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

Memorandum by the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) (CAB 24)


  SEEDA recognises the importance of CABE as a key partner in the delivery of our Urban Renaissance agenda. Many of our urban renaissance activities and initiatives are closely aligned with the aims of CABE.

  Our relationship with CABE is one of collaboration. We jointly support the emerging infrastructure for design advice and guidance in the region and the SE Regional Design Panel has developed in a way that complements CABE's Design Review process. The Kent Architecture Centre (KAC) is recognised by CABE as one of the stronger of the national network of centres and is playing a key role in delivering these initiatives. Barry Shaw, Chief Executive of the KAC is a CABE Enabler. Another shared initiative is a regional schools based education programme (Shaping Places) which is supported by SEEDA, CABE and the Arts Council England, South East. Another example of our close working is on the CABE Regional Committee on which Paul Hudson, SEEDA's Director of Development and Infrastructure sits.

  Overall, CABE are exemplary in providing information to SEEDA as a regional partner for example in the recent business plan establishing CABE's priorities especially for housing quality which SEEDA strongly supports. We would however welcome better indicators of the urban renaissance which we can then use to measure performance regionally.

  CABE has developed a range of national guidance documents and examples of good practice. SEEDA promotes these and has focussed on embedding guidance in regional practice through demonstrating practical application and encouraging wider understanding and use.

  There is a close relationship between SEEDA's activities and CABE's and that can lead to some confusion within the region. We would welcome the opportunity to develop our links more closely, to clarify our respective roles—for example on the role of the Design Panel and our own Regional Panel, SEEDA's Regional Design Champions Club and the Oxfordshire Design Champions Club developed with CABE, and also to identify further opportunities for joint collaboration.

  We believe that this is an exciting agenda for the region and that much can be achieved through collaboration between SEEDA and CABE.


(i)   CABE's overall priorities for investment and development

  One NorthEast supports CABE's overall priorities for investment and development. Greater emphasis on engaging with non-professionals would however be welcomed.

(ii)   The work of its design review panel in terms of:

    (a)  the criteria used in reviewing schemes;

    One NorthEast believes the criteria used in reviewing schemes could be articulated more clearly. A common misconception is that the panel's remit does not extend beyond aesthetic appreciation.

    (b)  the consistency in the application of the criteria;

    One NorthEast is unable to comment.

    (c)  the choice of schemes reviewed;

    The mix of schemes reviewed is considered to be balanced and appropriate in terms of scale, type and general geographical spread. The stage at which CABE reviews schemes, typically a pre-planning stage (RIBA Stage C), does however mean that projects are often well advanced before comments are made. One NorthEast sees value in including gateway reviews as part of the review process, ie at the visioning, brief writing and design team procurement stage, and is applying this to projects it funds.

(iii)   CABE's relationships with other national and local agencies

  One NorthEast has a good working relationship with CABE, particularly with its regional representatives. The regional programme of activity aimed at increasing design aspirations, skills and quality has been developed with the regional representatives who are also actively involved in its delivery.

  On occasion One NorthEast has experienced a lack of clarity and consistency between CABE nationally and its regional representatives. Objectives and priorities can differ with sometimes conflicting messages received from the two. Greater understanding and consistency between the two would be welcomed.

  Clarity over CABE's regional funding strategy and the relationship between recipients would be welcomed. There is a need to act corporately within the region to optimise resources, activity and impact. In particular, all those who speak for architecture in the region need to be networked and on message to promote clarity to other stakeholders.

(iv)   The future role for the organisation

  One NorthEast believes that CABE continues to have an important role to play as the national design champion. Existing overall objectives and priorities remain valid and should continue to be pursued.Recent work on promoting delivery at the regional level is welcomed and should continue ie regional design review panels and design champion networks. Systems are required to ensure knowledge and experience within the regions is harnessed and shared. Best practice advice generated by CABE is invaluable and should continue to grow and be refreshed. The research programme could be more open, responsive to trends and issues facing regional and local agencies.One NorthEast believes that greater cognisance is required of the conditions and dynamics affecting more marginal/difficult areas of the country (away from the "hot spots"). Further specific measures/advice from CABE would be welcomed.


