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One aspect of high-quality architecture is the functionality of buildings. I know the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and others in his recent debate talked about the importance of creating a healing environment within hospitals and other health facilities. They drew attention to research which shows that there are real, tangible benefits in terms of faster healing, less stress for staff, and patients in mental health establishments having fewer episodes of aggression. This is clearly a vital function of a healthcare building that should be in the design from the outset, but often is not. This point needs much more attention and, in turn, perhaps, more research so that we understand more fully how it works.
I do not want to replay that earlier debate, but rather to pick up on a different aspect of architecture and design that very strongly needs, in the words of this debate, to be encouraged; that is, the social aspect. I am indebted to colleagues at HLM, Chris Liddle and Les Welch, for helping me to understand how big a part social and community function and impact can and should play in high-quality architecture and design quality. This is not only about the social or community role that the building may have as a school or, indeed, a hospital, or about the contribution that the development may makeor, as my noble friend Lord Low has said, may not maketo social and economic regeneration. These are both massive. It is also about breaking down barriers of all sorts, such as the barriers between the community and the development. How integrated, how user-friendly is it?
It is also about breaking down barriers within the community itself. Let me illustrate this last point. We increasingly understand that there are good health and educational reasons for making better links between health and education facilities. Physical activity, diet, surveillance, mental health and health education all have a part to play in both areas. I have
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I hope that your Lordships will not think that I am stretching the notion of high-quality architecture too far by including such social considerations. Buildings shape what happens within them, but they also describe and even shape the way that we see things within the world. After all, we need only look across the river to St Thomas's to see how Florence Nightingale's original hospital not only responded to clinical needs but, as she intended, influenced and helped shape clinical and, subsequently, societal behaviour. It still does. Think, for example, about how we understand infection control or the importance of fresh air flows for healthin our lives, not just in our hospitals. It is worth noting that, like all designers, she did not get everything that she wanted. In particular, she did not want the hospital to be so central to this great city and beside the great stink of the river, which was so antipathetic to healing.
Today's great public clients, the Government and the NHS, should of course be able to exemplify high-quality architecture in all its aspects, including the social. They do so very successfully on many occasions; there are many examples of that. I think of the new Birmingham University hospital, currently under construction. It is a huge regeneration project, creating up to 2,000 jobs in the short-term but also building a health hub, a learning and skills centre for long-term unemployed people, thereby enabling 750 previously unemployed people to gain employment. It embodies the other qualities of high-quality architecture: it has high design values, meets its sustainability and environmental requirements and is open and welcoming.
Finally, I turn to the process of planning and approval and to the call of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for design quality to be taken into account by local authorities. Again, I speak as a layman who does not understand the intricacies of the system, but one who has seen many NHS boards struggle with the planning, design and building of facilities of all kinds.
Why are we not always successful in getting what we want? Part of the answer is financial: the fact that the financial, funding and economic considerations are not only so important but so complex and time-consuming that they can tend to overwhelm other considerations. Another part of the answer is that design considerations often come too late in the process. Another is that the whole process is not simple and that there are tensions and conflicts between different goals. A single example that summarises this for me is that patients may well want a building where the windows can be opened, but the energy consultants will certainly want a sealed unit. How do we reconcile the differences that will come up in the design process?
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, is right to want local authorities to take design quality seriously, and I note that proposals will come forward for the consideration of design quality to be a statutory requirement for local authorities. I have some sympathy with that, but my greater sympathies are with the view that there should be wider use of design review panels and design champions. I am with my noble friend Lord Low in saying that the panels should not consist purely of design experts. It is important that the discussions are not conducted in a private language of reference and concepts that lay people do not share. High-quality architecture and design is too important to leave entirely to the experts.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for a very upbeat introduction to the debate. I have to declare interests as a vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association, as joint president of London Councils and, although I hesitate to do so after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, as having a connection with the Greater London Authority.
The case for encouraging high quality, the title of this debate, is really a no-brainer, because quality is always to be encouraged. In the case of architecture and design generally, it is so important to ones well-being, both physically and mentally, as noble Lords have said. My spirits lift when I see both Westminster Abbey and the London Eye. Conversely, poor design, leading to a lack of care and affection, affects the physical environment and, as the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, put it, degrades society.
We have to define the terms. Quality now clearly encompasses sustainabilityin both construction and in operation, indeed, in the life of a building. I am shocked that we are now on the third generation of buildings in Londons Docklands. It may be that the first and second-generation buildings were not that good, but it is awfully wasteful. The initial outlay does pay for itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said.
