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

Memorandum by CABE (The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) (CAB 02)


  1.1  CABE was set up by the first Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 1999 with the mission to promote high quality architecture and design within the built environment. CABE's vision is of a country that by 2010 will lead Europe in understanding and harnessing the ability of great buildings and spaces to transform neighbourhoods, to generate social value and to sustain economic growth.

  1.2  CABE was set up because of the growing recognition that the quality of the built environment has a significant impact on improving educational standards, providing better health-care, reducing crime and creating a better quality of life for the English population.

  1.3  CABE is now jointly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM). The sponsorship arrangements are with the DCMS. As at 31March 2004, CABE comprised a team of 16 commissioners, appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and 82 staff appointed by CABE itself.

  1.4  CABE Commissioners are drawn from across the spectrum of built environment professions (architects, planners, urban designers, landscape architects), the arts and marketing. They are appointed for a four-year term and serve for a maximum of two terms. All commissioner posts are advertised in the national press.

  1.5  Income for the year 2003-04 totalled £11.25 million, with £10.88 million coming from the two key funding departments of DCMS and ODPM. The balance arises largely from service level agreements with other government departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).

  1.6  DCMS funding of CABE flows from the Department's priority areas of fostering the cultural and sporting life of children, young people and the wider community, and boosting the contribution of the cultural sector to the economy. In 2003-04 DCMS made £3.53 million available to CABE, all as core funding. This has risen in 2004-05 to £4.03 million.

  1.7  ODPM funding of CABE is closely linked to delivery of the Sustainable Communities Plan, announced in 2003. Through this funding agreement, ODPM made £7.35 million available to CABE in 2003-04, which is rising to £8 million in 2004-05.

  1.8  The funding agreement identifies a number of key government objectives to which good design is central. These include public sector procurement of new schools, hospitals and other civic buildings; planning policy, housing growth, and housing market renewal; the creation and maintenance of high quality public space; and skills. The majority of CABE's activities feed directly into these objectives, as set out below.

1.9  Procurement of public buildings

  England is currently experiencing the largest public building programme for a generation. The public sector is the single largest client of construction, and across government total capital budgets have been steadily increasing, from £19.2 billion in 2000-01 to £32.4 billion in 2003-04. This building programme represents a unique opportunity to create world-class facilities from which to provide world-class public services.

  1.10  Research from the UK and abroad demonstrates clearly how an early investment in design quality can deliver social and economic value. In hospitals it can lead to faster recovery times, in schools design encourages higher educational achievement and across the public sector it can aid recruitment and retention of key workers, such as nurses.

  1.11  CABE supports the Government's procurement programme primarily through its enabling team, made up of architects, urban designers, property surveyors and town planners. This service gives clients practical, independent advice on how to commission high quality buildings.

  1.12  Since summer 2000, it has worked on over 300 projects, ranging from large-scale urban masterplans to small-scale community buildings. This includes supporting the creation of primary healthcare buildings, GP's surgeries, and acute hospital PFI projects, as well as primary and secondary school projects and nurseries, through our involvement with DfES's Sure Start programme.

  1.13  The enabling team also ensures that other clients can benefit from CABE's advice by disseminating the ideas through publications and training; it also improves the policy, procurement and funding contexts by feeding back issues to those central government funding departments setting policy.

1.14  Liveability

  Through CABE Space, CABE is also centrally involved in supporting delivery of the Government's "Cleaner Safer Greener" campaign, and the wider promotion of the liveability agenda. This is done by helping local authorities improve the quality of parks and public spaces and their management and maintenance, and by encouraging the interest and involvement of local communities.

  1.15  One of the key tasks that ODPM set for CABE Space is to help local authorities develop green space strategies. A good green space strategy will help harness local political support and funding for improvements to parks and green spaces. CABE Space helps local authorities with their strategies by providing advisors, free of charge, who work directly with their officers or provide training. This is a practical way of ensuring that national policy and good practice regarding liveability is understood and implemented at a local level. In its first 15 months, CABE Space has advised 120 local authorities.

  1.16  This practical advisory role is supported by a significant research programme. CABE Space's first research report, Is the Grass Greener, studied cities around the world that have become desirable places to live because of their high quality green spaces, and identified transferable lessons that can be applied in England. In addition, CABE Space's acclaimed good practice guide, What would you do with this space?, provides practical guidance on engaging young people in the planning, design and management of local space.

  1.17  CABE Space has strategic management responsibility for the Green Flag Award Scheme, the national quality standard for parks and green spaces. This has proved a highly effective way of helping local park managers develop their skills. The scheme is delivered by the Civic Trust, with support from several hundred volunteers. CABE Space is working with the Civic Trust to engage every local authority in this scheme over the next four years.

