no need for CABE to be consulted formally again as part of the planning process. In all other cases it should be notified when a planning application is submitted. However, whatever CABE's previous position on relevant applications, authorities should consider notifying CABE if those applications are called-in by or the subject of an appeal to the Secretary of State in case CABE wants to draw attention to particular issues that might be considered during the inquiry.

  When CABE intends to consider a project in its Design Review Committee, the developer and designer will be invited to explain the project. A member of staff, committee member or both will usually make a site visit. The scheme will then be presented to the Committee on the basis of drawings, models, photographs or other presentation materials, by the architect if there is a formal presentation and otherwise by a member of CABE's staff. The local planning authority's views are always sought at this stage. It is usual to invite them to attend full presentations.

  The views and advice of the Committee are made known by letter to the interested parties. Except where a scheme has been seen at an early stage on a confidential basis, the views will also be made available publicly, via the CABE website and in other ways.

  Further information about CABE can be found on its website at

Christopher Bowden

Development Control Policy Division

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