For a time, I chaired the planning committee of the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. I was chair of the committee when the Richmond Riverside Development was constructed. It had consent before the Liberal Democrats took control of the council, so we inherited a scheme. I would have been much more comfortable, and perhaps more enthused, by something that was not traditional, not pastichethe word that a lot of people applied to the riversidebut something splendid and modern whose form expressed its function. However, I am not sure that I would have been right about that. It was so clear, after the development opened, that people enjoyed it. They took pride in their own placea point which picks up on what the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, saidin the buildings and spaces which were liberated by the development. The importance of spaces, and of the public realm, is something that many noble Lords have touched on. I wonder whether we should be attaching status to spaces as muchor even moreas to buildings. Certainly, in London the spirit of the princes of San Gimignano seems to live on.
However, the difficulties are much greater in the smaller, less significant schemes. The big schemesthe big buildingsattract public debate and the resources of organisations and authorities. They allow for pre-application negotiations. There may be a lot of controversy revolving around style and taste, but the basics of how people move around, for instance, are likely to have had proper attentionor they should have had. I share the concerns expressed about the Thames Gatewayso far, at any rate; let us not be too negative about the future. The debate about the gateway too often seems to have taken on an air of desperation about numbers. It must not be a case of the little boxes, made out of ticky-tacky, all looking just the same, which the noble Lord, Lord Low, did not quite say.
The day-to-dayI would not call it humdrumbusiness is much harder. There is a shortage of planners. There is a shortage of training of planners. I can answer my noble friend Lord Tylers questionand he knows the answerwhich is, not enough. Nor do I get the impression that there is much training these days for members of planning committees, although I am well aware that many of the professionals would say, Dont let the politicians anywhere near the design.
Design panels have been referred to. I confess to a slight sense of unease about bringing in experts, because what is the implication for those whose job it is to reach decisions and to undertake the work? PPS 1 states:
That is quite right. However, it does not seem to be easier to refuse an application on design grounds. Is that not the crunch? I thought that PPS 1 was rather a good, short, analysis of both quality and design. However, I found it difficult when reading itas I did again, yesterdayto see how one could reach a decision using PPS 1 other than on the very functional criteria on what is described as beyond aesthetic considerations in the paper.
When I became chair of the planning committeeI am horrified to realise that that was 25 years agoI was told about the traditional stand-off between planners and architects. I do not know whether it is better nowI hope it isbut I feel some need to defend the planners from criticisms made by, among others, my noble friend Lord Carlile, whose skills as a criminal barrister proved to be very relevant to this debate. Architecture seems to breed a supremely self-confident and assertive group of professionals, and it must be very tough for planners to hold their corner against them. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, put it rather more politely.
Planning tends to be, even though it should not be, in essence reactive and regulatory. I have not heard much this afternoon about that, but it is important to understand how planners and the planning system function. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to local authorities design departments. That is not an animal that I know. I do not think that local authorities can afford design departments. Speakers expect a great deal from plannersmore, I think, than they have the tools to deliver.
Reference has rightly been made to local community engagement. The noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to the mood of the age being to involve. My noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank talked about the need for a good client. I regret that I cannot remember who said it, but someone said earlier in the debate that the place is the client. It is not, however, the only client. For the past six years, I have worked in the Greater London Authority building, where the client has been the Government Office for London, not the occupants of the building. I give this small example. The building is iconic, admirable and in many ways wonderful to work in, but if it had been possible to ensure that all the political groups working in it shared the same water coolers, the building and the people in it would have functioned differently. That perhaps is the post-occupation analysis to which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, referred.
The everyday presents challenges that are as least as great as the big schemes. If we can achieve something that is better than bad, that is very good, but we should aim for better than the mediocre. As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, said, perhaps that is the big idea.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has done the House a service in bringing this debate here this afternoon. There is no question that this is a significant subject. Debating it in this form enables us to look at it in the round and in a fairly abstract way, but at the same time with a strong sense of agreementin principle, at any rateon what we would like to see in the communities that we all serve outside.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, was being very modest when he tried to claim to be the most ignorant person here today. I thought that that claim belonged to me, although I am not going to compete particularly for it. The truth isthis is one of the wonders of this placethat we bring a breadth of experience to a task such as this. The end result is that we usually have, as we have had so far, an extremely good debate and all feel better as a result. If a little collective wisdom rubs off in a small way outsidesometimes I despair that it willwe have a major achievement on our hands.
I declare an interest. I have sold land for building and I still own land which might go for building. It is as well that that should be understood. It gives me very particular experience in relation to the debate. I have also served for five years on a county planning committee, an institution sadly defunct although the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, may be able to revive it in Cornwall. Of course, it will not be called a county planning committee but the Cornwall Planning Committee, and that will perhaps be a good thing.
