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

Memorandum by the Design Commission for Wales (CAB 23)

  I write this submission in my capacity as chief executive officer of the recently established Design Commission for Wales, an organisation with a similar role in Wales to that of CABE in England.

  1.  The contribution to enhanced quality in the built environment made by CABE has been enormous. Greater awareness of the issues and direct public benefits, as well as improved practice in the public and private sectors, design and construction industries are significantly strengthened as a result of CABE's presence.

  2.  The Design Commission for Wales has been assisted in its early years by the team at CABE from the Executive and Board all the way along the team. I have personally spent time alongside CABE directors and teams, willing to share the experiences and lessons of their first five years. Consistency, continuity and constant evaluation lie at the heart of the organisation and are reflected in its structure and operations at strategic and programme levels. Observing this structure has helped the Commission consider its own structure and the means by which it may operate as it grows and we have much to thank CABE for in this process.

  CABE's advice, through its Design Review Service, has provided clients, design teams and development professionals with consistent and authoritative comment, contributing to more improved schemes and driving practice standards upwards. Increasingly, the review is for many professionals viewed seriously and forms part of the preparation for, or development of an application for planning permission.

  My team and I have observed a Design Review meeting. Peter Stewart's team and the review panel welcomed us earlier this year and we witnessed an impeccable process. The evident expertise of the panel and their discipline was exemplary as each deployed their skills toward constructive enquiry and debate.

  3.  The consistency of language used and the solid research base from which CABE works means that its publications are immensely valuable to the architectural, urban design and development sectors. The Design Commission for Wales has benefited by being given access to these publications and to team members willing to help us make the case in Wales at a time when we have the greatest opportunity. The CABE website also provides a huge resource and is an exemplar in terms of openness and access to information; is easily accessible and is a resource to which we often point practitioners and policy makers alike.

  4.  Perhaps CABE's most important role lies in its ability to significantly reduce the gap in provision for design education and the development of professional skills in the built environment field. CABE has prioritised these issues and put both on the public agenda by being bold enough to admit that there is a problem, raise awareness and call for greater debate. The skills deficit in the built environment field is cavernous and must be addressed.

  5.  At a European level (and in broader international terms) the UK remains behind in the field of urban design and built environment expertise and this is reflected in the still poor quality of many developments, public buildings and spaces. Where there is evidence of improvement there is also the hand of CABE whether present in the work done through Enabling or simply the research, identification and celebration of best practice such as the Building for Life project.

  There are many "bodies" assigned national or international roles and many that are charged by government with a variety of tasks. There are few that can demonstrate the quality and consistency embodied in CABE. The scale of the task falling at the feet of CABE and indeed of the Commission here in Wales is vast. The Design Commission for Wales fully supports CABE's role and its continuance as a key agent in the drive for sustainable development in all its forms and improved quality in the built environment.

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