  1.18  In addition, CABE Space campaigns to encourage the public to get actively involved in the improvement of the quality of public space. As part of the It's Your Space campaign, CABE Space published a Manifesto for Better Public Spaces that highlights the way high quality public spaces have a positive impact on quality of life and help people become more active and more engaged in their community. To date, more than 300 local and national organisations have signed up to the Manifesto.

  1.19  In its report to ODPM "Green Spaces, Better Places" (May 2002), the Urban Green Spaces Taskforce highlighted that the lack of skills in the green space sector was a key reason for its long-term decline. CABE Space has been tasked with developing an overarching strategy to address this problem, and will be working to deliver this with key partners in the sector, such as the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Managers (ILAM), GreenSpace, and LANTRA.

1.20  Housing and Planning

  There is a major, long-term government commitment to increase dramatically the supply of new homes and to redevelop failed housing stock. As well as taking forward these commitments, the Sustainable Communities Plan promotes better quality homes. CABE contributes directly to these objectives of creating more and better homes by acting as a national champion for design quality. CABE promotes debate and learning within private industry and the public sector on how to enhance the design and layout of residential areas. We also demonstrate what can be achieved (in terms of excellence and process) through collaboration on specific sites and projects.

  1.21  This involves a programme of activities including: assessment, accreditation and promotion of well designed housing schemes (through the Building for Life awards); research and audit of new developments and current practice; training programmes offered to individual stakeholders, such as highway engineers, commercial house-builders and housing associations; and collaboration with key agencies in each of the nine housing market renewal areas and the four housing growth areas.

  1.22  The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 establishes sustainable development as the primary purpose of planning. CABE has also campaigned to ensure the importance of good design to achieving sustainable development is well understood and embedded within the system.

  1.23   In this context, CABE's work on planning policy includes advising on the development of national policy statements (PPS1, PPS6 and PPS12) to ensure they recognise the importance of good design, and require high quality development. Policy work has also involved work on model policies for Local Development Frameworks and providing information on the role of Regional and Sub Regional Spatial Strategies in securing good design.

  1.24  In addition, CABE has focused on the importance of processes that can help to assess design quality. CABE has been promoting the use of Design Statements to accompany planning applications and justify proposals, supports good master-planning and is leading a programme of research and investigation into the potential of Design Codes.

1.25  Skills

  We believe that the biggest single risk to delivery of good quality design through the Sustainable Communities Plan is the shortage of skilled people, and a lack of appropriate skills, within the sectors responsible for its implementation. Our own research has shown that there is a very serious recruitment challenge facing the built environment professions, particularly in areas such as planning and engineering. There is a fundamental need to find enough people with the right skills to lead the process of improvement.

  1.26  The Government has recognised and is seeking to tackle these issues. Our response, through ODPM funding, has been to create CABE Skills. This is a dedicated and professional learning and knowledge transfer unit. It focuses on design-related skills issues across the built environment professions and allied groups, such as elected members.

  1.27  Only in its second year of operation, the Unit has already achieved outstanding results, delivering 4,500 training days at a satisfaction rating of 94%. Learning programmes have included a new urban design summer school, training for highways and transportation engineers, support for the Society of Black Architects, learning programme for 20 local authority planning committees, and an urban design "E-Learning" package for elected members produced jointly with IDeA.

  1.28   Because the Unit sits within CABE, it has been quickly able to establish a very strong presence and reputation for delivering high quality learning solutions. It is also able to draw on other CABE resources and provide a "learning hub" for our clients. In this way, CABE can offer a combination of enabling assistance, CABE Space advice, Design Review and education services, backed up by a tailored learning programme, to build local capacity and leave behind a legacy for future delivery. Increasingly, this is the way that CABE now operates.


  2.1  Five years after its creation, CABE can give robust evidence of its activities and outputs. These are quantified and summarised below. We have also recently undergone a comprehensive independent stakeholder evaluation, which captures the views of the people we have been working with and for. These follow the list of outputs.

  2.2  Five years is, though, a short time set against the long cycles of the built environment industries. Regeneration programmes can stretch over decades. Large building projects may take years to design and build. Many schemes already in the pipeline of the planning system will not have been influenced by CABE. And it takes time to develop skills. We believe, however, that the evidence below shows how CABE is beginning to make a very strong and positive impact.

