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3.14 pm

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, on seizing the opportunity to bring forward this debate, which he has done in his usual attractive way. I am sure that I am the least expert person speaking in this debate, and I warn your Lordships of the danger of a criminal lawyer speaking about architecture. Nevertheless, even as a mere consumer of our increasingly built environment, I have an acute sense as a lay person that we are so cautious and so set in our ways in this country that we are desperately underusing the opportunities offered by a hugely imaginative architecture profession. Architects have the capacity to create and to enable us to enjoy the world’s finest and most environmentally sustainable buildings at every level and to a far greater extent than now.

My complaint is not about great public buildings and other large-scale structures. Some of those are being built to the highest possible quality. My concern is about the vernacular—about domestic and small business spaces in every population centre, down to villages and the rural countryside. Like the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in another place I represented a Welsh constituency. His was mainly urban; mine almost entirely rural. Wales provides a useful microcosm of the state and progress of architecture and of many other aspects of life. Wales has seen much new development in the past 25 years. There are some remarkable small contemporary buildings in Wales, but I doubt whether they could be counted on the fingers of more than four hands at the most.

Over the same period, cautious and defensive planning policy has led to an unremitting increase in mock-Victorian cottages, neo-Tudor townhouses and factory units that I would describe as post-nondescript. There has been a disease of bad architecture. The bungaloid growth has been like chicken pox over the countryside, while very good farm buildings that would have lent themselves to modernisation of the most dramatic and interesting kind have been left to go derelict. As a result, there are few housing developments, particularly in the private sector, anywhere in the United Kingdom using the best of modern materials and design.

The dwellings of today should be light, spacious, warm, efficient and sustainable. Too often they are the opposite. However, the housing association movement, in which the noble Lord, Lord Best, played such an important role for many years, has striven at least in some places for the kind of standards he described in this speech, but it is rare to find the same aspirations, and very rare to find the same achievements in the private sector.

Very few planning departments have the will or the funding to judge whether something different is good different or bad different. If it is different, you cannot have it—that seems to be the rule. That makes it all too easy for refuge to be taken in the tried-and-tested

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shelter, and the results are often disappointing. I reflect that very few of the finer houses, terraces and housing estates of Britain would have had a chance of being built in the current planning attitude.

In areas where land is still relatively cheap some people might well have the will to construct the equivalent of the small Georgian mansion. Yet I feel sure that most local planning officers would have shown Mr Palladio the door rather than even unfold the second copy of his plans. In most areas potential developers know that they would be wasting their money even to go to an architect, let alone to suggest a house or estate be built at the cutting edge of design and materials. Too often design comes from a catalogue rather than an imaginative catalyst. The entrenching of design in the planning system is recognised by Planning Policy Statement 1 of 2005. However, if one goes outside the sort of areas that the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, described, there seems to be little palpable change, resulting in architects, planning advisers and builders tending to play safe. Therefore, I support the conclusions of the Barker review of 2006 and the Callcutt review of 2007 that good design should be raised to a new level of first principle in planning applications.

CABE regional design review panels are beginning to have an impact and should continue to do so. However, it is now imperative that they should be rolled out to become available to every planning authority in the country, wherever it is and where most decisions are taken. The modern should not be messianic, nor should we presume the idealism of the pastiche. There is a real danger that what 70 years ago Osbert Lancaster described as “pelvis bay” is now being replaced by the horrors of “pastiche pastures”.

My other theme is the effort we make to showcase United Kingdom architecture at all levels abroad. There are, of course, some remarkable successes—we have heard of one today. British-designed buildings abound abroad—big, public buildings that will be iconic for centuries. However, in October 2006 I took the opportunity to visit the Architecture Biennale in Venice and the contrast between the British and German pavilions could not have been starker. The British pavilion was quite imaginative and moderately interesting. It made me determined to limit my number of visits to Sheffield during the next 12 months because it presented a depressing view of that city, despite being a pavilion that was community-based in its design.

