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

Memorandum by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) (CAB 33)


  The purpose of this memorandum is to provide the Committee with information to assist its inquiry into CABE. The memorandum consists of:

    —  Introduction; giving background information on the origins of CABE and a general outline of its activities and the composition of its Board, including:

—  CABE's advice

—  Design Review

—  Enabling

—  Policy

—  Research

—  Regions

—  Skills

—  Education

—  Space

    —  CABE's overall priorities for investment and development, including CABE's funding

    —  The future role for CABE

    —  Conclusion.

  Our conclusion is that CABE is a successful body with a good future before it, and our confidence in its abilities is demonstrated by current proposals to put CABE on a statutory basis through the Clean Neighbourhoods Bill.


  1.  The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) is an executive Non-Departmental Public Body set up by DCMS in September 1999 as the national champion for high quality buildings, places and spaces. CABE succeeded the Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC), and has a wider remit than the RFAC as a champion for architecture.

  2.  CABE was established in response to the Government's 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review that concluded that efficiency and effectiveness benefits would be gained from a series of structural changes to the way the Government provides funding and support to culture, media and sport. One of these structural changes included the "creation of a new national body with additional funding to champion architecture, taking on the Royal Fine Art Commission's current design review role, and the Arts Council's granted programme for architecture, but having a wider role than either existing body" (The Department's Spending Review and Response—A New Cultural Framework, December 1998).

  3.  DCMS acts as the principal sponsor department for CABE, which was set up as a company limited by guarantee. It may have up to 16 Board members or Commissioners, including a Chairman, who are appointed in accordance with the rules of the Commissioner for Public Appointments by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Since ODPM became a joint funder of CABE in 2003, appointments are made in consultation with the Deputy Prime Minister.

  4.  The current complement of CABE's Board is 14 Commissioners. DCMS is currently recruiting two new Commissioners, including a Chairman following the departure in July of the first Chairman, Sir Stuart Lipton. The new Commissioners will be announced in due course when they have been appointed.

  5.  CABE's purpose is to provide an independent voice to stimulate debate and promote the very best of architecture and urban design. Its function is to promote high standards in the design of buildings and the spaces between them, and to help and offer advice to all of those who create, manage and use the built environment. CABE seeks to achieve its aims through a range of programmes and activities. These are described below.


  6.  It is not mandatory for CABE's opinions to be acted upon. In its Design Review work, it provides advice to planning authorities in the capacity of a "non-statutory consultee" within the planning process. A letter from DETR to local planning authorities of 15 May 2001 (published on ODPM's website sets out the circumstances in which CABE should be consulted about planning applications. CABE's opinions remain advisory; decisions are left to the planning authorities, who can choose not to follow CABE's advice.


  7.  Design Review forms a key role in achieving CABE's objectives. During 2003-04 over 600 schemes were referred to CABE in its capacity as a non-statutory consultee within the planning process in England. CABE offered advice on 480 of these schemes, a 25% increase on the previous year. The aim of the of the Design Review programme's work is to help create buildings and places which, regardless of their style, work better, feel better, and look better.

  7.1  Design Review reviews proposals that are referred in accordance with the criteria described in the DETR letter of 15 May 2001, which are generally ones that will have a significant impact on their environment. The Design Review Committee (DRC), a sub-committee of CABE, offers free advice to planning authorities and others on the design of selected development projects in England. It is interested not only in big and strategic projects, but also those which will have a significant impact at a more local level, or for, example, set standards for future development. At any given meeting projects are reviewed by six to eight committee members (from a panel of 24), together with members of the Commission itself. CABE Commissioner Les Sparks currently chairs the Committee. The intention is that Committee members should be distinguished practitioners in a range of disciplines: architects, landscape architects, artists, engineers, urban designers, property developers and others. CABE has just advertised for new members of the DRC.

  7.2  There are three tiers to the work of Design Review. Significant projects are considered by the DRC. The DRC normally meets monthly and this is the only aspect of Design Review that involves people attending from outside CABE. Schemes in the next tier are reviewed in what is known as a "pin-up meeting". This meeting is held fortnightly and is under the direction of the Chair of Design Review with other Design Review panel members and CABE officers in attendance. The third tier of reviews is undertaken at a weekly meeting with the Chair of Design Review and CABE officers. The criteria that are applied to determine whether a scheme should be seen by the DRC, pin-up, or weekly meetings follows general principles such as size, location and type of scheme and whether the scheme could be perceived as novel or contentious.

  7.3  CABE may be made aware of projects through a formal consultation by a planning authority after a planning application has been submitted. However, CABE strongly encourage pre-application discussion, and most projects seen by DRC are reviewed before an application is submitted. CABE are equally happy to be approached by the local authority, or directly by the developer or client or their consultants. Increasingly, CABE is approached directly by applicants at the early stages of a project and asks planning authorities to encourage this. Since CABE's advice usually concerns broad issues of design strategy it is likely to be of most value at an early stage while design issues are still fluid. The fact that pre-planning consultation is confidential allows any reservations to be aired privately and overcome before a project goes public.

