Memorandum by the Law Society (CAB 03)
I write on behalf of the Law Society's Planning
Environmental Law Committee in response to the invitation to submit
views on the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment
to the ODPM: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions
Committee. The Law Society is the professional representative
and a regulatory body for the 100,000 solicitors practising in
England and Wales. The Committee is formed of 20 practitioners
expert in these areas of the law.
CABE was established as a non-departmental public
body in 1999 to promote good standards in the design of buildings
and public spaces and by so doing to improve the environment in
which people live, learn, work and play. In that capacity CABE
has produced useful guidance which the ODPM has promulgated
By Design, guidance on better urban design and Better
Plans To Live, advice for local planning authorities and developers.
In our view this has been a significant, beneficial result of
the creation of CABE.
However, we are concerned with the way in which
CABE has been developing more recently and the possible changes
to its status in the future. CABE has assumed a voice in the planning
system beyond its original remit, often going to the Press with
its views in advance of meeting with developers and local authorities.
It has insisted on imposing its own particular views on certain
development proposals and has been conducting itself as though
it was a body of similar power and status as English Heritage.
We are very disturbed by the proposal that has
been slipped into the recent DEFRA consultation document Clean
Neighbourhoods that CABE should now be established on a statutory
basis. It is but a short step from CABE assuming the role of a
statutory consultee, adding yet another layer into the consultation
process. Remember that one of the proposals in the consultation
package that formed the Planning Green Paper that foreshadowed
the Planning and Purchase Act was that the number of statutory
consultees should be reduced for reasons of expediting the planning
CABE has a major task in repairing the damage
to its reputation which led to the premature departure of its
Chairman. The real issue is that matters of design are to a degree
issues of subjective personal taste. It is unacceptable for one
organisation, whatever its legal status, to interpose its views
on development proposals. At most it should be one body whose
advice can be sought either by consulting its advisory material
or through a direct approach for advice on a particular project.
Advisory criteria cannot be binding on a local planning authority.
Design is a material consideration in the determination of planning
applications. However, it is unusual for a development proposal
to be rejected solely on the grounds of design issues. The views
of CABE on a particular proposal can only be advisory: they cannot
predominate over other relevant planning considerations.
In the view of the Law Society's Planning and
Environmental Law Committee, CABE should remain an advisory body
at arms length from the Government. Good guidance which it produces
can be issued with the approval of the Government. However, its
main role should continue to be to proselytise, to argue the case
for a better environment and to enthuse planning authorities and
developers in favour of improved design. It should not become
the equivalent of a statutory consultee, able to pass persuasive
verdicts on development proposals.
Head of Parliamentary Unit