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

Memorandum by Manchester City Council (CAB 18)


  The City Council values the support that CABE has provided towards improving the design quality of buildings and spaces in Manchester. Design quality is a key issue within the way in which regeneration is delivered in the City. It is integral to quality of life and livability, contributing to achievement of maintaining and creating sustainable communities. CABE has a fundamental role in providing independent advice on design quality and the City Council wishes to take this opportunity to contribute to the evidence provided to the Committee.


  From the City Council's perspective, there are three key areas: design review; enabling; and skills.

  Work on design review must remain as being a fundamental part of CABE's role to drive-up design quality. The success of design review has much to do with the way in which it conducts its business. The "critical friend" approach rather than being adversarial encourages higher aspirations and improved design. It is essential that design review continues to perform this role.

  The enabling role is critical to increasing design quality especially for development in local areas where clients need more expert advice on the process and design issues for procuring and delivering successful schemes.

  CABE's influential role in driving-up the design quality needs to be complemented by creating and developing the skills of those who are directly involved in the design process, especially those who are responsible and/or accountable for the finished product. Training programmes are an essential part of CABE's work and have great value in establishing the skills base needed, throughout the country.

  Highlighting these three areas is not intended to devalue other priorities for CABE, but to reinforce those aspects that probably do most to help deliver design quality on the ground. As part of these priorities there is a clear need for CABE to be more involved in driving up design quality in development programmes led by Government Departments, notably health and education. This is an area where CABE might have been less successful although it is acknowledged that much depends on the responsiveness of the client department and the structures for delivery.


  The important role of design review has already been covered and this is largely an indication of the relevance of the criteria used in reviewing schemes; the consistency in applying the criteria; and choice of schemes reviewed. It is however assumed that CABE uses flexibility in its approach, for example, as the emphasis placed on the criteria when considering different schemes on the basis that "one size does not fit all." It would be wrong to expect CABE to be over-rigid in the application of criteria for reviewing schemes.


  The City Council has worked in partnership with CABE since its inception to establish and orchestrate the need for design quality in Manchester. This has included a number of events and, most recently, active participation in the review of the City Development Guide. We have a good relationship with CABE because of our mutual commitment to design quality and the way in which our organisations work constructively together.


  It is almost self-evident that CABE is adept at identifying themes for its work and this is a sign of an organisation which quite clearly demonstrates its understanding of how to direct its work.

  The City Council would wish to see CABE continuing to have a major national role in helping to deliver design quality for buildings and spaces. In this respect it is essential that CABE can engage positively with Government Departments to secure acceptance of design quality as a priority in, for example, the programme for "Building Schools for the Future" and Health developments.

  We fully endorse the theme of CABE's current corporate strategy, "transforming neighbourhoods". Within Manchester there are growing issues of the impact of new development in established areas, together with the challenge of creating almost new communities as part of the Housing Markets Renewal Pathfinders. We are confident that CABE can provide a welcome dimension to this work. Whilst their role with major schemes must feature prominently, it is essential that they can sometimes become involved in relatively smaller schemes in established areas, that can potentially impact negatively on the character of established neighbourhoods and their future sustainability. Although we have a good track record of refusals of planning permission on design grounds being upheld at appeal, we would often welcome the greater involvement of CABE, especially where English Heritage have no locus for involvement.


  The City Council positively endorses the role of CABE and is impressed with the way in which it has made a highly perceptible difference in both aspirations for, and the actual delivery of, quality design.

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Prepared 27 October 2004