  7.4  CABE's Design Review programme has a finite capacity and it is not able to offer advice on all of the projects about which it is consulted. CABE does prioritise cases where there is a direct and explicit approach from an applicant or planning authority which makes clear that its advice is actively being sought. The DRC also undertakes thematic design audits of particular types of development, for example high-density housing projects.


  8.  Through its Enabling programme, CABE provides support to a wide range of public and private organisations. The Enabling programme offers advice to clients who aspire to quality but would welcome technical assistance on matters such as brief development, or choice of procurement route. The programme aims particularly to enable schemes where good design can help counter social exclusion, for example by enhancing service delivery or providing uplifting architecture in a deprived area. The programme's work is diverse and has included involvement in the design and development of early years learning facilities, local authority-led regeneration projects and some private sector-led developments. CABE is also involved in a number of central government programmes which relate to capital spend on new facilities.


  9.  CABE aims to help public bodies towards improved performance as a commissioner of major building projects, so that public buildings become beacons of design quality. CABE has had extensive and constructive discussions with a range of Government departments and agencies, particularly in the health and education sectors. In this regard CABE has established excellent links with the Office of Government Commerce (OGC). In October 2002 CABE and the OGC published the joint report Improving Standards of Design in the Procurement of Public Buildings, which sets out a list of recommendations to ensure further improvement in the design quality of building and infrastructure projects procured by the public sector.

  9.1  This report is linked to the Better Public Buildings Initiative, managed by CABE and DCMS. The Better Public Buildings Initiative aims to encourage the adoption of quality design principles in all new buildings, regardless of size and cost. Significant progress has been made over the last four years. Each Department now has a minister and senior official charged with championing design on projects delivered centrally and by agencies. Design Champions have been appointed in local authorities, Local Educational Authorities, healthcare trusts, housing associations and Regional Development Agencies. A wide range of practical guidance has been published to support the initiative, including Better Public Libraries.

  9.2  Established in 2001, the Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award celebrates schemes that build a better life for the public. The PM's Award is a special category within the British Construction Industry Awards (BCIA). It is jointly sponsored by CABE and the OGC, and it is administered by CABE. The Award has gone from strength to strength, with the numbers of applicants almost doubling in 2004 (from 70 to 137). The winners, including The Learning Centre in Bristol and Bournemouth Library, clearly demonstrate how public buildings can contribute directly to the social, economic and physical regeneration of our towns, cities and neighbourhoods.


  10.  CABE is developing a research capability to underpin its policy work and provide evidence of the wider socio-economic benefits of good architecture and urban design.


  11.  This programme works to ensure that CABE's activity is responsive and relevant to local issues in different parts of the country. In 2003-04 CABE's Regional Development Fund has awarded £2 million to 17 architecture and built environment centres across England.


  12.  This is a new CABE unit within the Learning and Development Directorate which exists to build capacity and competence across the full range of professions and agencies that change and manage the public realm. CABE Skills has been created to tackle the acknowledged skills deficit in the built environment sector. CABE Skills priorities for 2004-05 include, working with ODPM and other strategic and local partners to establish a long-term national skills development programme in urban design and development; encouraging greater representation of women, black and minority ethnic groups and disabled people in the built environment professions; enhancing skills and knowledge concerned with improving green spaces.


  13.  Launched in October 2003, CABE Education aims to make sure that young people are aware of the value of well designed buildings and spaces. CABE Education has started to make a significant impact to young people's education, building an education network with almost 900 individual members and producing educational resources for every age group from Key Stage 2 to A' Level. CABE has also supported and extended a network of 17 architecture and built environment centres around the country, engaged in community participation, young people's education, project advice and skills development.


  14.  CABE Space aims to bring excellence to the design and management of public spaces in our towns and cities. Through CABE Space, CABE is centrally involved in supporting the delivery of the Government's "Cleaner Safer Greener" campaign and the promotion of the Liveability agenda. This is done by helping local authorities improve the quality of parks and public spaces and their management and maintenance, and by encouraging the involvement of local communities.

Cabe's Overall Priorities for Investment and Development

  15.  Over the past five years CABE has grown in size. It has succeeded in raising the profile of high quality design in the built environment and has placed high quality architecture and urban design on the agenda right across central government. The formalisation of ODPM's joint funding after the 2002 Spending Review has led to the creation of CABE Space, and is an indication of how CABE's achievements have been widely recognised in Government.

  16.  The Sustainable Communities Plan published in February 2003 by ODPM, set out a role for CABE in raising the quality of communities through earlier and better attention to design and urban design. Therefore in support of the delivery of the Sustainable Communities Plan ODPM jointly funds CABE with DCMS by way of grant under Section 126 of the 1996 Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act, and under Section 153 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.