  RENEW, the North West Centre for Regeneration Excellence is working closely and increasingly effectively with CABE in the North West. We welcome their increasing focus on regional activity, in particular their two year design project in association with ELEVATE, the East Lancashire Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder, and their proposed design project for Liverpool in the run up to the City of Culture in 2008. We are also working with CABE on a project to support local authority design champions in the region and, jointly with the NWDA Head of Built Environment, have begun to develop proposals for architecture centres and for design review. We look forward to further developing our relationship and to seeing CABE's regional focus strengthen in the future.


(i)   CABE's overall priorities for investment and development

  CABE's priorities to 2005-06 as set out in their Corporate Strategy were extremely challenging given the level of funding that the organisation has. At the same time it has been developing new products and doubled the size of its organisation structure.

(ii)   The work of its design review panels

  We have had no direct involvement with the work of their review panels, however, in examining this region's requirements for design review panels CABE has been extremely helpful with offers of advice and support.

(iii)   CABE's relationships with other national and local agencies

  Advantage West Midlands has an extremely good relationship with the three CABE Regional Reps operating in the region. Crucially, this has extended to greater central influence through representation at CABE Regional Reps/AWM quarterly meetings by CABE's HQ staff. Since the appointment of the Head of Regions, our relationships with CABE have been much more productive and it is felt that CABE is a real "resource". However, the value of the Regional Reps role is undermined by the limited time/resource commitment they are able to give (40 days per year between them). Whilst this is a very effective structure, and one which as an Agency we have fully relied upon in the region (particularly in the last 18 months or so), this resource is severely overstretched and requires strengthening. In particular, in connection with the developing Architecture Centres in the Region, CABE's HQ has been extremely supportive in financial and human resource terms. They also have a regional presence established at Board level with the Regeneration Centre of Excellence (REGENWM). This closer joint working has been very important to us and building this relationship has meant that CABE are less and less being seen as a central organisation parachuting in on a particular initiative or policy area. There is still some distance to travel on this but it is certainly much more influential regionally, engaging with stakeholders through regional structures. However, forward planning with regional partners would be extremely helpful. This comment emanates from the expediency requirements of invitations to bid by "local partners" to CABE initiatives. This does put local organisations under extreme pressure for often limited financial returns as invariably initiatives are oversubscribed. Whilst it is acknowledged that this increasing level of disappointment is directly related to funding available to CABE, it is something that needs to be carefully monitored if CABE is not to lose credibility by using this process.

  Publications—The quality of CABE's publications is excellent, however, organisations are somewhat besieged by them and closer regional hands on support to ensure effective implementation of the recommendations in the reports would be helpful.

(iv)   The future role for the organisation

  The organisation should continue to consolidate the work it has undertaken in the last 18 months through a period of enormous growth and organisational change. Its work with regional partners should continue to develop as these key links have (for Advantage West Midlands) proved to be extremely valuable. Strengthening the regional network of support is key as this resource punches well above its weight and closer central/regional working should increase the opportunities for additional funding resource. Links and interaction with the private sector should also be a key target—again using regional frameworks to enhance buy-in and local influence.


  The post of Regional Design Action Manager within EEDA is 50% funded by CABE. The incumbent was appointed in April 2004 and already the post has enabled the close working relationship between EEDA and CABE to be developed further, so that design/built environment issues can be fully integrated within EEDA's work and processes, and to give CABE a stronger regional presence. Activities are focused on raising design quality in development and regeneration in the region giving particular attention to the areas of housing growth. EEDA and CABE are cooperating on some specific projects:

    —  A Design Task Group focusing initially on Masterplanning for the emerging URCs.

    —  A series of events to raise design issues in Thames Gateway South Essex.

    —  Establishment of a Regional Design Champions Network.

    —  A Regional Design Review Panel.

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