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

Memorandum by the British Property Federation (BPF) (CAB 26)


  1.  The British Property Federation (BPF) is the voice of property in the UK, representing companies owning, managing and investing in property. This includes a broad range of businesses comprising commercial property owners, the financial institutions owning and investing in property, corporate landlords, local private landlords, as well as all those professions that support the industry.

  2.  The property industry is a vital component of a successful economy. As an industry, commercial property contributes 5.6% of UK GDP, which makes it larger than the financial services industry and combined with residential property, the sector employs 2 million people. In 2001 net investment in productive property was £45 billion—30% of total investment in the UK.

  3.  Every day BPF members are making key contributions to the economic and social well-being of the UK. Our commercial members provide the workspace for business and fund the regeneration of our towns and cities. Our residential members focus on the private rented sector, providing housing choice to meet the needs of a mobile workforce, a prerequisite for achieving higher growth in our economy. And our investor members rely on the performance of £250 billion worth of investment in property to fund pensions. Just over 20% of commercial property in the UK is held by UK-based pension and insurance funds, meaning that most people in the UK have a stake in our industry as pension fund members.


  1.  The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has proven to be a powerful and successful body that has improved design quality throughout the country.

  2.  Worthy of particular praise are the Design Review Panels that provide a useful function. The expertise and experience of senior property professionals that make up these panels aid in bridging the skills deficit that exist within many Local Planning Authorities. Consequently, it is important these panels maintain their current level of experience and expertise.


  3.  CABE has achieved success predominantly in public sector projects, particularly in recognising the potential that good design can have in enabling and enhancing the environment for learning and recovery in schools and hospitals respectively. CABE are attempting to repeat their success in the private sector by commissioning research into the business case for better design, specifically looking at how design can impact on productivity and value.

  4.  This is a great opportunity for CABE to drive this debate forward, and help find definitive answers to questions that the best minds in the industry have been pondering for years, but we fear that this opening may be lost. Our concern is that the vast scale of this project could result in a lack of focus. This is not only the case in this project but the overall research wing of CABE. Too many research projects that are compelling in their importance end up fuzzy and vague. The key to any successful research work is that the remit does not get `set loose' and the goals at the start of the project are maintained throughout. Therefore we would like to see a shift away from quantity to a rigorous focus on quality, ensuring that the potential for CABE to really add value is not wasted.

  5.  At present there is an imbalance in the allocation of resources and the relative value of the Commission's functions. Too much time and money is spent on literature, and whilst this is by and large both attractive and informative, it does not carry the weight of the Design Review Panels. As stated above, if the number of research projects and publications were reduced to ensure a clear and concise message they would be more useful as a companion to the message and advice delivered by the Design Review Panels. CABE have commissioned focus groups etc. to determine how well their publications are received, the results of which do not appear to have been widely publicised. This begs the question; are they really considered to be helpful by the intended audiences? The BPF would like to see the inquiry look into this and recommend that the money invested in CABE is used in areas where it will, pound for pound, produce the most positive results.


  6.  The Design Review function of CABE is very important and useful, at present they are just a consultee, albeit a very influential one. Local Authorities are not bound to adhere to their decisions but more often than not they do, and as a result the Design Review Panels are fast becoming a planning hurdle over which there is no appeal. The property industry is anxious that although CABE does not have the statutory power to stop a scheme, their opinion is being treated as definitive and rigid adherence to it causes delays to projects.

  7.  As the remit of the Design Review Panels, and CABE in general, is to assess the quality of design, there is an inherent danger that individuals with influence that prefer one school of architecture over another could help create an architectural orthodoxy. It is important that decisions on the formation of CABE's policies, specifically on more contestable concepts such as aesthetic quality, are transparent and that decision about specific developments from the Design Review Panels clearly follow these policies.

  8.  It is this additional risk that CABE can add to the complex process of development that needs to be kept to a minimum. This can only be achieved by clearly defining the role of CABE and the Design Review Panels. Questions that should be considered by the inquiry as a means of achieving this are;

    —  What are CABE to be consulted on?

    —  When are CABE to be consulted?

    —  How can CABE's policy formation be more transparent?

    —  How can it be assured that one school of architecture will not dominate the Commission's thinking on what constitutes `good design'?

    —  What means should developers and Local Authorities have for appealing the decisions of the Design Review Panels?

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Prepared 27 October 2004