  17.  The table below gives details of CABE's DCMS and ODPM grant funding from 2000-01 to 2005-06:
2000-012001-02 2002-032003-04 2004-052005-06*
DCMS£1.3 million £1.53 million£3.53 million £3.53 million£4.03 million £4.53 million
ODPM £0.71 million£7.35 million £6 million£6 million

*Provisional figures

  18.  CABE has a three year funding agreement with DCMS for 2003-04 to 2005-06. CABE also has a separate funding agreement with ODPM for 2004-05. CABE's funding agreement with DCMS was drafted to reflect its departmental strategic priorities of Children and Young People, Community, Economy and Delivery. It contains key strategic outcomes reflected in a series of targets and milestones, and supported by risk management analysis and an agreed process of review and evaluation. The targets are challenging and linked to DCMS and ODPM objectives. CABE's strategic outcomes, linked to DCMS's strategic priorities are:

    (i)  Children and young people—Enhancing access to a fuller cultural and sporting life for children and young people and giving them the opportunity to develop their talents in full;

    CABE Strategic Outcome: To ensure that all schools and further education colleges have access to built environment teaching materials that can be readily used within the national curriculum.

    (ii)  The wider community—Opening up our institutions to the wider community to promote lifelong learning and social cohesion

    This priority is shared with ODPM.

    CABE Strategic Outcome: To give people the opportunity to become more involved in the design and management of public green space, including parks and play areas, and to drive up management standards.

    (iii)  The economy—maximizing the contribution which tourism and the creative industries can make to the economy;

    This priority is shared with ODPM

    CABE Strategic Outcome: To develop a clear structure for professionals responsible for the built environment to develop their skills to respond to the public's desire for higher quality buildings and spaces.

    (iv)  Delivery—modernising delivery by ensuring our sponsored bodies set, and meet targets which put the customer first.

    CABE Strategic Outcome: To be confident that all new schools and new health-care buildings are being purchased on a true best value basis, that prioritises quality as well as price.

  (Further information on CABE's strategic outcomes, targets and milestones are contained in the 2003-04 to 2005-06 DCMS/CABE Funding Agreeement. Details of CABE's performance against its targets is given in its Annual Report and Accounts 2004.)


  19.  In August CABE published "Transforming Neighbourhoods", its new Corporate Strategy for 2004-07. This sets out its vision of what it will have achieved by 2010, its priorities, and how it will evaluate its performance. When its 2004 Spending Review grant in aid allocations are known for 2005-08 later this year, DCMS will prepare a new funding agreement with CABE. This will cover the financial years 2005-08, and will set out revised key outcomes and a new series of targets and milestones against which CABE's progress will be assessed.

  20.  In March 2004 DCMS, recognising that there were perceptions of conflict of interest attached to the work of CABE and wishing to preserve public confidence in CABE, asked AHL Ltd to undertake an independent audit. AHL examined CABE's compliance with the Nolan Principles, the commercial interests of the Chairman, the commercial relationship between him and the Commissoners, and the way in which conflicts of interest are disclosed and managed. In June the AHL report into conflict of interest issues at CABE was published (available under "Publications" at The report noted that CABE had taken reasonable steps to ensure that it complies with Nolan Principles, but pointed to areas where procedures could be enhanced to protect the public perception of CABE's impartiality. It made 28 recommendations relating to the application of the Nolan principles and to the improvement of procedures for managing conflicts of interest (including perceived and potential conflicts). All the recommendations of the AHL report were accepted by DCMS Ministers, and most of them have now been or will shortly be implemented by DCMS and CABE.


  21.  As regards CABE's status, it was always the intention to put CABE on a statutory footing and this would have been achieved by the Culture and Recreation Bill had it finished its Parliamentary passage before the 2001 general election. However, another opportunity has arisen because of the proposed Clean Neighbourhoods Bill, about which DEFRA has recently consulted the public ("Clean Neighbourhoods", July 2004). If the Clean Neighbourhoods Bill goes ahead, it is expected to complete its Parliamentary passage in early 2005. This acknowledges DCMS's confidence in CABE's future.

  22.  CABE has established a reputation for being a dynamic, confident and authoritative organisation. This reputation is due to the considerable range of expertise and talent CABE has at its disposal. CABE's Commissioners and staff comprise highly experienced professionals and specialists with wide ranging interests in the built environment. CABE's stakeholder review in 2004 identified that CABE is recognised as a positive, innovative and motivated organisation, with Design Review and Enabling being particularly well received by respondents.

    —  86% of clients who had submitted a scheme to Design Review Committee said they found the process useful and 77% had altered their design in the light of comments made by CABE.

    —  75% of clients who had worked with a CABE Enabler believe that this assistance will mean they have a higher quality building or project at the end of the process.

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