The German pavilion, on the other hand, contained multiple mini-showcases of projects involving many architects on every scale and throughout Germany, including public buildings, hospitals, houses and a baker’s shop that I remember had been redesigned by an architect trained in the United Kingdom—a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The exhibition revealed what one observes in Germany—an enthusiasm, perhaps built on the enduring legacy of the Bauhaus, to embrace the new within and around the old. The Germans manage to do it at a micro level; why can’t we?

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By our reluctance to share that approach we sell ourselves short both at home and in the international arena. I hope that this debate will provide at least some encouragement to those who are prepared to regard vernacular architectural design as dynamic rather than historic. If 3 million homes are to be built, that means 3 million opportunities for good architecture.

3.22 pm

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on devising this debate, which could not be more timely, for the reasons he gives in the broad sweep of his powerful speech. I, too, want to speak about housing.

The buildings where we live are our first and constant cultural environment. We are all profoundly influenced by the design of our immediate surroundings, probably in ways that we are unconscious of and only realise when we stay in different architectures. There is no non-cultural building, but there are homes whose building style, whose architecture, is a life-enhancing culture and there are those which are not.

In the past we have put up a lot of those that are not life-enhancing. As my noble friend said, Lynsey Hanley delineates acutely the bleakness, corrosive social segregation and the resulting poverty of aspiration and easy move into crime—estate-linked identities which sink with the estate, created by the architecture of successive Governments’ housing policies. We need to remedy those estates and prevent their reappearance in Dalston, as elsewhere. We need to rehabilitate the attractive homes of earlier times, and we need to build new ones in very large numbers which lift the spirits and make wholesome communities easy to grow. And all must be done sustainably without unnecessary stress on the vulnerable atmosphere of our planet. This cannot be achieved without design and high-quality architecture. But it can be done.

Lynsey Hanley describes the rescue of Broadwater Farm. A few weeks ago I saw in Angell Town in Brixton the rehabilitation of exactly one of those estates, accompanied by new building, which created attractive, safe and affordable homes within a strong community, steered by residents’ own wishes. Nearly three-quarters of them said that they now felt safe, that they were satisfied with their new homes and that Angell Town was now a pleasant, friendly and attractive place to live. A few years ago, half of them knew a victim of crime and it was a deeply unpopular place to live.

However, this sort of thing is not yet the norm. For that we need a cultural lead—political leadership—to promote as widely as can be done that it is reasonable, natural and feasible for everyone to have a good built environment. To make this a norm, it must be mainstreamed. But design is invisible in many national policies. Why does the Audit Commission, jointly with the Housing Corporation, in last February’s report, Better Buys, on improving housing association procurement, make so little, in 54 pages, of design or architecture other than a nod to sustainability? The joint consultation by the Audit Commission and the services for social care, health, police, prisons, probation and education on how to

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assess service provision ignores design. Yet physical design can make all the difference about accessibility and about social integration.

What happens in schools? RIBA and CABE do good work on how to teach design and architecture as living subjects, but how widespread is the teaching that good design matters, that it can be chosen and that it must be available to the ordinary citizen? Where is the cultural champion in Whitehall whose task it is to promote attention to design? In the admirable plans for pensioner-friendly homes set out in Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods, developed by my noble friend the Minister, good design is implicit; but it could be made much more explicit. If all areas for regeneration have a holistic design focus like Sir Terry Farrell’s magnificent new plans for the Thames Gateway, developers will want to build in previously abandoned areas.

The private-sector review prudently set up by the Government last January does have it in its remit to look at “the quality of homes” converted and maintained by private landlords. Such quality standards would have to be monitored by local authorities. This brings us the role of the planning authorities and their support. One of their best supports is the CABE system of design champions; but fewer than 70 per cent of local authorities have them. As many noble Lords have said, there is an acknowledged lack of design capacity in planning authorities and they do not even have to consider design quality. This is perhaps the biggest area for structural change that the Government could look at.

We have a good national framework with Planning Policy Statement 3, but you normally find people with design skills on the bodies which choose plans for affordable housing in other European countries. This is not a requirement here. There are widely respected regional design review panels under CABE’s auspices, as we have heard, but they are only for major schemes, so it is hardly surprising that one-third of housing applications in the past five years was found to be substandard. The Barker Review of Land Use Planning and the Callcutt Review of Housebuilding Delivery recommended the systematic use of design review within the planning process. A national network of local panels, as described by the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Low, active from the beginning of the process, could make what are now wonderful exceptions, like the developments created by the social entrepreneur Presentation’s design guide, part of the ordinary course of events.

