Memorandum by The Royal Academy of Engineering
1.1 The credibility of the Royal Fine Arts
Commission (RFAC) was underpinned by the distinction of and regard
for its Commissioners, such that opinions expressed by them were
deemed to be weighty and worthy of application. The choice of
Sir Stuart Lipton as the first chairman of CABE, following its
evolution from the Royal Fine Arts Commission, was inspired. Respected
as a man of the highest integrity, who cares deeply about the
quality of our built environment, he has a no nonsense approach
to design and construction. His departure from the role, on the
grounds of conflicting interests, raises some difficult issues.
It is probable that any person of distinction in the Construction
Industry will have potential conflicts of interest unless one
can persuade someone in the twilight of their career to take on
what has now become a very demanding task. Identifying a new Chairman
who is sufficiently distinguished and who has or has been involved
with architecture/construction/the built environment will be a
1.2 CABE has widened its horizons beyond
those of the RFAC and has greater staff numbers dealing with a
much larger workload. Nevertheless, its influence will be enhanced
by the credibility and quality of opinions expressed. It is important
to recruit people of the highest calibre to its staff but the
standing of the Commissioners, be they engineers, architects,
quantity surveyors, developers or others deemed competent to take
part in its deliberations, should be of the highest level. Equally,
to be asked to become a Commissioner should be regarded as a great
1.3 The answers to the Committee's questions
which are presented below are based on replies received from Fellows
of The Royal Academy of Engineering with knowledge of CABE and
2. CABE'S OVERALL
2.1 This is believed to be correct. There
is a tendency, however, to take on too much. The big issues that
they are grappling with have so many interdependencies and interested
parties that nothing is ever straightforward.
3. THE WORK
3.1(a) the criteria used in reviewing
It has been stated that the system worked rather
like a high level critique session so there were never really
any stated criteriathis may be part of the problem.
3.2(b) the consistency in the application
of the criteria
A lack of continuity in the membership/attendees
leads inevitably to differing responses, but with such subjective
issues it is hard to avoid this situation. However, the opinion
is that the responses tended to be consistent: good design was
recognised and praised and the less good was not.
3.3(c) the choice of schemes reviewed
This sometimes appeared random, but seemed to
embrace a good mix of high profile and less high profile proposals.
In recent years there has been a greater proportion of schemes
from outside London.
4. CABE'S RELATIONSHIPS
4.1 Our track record in reconstructing our
cities in socially, environmentally and architecturally friendly
ways has been pretty abysmal since WW2. Urban places and spaces
are created by the buildings, parks and streets which make up
our cities and for which applications are made to the hundreds
of planning authorities throughout the country year in and year
out. CABE appears to work hard to help direct planners and work
diplomatically with people like English Heritage, but they are
not afraid to challenge opinions and decisions.
4.2 The establishment of "mini-CABEs"
at local government level could go some way to assisting planning
authorities in urban regeneration. Planners do their best, but
their role is to ensure that planning laws are adhered to, and
not to act as arbiters on spatial and architectural matters. Advice
from CABE-like local groups, drawn where possible from local residents,
could provide useful guidance to Planning Committees. The extent
to which local government is encouraged to consult CABE is not
known. Guidelines would be useful.
4.3 CABE has provided the Housing Corporation
with review, advice and assistance services for selected projects.
CABE's involvement was sought to improve the quality, across the
design, the construction and the operation of its investments
in new homes, and also its improvements to older properties. The
work was most useful, being influential without being destructive.
The quality of the selected projects has benefited significantly.
Continuation of CABE's support to the raising of the quality of
social housing will be important in its own right and in securing
5. THE FUTURE
5.1 CABE needs to be much more involved
at the level of more complex and strategic systems (masterplans,
cities, regions, countries, big environmental issues). This will
demand a different set of skills to the architect-centric current
constituency of Commissioners. Engineers ought to be able to step-up
to lead this. CABE ought to be a sounding board for a coherent
approach country-wide (albeit with local flavours). They should
form the basis for Government White Papers on the built environment.
They also need to be much more knowledgeable about issues of transport,
energy, waste, health and the contribution of all these to the
5.2 Education, particularly for the young,
on matters concerning the built environment is immensely important.
There is increasing evidence that the quality of urban places
and spaces affects our lives profoundly both mentally and physically.
There were and still are initiatives which seek to expose the
young to matters concerning the built environment and to create
a sense of awareness for some of the issues involved. These initiatives
need co-ordination and cohesion. Some official body should do
this but whether or not CABE is best placed to play this role
is doubtful. Its role should be viewed in the light of its other
5.3 It is hoped that CABE continues to drive
through improvements in design standards and that it extends its
influence further into issues of sustainability and sustainable
development. The new CABE model should not attempt to put distance
between itself and the design professions for reasons of apparent
impartiality. This would sacrifice CABE's proven telling contribution
and consistency for a design-lightweight body, in the name of
5.4 CABE should be accountable but bodies
like CABE have a developing culture and a position on matters
of importance. Not everyone will agree with them but that in itself
is not a reason to clip its wings. No matter how gifted the design
reviewers, the panel's views can only be a snapshot based on limited
insight and should only carry a consequentially small weight.
It is thought better to deal at a regional/local level with CABE
dealing with strategy for the local panels.
6.1 The key to CABE's success is knowledge.
All of the design reviewers and commissioners have been practitioners.
What must be avoided is a cliquey RFAC Mk2, a committee with power
but without the knowledge to wield it, or a body made up of theorists
who do not understand the real world of building (or the real
world full stop).
6.2 CABE needs continuing strong, practical
leadership. So far, it has earned the respect of most design professionals
who feel they are being judged by their (expert) peers. This would
be lost if the Commission became a vetting agency (many of those
reviewed are expert at paying lip-service, passing an exam, saying
what is wanted and then doing something else and the Commission
must be able to see through the smoke and mirrors).
6.3 In summary, CABE has made a great start.
It has been commented that it has been a pleasure to work with
them even though there was not always agreement. Their approach
is conversational, not confrontational, and long may this continue.
Mr B G Doble
Mr P Greenish
The Royal Academy of Engineering
29 Great Peter Street
Westminster SW1P 3LW