  2.3  Since 1999, CABE has delivered:

    —  technical advice in the form of design review and enabling assistance to approximately 1,400 individual building projects including arts, libraries, sports, parks, affordable housing, urban masterplans, schools, hospitals, nurseries, Sure Starts, primary healthcare facilities, courts, police stations, offices, retail, business parks and embassies.

    —  those 1,400 projects on which we have advised have a collective value of over £20 billion, including just in terms of the public purse, education projects worth £1 billion, health projects totalling £1.8 billion and arts buildings worth £0.25 billion.

    —  produced approximately 100 publications, disseminating guidance and best practice on all areas of the built environment and reaching all audiences, from school children and the public to planners and policy-makers.

    —  worked with well 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, we also have similar programmes for house-builders, housing association, RDAs, health trusts and police constabularies, among others.

    —  become a definitive public voice on architecture and the built environment. In its first five years CABE generated over 5,000 news articles and broadcasts and we currently average 17,000 website visits every week.

    —  started to make a significant impact to young people's education, building an education network with almost 900 members and producing educational resources for every age group from Key Stage 2 to A' Level.

    —  CABE Education has also spearheaded the Joint Advisory Committee on Built Environment Education, a working group across DfES and DCMS. Recommendations from JACBEE are to be released imminently and will mobilise a range of partners to focus and join up effort in this important area.

    —  supported and extended a network of 16 architecture and built environment centres around the country, engaged in community participation, young people's education, project advice and skills development. Collectively, their current geographical reach is approximately 25% of the English population.

    —  On average, every £1 that CABE gives the architecture and built environment centres attracts over £4 in match funding. CABE's ambition is to extend the reach of the network to two thirds of England's urban and rural population in the next five years, by encouraging the development of a further nine centres. England is a world leader in this field and the network enjoys excellent international links.

2.4  Stakeholder review

  In autumn 2003 CABE commissioned an independent 360° review to collect the opinions of its external and internal stakeholders. The key points of that review give a clear picture of what our partners and audiences (including central government, local government, NGOs and built environment professionals) really think of CABE:

    —  Impressions of CABE are overwhelmingly positive. 94% of those interviewed expressed overall satisfaction with CABE in terms of their dealings with the organisation. 92% are satisfied with CABE's performance in terms of building relations with their organisation and 82% expressed satisfaction with CABE's ability to work in partnership.

    —  CABE is seen as being a young, dynamic, innovative, intelligent, professional and highly motivated organisation. CABE's good networks within central government are widely felt to be a real strength.

    —  Staff are extremely positive about CABE; they feel valued and excited about working there. The wider CABE family is also very positive with three-quarters strongly agreeing that working with CABE is rewarding.

    —  CABE's publications are respected, with its practical guides being particularly well received and demonstrably used. CABE's website is also widely praised.

    —  Design Review is highly regarded. 77% of the clients using the service altered their design in the light of CABE's comments.

    —  CABE's enabling assistance is also very well received: 85% of clients that responded valued the assistance and 75% felt that CABE's support will mean a higher quality building or project at the end of the process.


  3.1  CABE delivers its work through six separate programmes. The design review programme is one of these, employing eight of CABE's 82 staff. Given the Select Committee's intention to explore this area specifically, more detail is submitted below to explain its purpose and activities.

  3.2  CABE's design review programme offers free advice to planning authorities and others on the design of selected development projects in England. It is particularly interested in strategic projects in their early stages—"strategic" encompassing not only projects of national importance but also those which have a significant impact on a local environment, or set standards for future development.

  3.3  Proposals which have come to Design Review Committee in the last six months, for example, include the new Royal London Hospital at Whitechapel in East London; a masterplan for Nottingham Eastside, a large regeneration area adjacent to the city centre, including retained historic buildings; Wakefield Orangery, a new arts project adjacent to a listed building; and Liverpool Central Station, a large mixed use project which proposes substantial new city centre residential accommodation. Copies of letters sent by CABE summarizing our comments on two such proposals are attached in the appendix.

  3.4  The Design Review programme aims to improve the design quality of projects by offering authoritative advice from acknowledged experts. This has been shown to be an effective way of improving design quality: in CABE's recent stakeholder review, 87% of those receiving advice were satisfied with the process, and 77% of schemes were altered in the light of the advice given.

  3.5  A letter from (the then) DETR to planning authorities of 15 May 2001 (included in the appendix) sets out the criteria for consulting CABE. These may be summarised as:

    Proposals which are significant because of their size or the uses they contain: eg large buildings or groups of buildings such as courts, museums or galleries, hospitals, retail and office buildings, infrastructure projects and major changes in the public realm.