Everyone has a right to the well-being which can be induced by good design and architecture. We could do it once, with our pioneering garden cities and social housing copied all over the world. We have done it here and there since. We can do it again, for the many, not only the few, with our brilliant architects. Derek Walker, the architect of Milton Keynes, said:

We must own the design of that future now. Our new towns will be the gift of a better future, but first, design must be the Government’s big idea.

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3.30 pm

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I was enormously impressed with the comprehensive canter with which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, introduced this very interesting and timely debate. I want to take up one or two points that he made and which have been echoed by all participants, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, just now.

I want to put it in the form of a specific question to the Minister. I am doing it right at the front of my speech, in the hope that she has an opportunity to obtain a specific answer. It is simply this—what proportion of planning officers with responsibility for giving advice on development control issues have experience and expertise in three-dimensional design? In other words, how many planning decisions in the United Kingdom are based on trained and experienced architectural expertise? What is the trend? Is it getting better or worse?

The outcomes to which a number of noble Lords have referred, and which have been well documented by CABE, suggest that an awful lot of decisions have not been based on that sort of advice, so even the best of planning authorities cannot be expected to get the decisions right.

I am not a qualified architect, but worked with and for architects for more than a decade. I have a huge amount of respect for the profession. In the early 1970s, I was responsible for planning policy at the RIBA. I remember during that period sitting in the public seats in the Committee Room at the other end of this building and listening to the then Conservative Minister decide how to compromise on the allocation of planning powers between two levels of authority, as part of the local government reorganisation legislation of the 1970s.

Faced with the competing claims of counties and districts, he ignored the good biblical example of King Solomon and cut the planning baby right down the middle, with plan-making going to the higher authorities and plan implementation, through development control, going to the lower authorities. Through great areas of the country—wherever there was not a unitary authority—that split has had devastating effects, not least, of course, on the planning profession itself. The career prospects in the smaller development control authorities were very limited, while those in the higher plan-making authorities were necessarily conscribed, because they could not see what was going to happen in terms of implementation. Impermeable glass ceilings were appearing everywhere that those two levels of planning authority were installed.

In the three decades since, the situation has deteriorated further. It could be—and the Minister will be well aware of these issues—that the creation of new unitary authorities will give us a new opportunity to put that right. By bringing together planning expertise to fulfil both functions, we have a much better chance of a well-rounded expertise and experience, with all forms of specialist within one department, serving the community at large.

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As the noble Baroness knows, I welcome the fact that Cornwall will be one of the authorities able to do precisely that. Bringing together those responsibilities, so that implementation and plan-making are within the same departments—and councillors are well served by people involved with both—will be a great step forward. However, there is a long way to go, hence the importance of my question to the Minister. I hope, in particular, that she will be able to give us some indication of the trend over recent years.

Early in my time at RIBA, I was responsible for a project entitled “Long life/Loose fit/Low energy”. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, may even remember that; it was a long time ago—40 years ago. At the time, it needed some explanation. Today, I believe that it has come of age as it is now fairly obvious what it is all about. I believe that the profession has adjusted to those important criteria. I am not sure that the community at large or, in particular, clients have—whether in the house-building industry or anywhere else. We took as examples opposite extremes that clearly met the requirements of LL/LF/LE and those that equally blatantly did not. The Georgian terrace house was clearly a good example. With substantial load-bearing party walls but lightly constructed interiors, it might change its usage and character several times over the centuries, even through several decades: family home; business premises on the ground floor, perhaps with family use above; full use as office; doctor’s surgery; split neatly into flats; and even back to family homes again, as has been the case in more modern times. Indeed, it was fairly economic both to heat and insulate.

