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

Memorandum by Professor John Punter, Cardiff University: Commissioner of the Design Commission for Wales (CAB 15)


  1.1  I write these comments in two capacities. First as a Design Commissioner, and the Chair of the Design Review Panel, of the Design Commission for Wales. Second, as a Professor of Urban Design at Cardiff University, and the author of numerous papers and books on international planning and design practice and policy development over the last 20 years. As regards the Committee's terms of reference I refer to two issues, the work of the Design Review Panel (2a) and its relationship with other agencies (3).


  2.1  We in the design Commission for Wales have used CABE's Design Review publications to provide the structure of our design review process. While we have adapted these methods to fit our much smaller budget and staff complement, we have found CABE's lucid guidance and objective criteria invaluable both in establishing our practices and training our panellists. We have benefited from attending a CABE Design Review in July 2004, and from the contributions made by two CABE staff to a Panel training day earlier in the year. As a result of the former we have sharpened our reporting mechanisms and report writing. CABE's monitoring reports on design review (Design Reviewed), highlighting the major recurrent issues, are especially useful to the Panel in giving us a comparative base and preparing us for major challenges in the future. CABE also provide all their publications free to the Commission and the Design Review Panel and this is invaluable to training and professional development.

  2.2  Following CABE's experience, and with advice from the Design Review team, we have written new guidance on conflicts of interest and the Code of Conduct for Panellists.

  2.3  Overall, CABE has given us a flying start with the launch of Design Review and allowed us to rapidly establish credibility and a team of 19 Panellists working across the Principality. There is strong competition across the range of design professionals for places on the Panel. CABE have been supportive, and very generous with their expertise and resources.


  3.1  Those of us who have campaigned for a more design conscious planning system over the last 20 years regard CABE as an indispensable campaigning, research and policy/guidance agency. Its output of policy and research papers has been prodigious, and the accessibility of this work has been a boon to professional planners and designers, to students and their teachers, and to interested lay persons. Papers like The Value of Urban Design, Creating Successful Masterplans, The Value of Housing Design and Layout, Building in Context are now standard works that are both definitive in their arguments and bang up to date. Particular mention should be made of the work they have done to survey the skills available to local planning authorities, and their monitoring reports on practice like Protecting Design Quality in Planning. Then there are projects like Building for Life which highlight exemplar housing schemes across the country, and take forward the drive for more sustainable development and higher standards of living environments for all sections of the community. The website for this project is a great favourite of researchers and planning students, and has allowed us to show councillors what is possible with a determined approach to planning and design. CABE Space is another initiative of fundamental importance to the quality of our towns and cities.

  3.2  On five occasions in the last year (in Vancouver, Sydney, Kuching, Beijing and Shanghai) I was able to refer senior planners, designers and academics to the CABE website as a window on best practice urban design in England. They were all stunned at its breadth, depth and accessibility. It was a supreme pleasure, after having to apologise for British urban design practices for so long, to be able to show them that at last we had a resource and an agency capable of promoting best practice nationally and internationally. CABE is a world beater. There is no other equivalent national resource anywhere in the world. Its positive impact upon the education, training and continuous professional development of the nation's urban designers and design oriented planners has been incalculable, improving both their morale and their expertise.


  4.1  CABE has been an unqualified success in taking forward the cause of better architecture and urban design on all fronts. It is indispensable to the drive for more sustainable communities and a higher quality built environment in Britain. In five years it has transformed the campaigns for better building and development from a marginal issue into a key plank of government policy. CABE is a great English success story, and those of us with similar aspirations to CABE in Wales regard it with awe, and with a deep gratitude that we can fully share in its expertise and advances. We want it to continue its excellent work across all of its programmes, but particularly in design skills, design advice, design review, client support and procurement, Building for Life, CABESpace and design education.

Professor John Punter

School of City and Regional Planning

Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF10 3WA

Chair, Design Review, Design Commission for Wales,

Caspian Point, Cardiff Bay, CF10 4DQ

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Prepared 27 October 2004