    Proposals which are significant because of their site: eg proposals which affect important views or sited in such a way that give rise to exceptional effects on their locality: (a relatively modest proposal can therefore be of strategic importance because of its site).

    Proposals with an importance greater than their size, use or site would suggest: eg proposals which are likely to set standards for future re-development, or proposals which are out of the ordinary in their context or setting.

  3.6  CABE wants to contribute to the quality of the built environment in the widest sense. The consultation letter makes it clear that CABE's interest is not limited to "landmark" developments and covers, for example, housing developments and projects which have the potential to enhance the quality of people's everyday life.

  3.7  CABE's design review programme advises on several hundred cases a year (480 in 2003-04). There are approximately 660,000 planning applications a year in England of which about 16,500 are categorised by ODPM as "major". With the resources at the programme's disposal we have a choice between offering light touch, strategic advice on a larger number of schemes or getting more involved in fewer, and we have chosen the former.

  3.8  Nevertheless, the demand for advice from CABE's design review programme exceeds the capacity available, and the number of requests for advice has increased steadily year on year.

  3.9  CABE encourages consultation wherever possible at an early (pre-application) stage, since by the time a proposed development reaches the planning application stage, the scope for influencing its design may be severely limited.

  3.10  CABE's design review programme is operated by members of its professional staff overseen by the Chairman of the design review committee, who is a CABE Commissioner—currently Les Sparks, an architect/planner with substantial local government experience at senior level. CABE's design review committee (DRC) is made up of about 30 experts from different fields. They include architects, planners, urban designers, landscape architects, engineers, a housing regeneration specialist, an estates and facilities manager, a developer, an archaeologist, and an artist. There is an annual turnover of membership and the fields represented are kept under review in response to feedback that we receive.

  3.11  Many DRC members and Commissioners are actively involved in major projects and some of these fall to be reviewed by the DRC. CABE makes no apologies for this state of affairs as we do not believe there is any other way of achieving the calibre of expertise required of the Committee. CABE has always had systems in place that seek to ensure absolute probity. Since the independent audit by AHL Ltd, commissioned by the Culture Secretary and published in June 2004, these have been stringently reviewed and further tightened to ensure that CABE has strict controls in place to deal with any potential conflicts of interest.

  3.12  Schemes are reviewed in one of three ways: 1) at monthly full meetings of the DRC, chaired by one of a group of six CABE Commissioners; at these meetings, schemes are presented to the committee by their promoters and representatives of the local authority and English Heritage are always invited, and usually attend; 2) at fortnightly internal meetings with DRC members; or 3) at weekly officer-level review meetings chaired by a CABE Commissioner.

  3.13  The selection of schemes on which CABE will comment, and at which of the above levels this will happen, is made by CABE staff in consultation with Commissioners. Schemes are allocated to the three tiers above in accordance with defined and published criteria (set out in the appendix). The most significant schemes are seen at the monthly meetings and the next most significant at the fortnightly meetings.

  3.14  Project evaluations are based on professional judgements, rather than a tick box score. Projects are always reviewed in the round, deliberately looking at the bigger picture. Consequently, our advice about projects usually focuses more on how projects will work and relate to the wider area than on questions about architecture and what schemes look like. It is rare that architectural style is an issue in our discussion of projects; we believe that what matters is quality rather than style, and that a number of different architectural approaches are likely to be valid in any given situation.

  3.15  CABE is fortunate in having access to an extraordinary level of knowledge and expertise through the members of its DRC, who are not paid for the work they undertake for CABE. Consistency is achieved by scrutiny of draft written advice by a number of people. On major projects, written advice is subject to approval by the director of the design review programme and the Chairman of the DRC.

  3.16  Between them they seek to ensure that advice is consistent with advice given on comparable projects or issues. Specific CABE policies are set out in writing in documents such as the following:

    —  Design Review

    —  Guidance on Tall Buildings (published jointly with English Heritage)

    —  Building in Context (advice on new buildings in historic contexts, published jointly with English Heritage)

    —  Protecting Design Quality in Planning

    —  Design Reviewed: Masterplans

    —  Design Reviewed: Urban Housing

    —  Design Reviewed: Town Centre Retail

  3.17   There is considerable heritage expertise on CABE's staff team, the design review committee and the Commission itself; the Chair of the Design Review Committee, Les Sparks, is also a Commissioner of English Heritage; and CABE and English Heritage liaise on casework as well as at a strategic and policy level on a regular basis.


