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

Memorandum by Newcastle City Council (CAB 09)

  In response to the ODPM Committee press notice of 15 September 2004 the City Council respectfully would like to submit the following evidence for consideration by the Committee in its inquiry into the role and effectiveness of CABE.

  Newcastle City Council has worked with CABE since its inception in 1999. In that period we have benefited from the design review service; the enabling service; the training and presentation events; the themed publication and wide ranging direct engagement with both staff and Commissioners.

  From the City Council's perspective we have found CABE to more than live up to its current values of providing energy, challenging and sharing its evidence based learning.

  Prior to 1999 the City Council had also engaged with the former Royal Fine Art Consortium and whilst respecting the design advice mostly found the organisation and its activities remote even in its latter years.

  CABE's services to us have always been very approachable, easy to contact and to meet, very ready to travel outside its national London base and from a north east perspective quickly established an influential presence and activity particularly after the introduction of regional representatives.

  The championing of sound innovative urban design rather than just architecture has been far reaching and coincided with the City Council's own investment in this activity. The addition of CABE Space with its focus on soft and hard public realm spaces is welcomed by the City endorsing our own investment in producing a Parks and Greenspace Strategy for Newcastle.

  The City Council have benefited enormously from CABE support and input in areas like master planning; new retail development; contemporary design in historic areas; sustainable housing communities both new and existing; tall building policy and guidance; raising design quality in PFI (schools, library, hospital and related health); Pathfinder and Design Coding. CABE have organised fact finding tours to the region and introduced local stakeholders to commissioners and design staff and crucially engaged in mutually advantageous dialogue and subsequent initiatives. CABE also found time to take part in the City's Lord Mayors Design Awards judging panel.

  With regard to the Committee inquiry and the areas identified in the press release for specific examination the City Council would observe as follows:

    1.  CABE's overall priorities for investment and development—we have benefited hugely from CABE's focus towards regions and major towns and cities on a wide range of activities and would hope this would continue.

    2.  Specifically on the Design Review:

(a)  Present criteria is fine encompassing widest range of projects and enabling the City to benefit from comparison with similar generic schemes in other places eg tall buildings, retail developments.

(b)  We have no concerns with consistency in criteria and its application—the Panel and Design Review staff "tell it like it is" and are accordingly highly respected by the City Council and in our view by developers and their architects as well.

(c)  Again we have no issue with choice of schemes reviewed—it is clear from the broad themes publicised by the Panel what is likely to benefit from their advice. Even schemes not taken for formal design review benefit from follow up letters or verbal advice from the Chair or Director of Design Review which are invaluable in assisting the City in formulating its own responses through the statutory planning process.

    3.  CABE's relationships with other national and local agencies—from City perspective we again have benefited from good joint working relations with CABE and North East English Heritage with ability to coordinate input from both, usually at the same meeting and this is again highly valued by developers and architects. This extends across all of CABE activities not just design review and we are currently benefiting from the Regional Design Champions programme put together by CABE in association with Northern Architecture and ONE North East. Northern Architecture are also benefiting from CABE's funding of their activities. As one of the first Pathfinder areas Newcastle Gateshead have been heavily involved with CABE—Enabling both here and in liaison with the other Pathfinder areas facilitated by CABE (including the Pilot Design Coding Projects with ODPM). The CABE local representatives appear at a wide range of regional training and CPD seminars which the City and neighbouring authorities benefit from.

    4.  With regard to the future role of the organisation the City Council simply wish to acknowledge the great benefit it has derived from the first five years of CABE's activities and are greatly encouraged by the continuity and innovation set out in the Corporate Strategy for 2004-07 "Transforming Neighbourhoods". The title encapsulates for us the direction and its relevance to the challenges facing us here in Newcastle.

    We are confident that urban design quality has improved markedly in the past 10 years in the City and a key factor to this achievement has been the support and advice of CABE since 1999. For that reason we are very keen that CABE continues its work and is supported by ODPM.

  I hope this is of use to the inquiry and look forward to a positive endorsement for CABE from the Committee's findings.

Steve Dunlop

Director of Enterprise, Environment and Culture

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