However, the contrast with what was being built as hospital or school buildings in the 1960s and 1970s was extraordinary. I remember a very distinguished architect who worked particularly with hospital buildings—Alex Gordon, president of the RIBA— explaining to me that, during the course of the design, planning and construction process for a major hospital building, which would take at least 10 years and sometimes longer, the consultants, each with an individual, not to say idiosyncratic view of medical and clinical necessity, would change the whole thing. There would therefore be major changes in the resulting design in just that period. The design brief and specification would change, each time at considerable cost. In his view, the only sensible way to plan for those sorts of buildings on a long-life, loose-fit, low-energy basis was to build a very basic shell. He thought that aircraft hangars were probably the best way to provide that shell, which the hospital management could fit out temporarily and cheaply and then move on with the next medical fad coming from the consultants.

Energy is obviously topical while the Climate Change Bill is going through your Lordships’ House. There has been great emphasis this afternoon on housebuilding, particularly the domestic residential sector. I shall emphasise the same. Of the UK's carbon emissions, 27 per cent are produced by the electricity, gas and oil used to heat, light and power our homes. This is twice as much carbon dioxide as our cars produce. Cutting greenhouse gases produced

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by our homes by 60 per cent, the Government’s target for 2050, would cut these emissions more than taking all cars—every single vehicle—off the road. If we had the same home efficiency levels as Sweden, the average householder, every single one of us, would save nearly £400 a year. Three-quarters of the housing stock to be used in 2050 has already been built. Just sorting out new build from now on will only make a fairly modest contribution to that target. These figures do not include other building types which will be just as important, if not more so. Nor do they take into account the energy currently used in traditional forms of material and construction usage. There are major issues to be addressed in that context.

Architects are fully immersed in these environmental issues throughout their training and career development. Energy use in construction materials and usage, quite apart from ecofriendly design for sustainable buildings over ever increasing lifetimes—we must hope—are wired into the architectural mindset from the very beginning. I know that RIBA now spends a great deal of effort ensuring that architects are doing excellent work on the low-carbon agenda throughout their careers. Sad to say, that will not be seen in many new buildings, especially in the speculative residential sector, to which much reference has been made in today’s debate, simply because no architects are involved in that process.

I am back to my original question, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be fully briefed by the time she rises to her feet. How many planners have the necessary expertise and experience to make this vital contribution to the quality of the design of our built environment? That is why this debate is so timely.

3.40 pm

Lord Crisp: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on securing this debate, particularly because I wanted to speak in his earlier debate on design and healthcare but was unable to do so. I declare an interest as a very part-time consultant with HLM Architects. I am a consultant on public policy issues, not architecture, and was going to claim, along with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the distinction of being the least experienced or knowledgeable person to speak in this debate. I speak, in part, on the basis of some years’ experience as chief executive of the NHS and Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health. I was, in some ways, a proxy client for some very substantial developments.

This may indeed be a golden age of architecture, but my starting point is to question whether architecture and its related professions always do enough to influence their clients and the public about the importance of good architecture and design and, indeed, to explain what it is. As lay people, we all carry around in our heads rather different versions of what high-quality architecture and design quality are. You might have wanted me to say “to educate” the public, rather than “to influence”, but I am not sure that this is education, which seems to me to be very one-way and top-down. Rather, this is to engage, demystify—as all professions need to do in this more

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democratic and information-rich age—explain, discuss and be more open to challenge. Let us engage with you, and influence.

After all, a lot of the discussion about quality and design can feel highly technical to the lay person. It is sometimes quite theoretical, often very sophisticated and, in appearance at least, pretty elitist. Our understanding, as lay people, is made more difficult by the fact that very few of us are involved in more than one major building project in our lives. We are always, or almost always, beginners. And, of course, what is contained in the terms used in this debate on “high-quality architecture” and “design quality” is very wide-ranging and open to disagreement and interpretation. The task that architects and designers have is not, by any means, easy. How do they reconcile all the different aspects such as the aesthetic, the spatial, the ease of use, the environmental, the social and the economic, to name a few, let alone the vast difference in viewpoints? No doubt it is largely about the balance between all these things, between the aesthetic and the utilitarian, the beautifully functional and the functionally beautiful, things that are fit for purpose, durable and a pleasure to use.

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