I was also pleased to hear from the noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Low of Dalston, what I might call a somewhat agnostic approach to the institutional structures that we have to rule, regulate and develop our planning systems and control development. When the job is done well, the result is a town or a village that looks and feels good and then
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Nearly 35 years ago, I was responsible for the whole of the building estate of Essex County Councilnot that it was my personal responsibility to look after day-to-day details. I had to control the whole of the maintenance and services budget for those buildings. It was a very interesting experience. Obviously, the buildings had developed over a long period. What I particularly want to talk about in this context is the estate of buildings I inherited, so to speak, that had been built just after the war. In those days, they were built to cost limits set by the Government. That particularly applied to educational buildings. That was the way the system worked. I pay huge tribute to the architects who produced those buildings. They produced volume for very low cost because that was what they were required to do. We needed new schools in the county and it was a very successful programme. We need to remember all the time the context in which people and society are working.
Fifteen years later, of course, we had the most horrendous building maintenance costs and hugely expensive energy costs to keep these buildings warm. They were frame buildings with cladding panels, too much glass, no insulation and so on. One of the results of that was that we put in place a study to see what we should do about building quality. Essentially, the study showed that, if we could reduce the annual running costs of a building by 5 per cent or more per annum, we could afford to double the amount we spent on the building in the first place.
The beginnings of a good architecture preceded 1997 and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment by some considerable amount. Indeed, I have an abiding memory of the improvement in London when we began to clean the city up again.
I am somewhat sceptical about our institutional structure. All the time, we need to remember the great buildings that we long to preserve and the wonderful small communities. We should think of the beautiful architectural arcades in big cities and the wonderful stone in the towns and villages of the Cotswolds. In East Anglia, timber-framed buildings are stuck together cheek-by-jowl and there is an immense difference in character as one goes along the street. Early Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian structures are interspersed with ancient structures. They are higgledy-piggledy buildings in conservation areas, which we fight to preserve, and they were constructed without the benefit of any planning system whatever.
I often wonder what the modern conservation societies might have had to say if they had seen Sir Christopher Wrens plans for St Pauls Cathedral before it was built. One can imagine their approach. They may have said, Not in the British tradition. It is
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We also need to be sure that there is a clear distinction between design, which has to do with an agglomeration of property, and architecture, whichin deference to the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, if he will forgive meseems to be about a particular building. Design is particularly important. If I want to see good, domestic architecture, I go abroad, by and large. In this country, planning committees have all too often reduced everything to the lowest common denominator.
There is hope and I look forward to a better quality of design all the time. But, ultimately, it will depend not particularly on planning committees and our institutional structure, but on people who want to have land developed to a high standard; on architects and designers working together to create good design; on financiers accepting that; and, most of all, when the chips are down, it will depend on the client being prepared to buy it and not to buy anything that is not good design.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, this has been an exceptionally good debate. I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Howarth for creating this opportunity and for, as with every debate in this House, uncovering such a wealth of expertise and experience. For example, I did not realise that so many noble Lords had served on the RIBA, and it is always intimidating to find that out at this stage of a debate.
In the tour de force that my noble friend Lord Howarth introduced, he described the power of good design and the blight of bad design. Much of what noble Lords have said has said has left me reeling at their wonderful examples, as well as being very mindful at their examples of poor and bad design that we all live with still. There has been some wonderful language. I particularly hope that the notion of the post-nondescript passes into the lexicon of what we do not want to see.
There has been an implicit debate about the relationship between good architecture and social reform. Such debate is apposite in this great, iconic building, designed by an architect who placed such emphasis on the moral influence of architecture, and spent so much time thinking about the way in which
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We are living in a golden age of opportunity and the price of getting things wrong is very high. It was instructive to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, talking about what went wrong with building after the war. Much of the change that we now have to manage, with as much imagination and skill as possible, is being driven by demographic and economic forces that are driving house prices beyond the reach of many people; but is also in the context of an ageing society, which will present the challenge for better inclusive design, to ensure the opportunity to grow old in comfort and in place. All this is taking place in the context of climate change, which has a bearing on where and how we build, and how we manage our land and resourceswhether that is energy, water, aggregates or skills. It gives us an opportunity for thinking, planning and building differently, whether we are talking about how we maintain the integrity of our historic villages, how we manage intensified urbanisation, how we reconcile our built heritage so that it drives the future as well as reflects the past, and how we design for identity within density, and for cohesion within spaces that by definition will be very tight. These are big issues and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we should raise the status of the public realm. People are concerned not only about the type of house they live in, but the place they live in. That is what shapes behaviour.
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