  4.1  CABE's work to date reflects built environment priorities of the past five years. In particular CABE has focused on particular projects and programmes where there has been a real lack in skills, information or quality control, or where there has been significant public expenditure. These areas of work are still important to CABE, but the impact of our work, experience and learning to date has prompted us to develop a new corporate strategy in 2004 called "Transforming Neighbourhoods".

  4.2  We chose to focus on the concept of neighbourhoods for two reasons: firstly, because compact and coherent neighbourhoods are the building blocks of successful towns and cities. Secondly, because of the need to ensure that the major programmes of public and private investment in the built environment which are now underway deliver a legacy of thriving neighbourhoods.

  4.3  In that context, CABE is now progressively targeting its work on neighbourhoods in transition. To date, we have focused most of our efforts on towns and cities. We will continue to work here but increasingly we will extend our focus to areas of low and high demand, managing the process of growth and change.

  4.4  CABE will also continue to champion and celebrate the value of great architecture. We remain absolutely committed to the creation of outstanding buildings and spaces which lift people's spirits, drive urban renewal, provide best value for money, and reinforce the global reputation of Britain's architectural professions.

  4.5  Under the neighbourhoods theme we have organised our work into five priority areas:

    —  what makes a good neighbourhood;

    —  homes and streets;

    —  green spaces;

    —  the learning neighbourhood;

    —  the healthy neighbourhood.

  We see urban design as the glue that can enable the individual components to become, collectively, greater than the sum of the parts, and fine architecture as a source of cultural inspiration and expression.

4.6  CABE's regional strategy

  One of the pivotal dimensions of this new strategy will be our work at a regional and sub-regional level. It is intended that this strategy translates into a responsive and reflexive model that assesses local character and need, then seeks to match it—within available resource—in a way that adds most value to these local priorities.

  4.7  In most cases this is achieved through our support to Architecture and Built Environment Centres (ABECs), a network of Regional Representatives and a Regional Pilot Programme. CABE's Regional Development Programme also has a coordinating and mapping function, ensuring a balanced spread of CABE's activity right across the country.

  4.8  In practice, our Regions Programme will deploy the following resources:

    —  A network of 21 Regional Representatives, respected and trusted experts in their fields, employed part time as consultants to act as CABE's "eyes and ears" and ambassadors in every Government Office region (except London where other resources are made available).

    —  A Regional Funding Programme which delivers £1.5 million of grant aid to16 ABECs, plus the Architecture Centre Network

    —  A pioneering programme of six Regional Pilot Projects that aim to create regionally or sub-regional models of networking, capacity building and service delivery.

    —  A new grant programme operated in partnership with Arts & Business that is providing £0.5 million over two years to develop innovative ways for the work of artists to inform built environment design and planning processes.

  4.9  An essential function of the Region's Programme will be to co-ordinate CABE's work at the local level with a wide range of other agencies. This is a fundamental part of our strategy to build local capacity within any given area.

  4.10   We achieve this in part through a system of Client Relationship Management. This provides a single point of contact at CABE for each area, agreeing our strategy and work programme. This allows us to provide an efficient and co-ordinated service to a large number of clients in different urban settings across the country at the same time.

  4.11  CABE is also extremely careful to maintain a balance of activity across the English Regions. The vast majority of our work is outside London. The Client Management process allows us not only to tailor make individual packages for different areas in the most meaningful and efficient way we can, it also allows us to achieve a good spread of activity within current resource across the whole country.

4.12  Pilot Programmes

  We are in the process of establishing at least one Pilot Programme in each of the Regions, including London. These programmes tackle different areas and issues in ways that play to the character and nature of need in each place, going with the grain rather than trying to impose a solution. We have so far established six Pilot Programmes, with a further four at feasibility stage.

  4.13  The Pilot Programmes are a physical expression of CABE's new focus on "Transforming Neighbourhoods", in that they work to improve and connect the whole neighbourhood, stimulating a real sense of place, rather than focus on an isolated issue. The programmes each currently have a life-span of two years, in accordance with our own funding cycle. In some areas, CABE is likely to work beyond that two year period, but this approach does allow us to be fleet of foot and move resources where they are most needed.

  4.14  The biggest pilot—Design East Lancashire—is based in the offices of Elevate East Lancashire Housing Market Renewal Programme in Colne. Working across the sub region, the scheme has its own programme of learning; physical demonstration projects, such as terrace conversions; and reassessment of the area's identity and image. In addition it is coordinating the input of other CABE services to the area in an intensive way. This project is a "testing ground" of CABE's vision. We believe that this is one of the most challenging areas in England and deserves a special focus to deliver a higher quality of life for local people.

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