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I am concerned also about review panels. There is a practical and time issue around that. That is the job of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, not of the new agency. However, the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships have done a significant job in moving space standards, when the private housebuilders did not want to do that. Where the agency invests public money, it must continue to insist on the highest standards. Anything that we can give the agency by way of robust assistance in the Bill is welcome, but retaining the board’s flexibility would be helpful.

Baroness Hamwee: I adopt the noble Baroness’s phrase and say that I associate these Benches with the spirit of the amendment; I agree with pretty much everything that she said, including on board membership. I think that those who have their name to the amendments are saying that a focus on quality should be mainstreamed throughout the organisation. It is not enough to make it one person’s job or to confine it to the board. It is rather more important that those in an executive capacity have an understanding of, and experience—or training if necessary—in, the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Best, rightly pointed out that it is about the powers of the agency—there is no good in fine words, unless there is the power to say, “It must not be that and it must be better”.

Sustainability covers quality, if only for the rather simple reason that a building of quality is one which lasts. I shall not prolong this debate, as I suspect that this may not be the only occasion when we focus on this issue in our proceedings. However, I say also that I share some personal reservations—I have no idea what party policy is—about design review panels, which I mentioned in the debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, not so long ago. It is entirely proper that design is raised in the Bill, and it is a delight to see such an interest being shown in it.

Lord Mawson: I, too, welcome the amendment. Since I entered your Lordships’ House I have been very encouraged by the concern about quality of design. I was very encouraged by the debate, which I could not attend but which I read, in which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, spoke, on the quality of design. One can see that there is real concern. However, to a large degree, across the country, we do not have design quality. Design quality is a practical matter. In east London, our experience has been that when you build quality buildings, the social environment begins to change as does the way in which people relate to that environment. My view is that we are the environments in which we live. If we create certain kinds of environments we will create certain kinds of

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public behaviour; if we create other forms of environments we can create public behaviour which is unhelpful.

Design matters, and it has very serious financial implications. My experience over the years of building and trying to create quality design, is that it is important to have individuals in the process who care, long term, about the buildings. Trying to bring buildings and design together takes a long time and the process is quite complicated. You need someone who cares about the process, who gets out of bed on a Monday morning and worries about it and about the types of buildings that are being built. When I have looked at different developments around the country, I have discovered that generally the buildings that look the best have an individual behind them who worries and cares about them.

The aspiration is there but how do turn it into practice on the ground? There is great concern that that is not happening at the moment. I am involved in a development, in east London, for a very difficult group of estates. We have been through 50 different designs, at a cost of more than £3 million, but still not a brick has been laid. We need to think very carefully about the practical consequences of what the Bill imposes.

I support the amendment. We and the agency need to think carefully about quality, not just quantity. I was very encouraged by my conversation yesterday, which was enabled by the Minister, with Sir Bob Kerslake. He is concerned about these matters and we need to create the kind of legislation that strengthens his hand and enables him to get a grip on this issue. For me, it is about quality before quantity. I support what my noble friend Lord Best says about enabling levers.

Developments need an individual who cares about them. If we are to spend all this money, it has to be about place-making. As we know, in the history of society, place-making is usually about an individual or a small group of people taking hold of a place over time and making something happen.

The Earl of Listowel: I am reminded that several years ago I was taken by a group of 10 year-olds—primary schoolchildren—to see round their housing estate and I was shown their homes in a series of tower blocks, which were in the process of demolition. I reflected on what it does for a child’s self-esteem if their home is condemned as unworthy of sustainability. With that in mind, we must design our homes for the future in a better way—homes of which we can all be proud and which will last a long while.

Lord Lucas: I add my voice to those supporting these amendments—not that I have any great sympathy for the great fat toad of a quango that will sit in the middle of this, as a result of this Bill. My direction is much more to try to get planning and design decisions made as locally as we can. However, while we have this approach from this Government, let us make sure that design gets in properly. Yes, it is difficult and, yes, it is very hard to define exactly what you mean; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth,

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says, you know it when you see it. It is perhaps not that easy, however. Last week, I received a pamphlet from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, hymning the idea of high densities in the form of town squares and giving seven examples of them. Six of them were extremely ugly and had won prizes. So it comes down to the difficulties of centralising design in one person sitting on one body. If that person is not the right person, you can get a promulgation of ugliness such as, say, the South Bank, which has taken a long time to get over.

I want to see variety, so I am a supporter of design-review panels, which are voluntary and diffuse—they are all over the place. We will get a variety of answers and we will get Leicestershire and Yorkshire doing different things, for example, which is entirely as it should be. But, most importantly, we will have a body of expertise available for local councillors and others who have to take decisions at local levels and will give them the courage to take design into account in a way that is difficult now, if you are being asked to pit your views against that of someone employed by the developer.

It is sad. Every time I go home along the Thames I look at what has been done with those serried ranks of condominiums, which, if they had an architect did not have a very good architect. As a pleasurable experience, it ranks at about two out of 10—and all that because of the river, rather than the surrounding buildings. It is enormously important that we give a higher priority to design. The fact that we may get that wrong at some times does not matter. What matters is that we get it right more often than we do now.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Almost everything that could be said on this subject has been said, so one hesitates to get up at this stage in the debate. My contribution will be highly idiosyncratic. I do not know what the Minister is going to say: she may say that the qualifications in the noble Lord’s amendment and the amendments of those who supported him are unnecessary. It is the sort of phrase that I have heard from Ministers before, and I dare say that I have uttered it myself. Therefore, I want to add another argument.

One virtue of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, is that it acts as a form of amulet against the oscillation in the quality of Ministers in departments responsible for these matters. That is in no sense a reflection on the present Minister, but I have been in Parliament for 30 years and there have been Ministers responsible for the affairs of the relevant departments who were extraordinarily interested in architecture and could be relied on to make extremely good decisions and others who had no interest in architecture whatever. One virtue of the amendment is that it is a protection against the latter.

I shall be straightforwardly personal. My late noble kinsman was Minister for Housing and Local Government. He was vilified for two decisions on buildings that he let through—one on grounds of bulk and one on grounds of height. On the other hand, he was widely praised for preventing a building

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from destroying the view of St Paul’s from a whole series of different angles, including the Whitestone Pond on Hampstead Heath. There is another building on Knightsbridge which everyone wanted to destroy; it was a listed building, but even the inspector wanted to demolish it. He alone insisted that it was retained, and everybody associated with Imperial College now takes the view that his decision was the right one. Some Ministers will have an interest and some will not—and fortunately his batting average was about even.

By coincidence, yesterday I attended the memorial service of the sort of architect who gets the first obituary in the Times, in St Marylebone Parish Church. On the way out I met the architect civil servant who advised me when I was a Minister and who may well have advised the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. I was the eighth Minister whom he had advised. Our conversation went back to what was then a derelict tower block in Bethnal Green, whose design, to the credit of the local authority, had been entrusted to Denys Lasdun. It was for local authority use and, by the time it came to us, it was, in effect, gutted and in an appalling state. English Heritage wished to list it and everyone else wished to demolish it. The local authority could do nothing with it. The tenants did not wish to live in it. Efforts to put the building into other hands had failed because of the scale of the work that needed to be done. It was reasonably shortly after the creation of what was then the Department of National Heritage, which broke down the Chinese walls that had previously existed in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which meant that two departments were making two sets of decisions. The new department made the decision about listing and the old department made the decision about listed building consent or demolition.

4.45 pm

We had a meeting lasting three hours to discuss what should be done about it. We knew that we would be extremely unpopular if we listed the building, because we would be transferring it to the other department to make the unpopular decision among architects that the building should be demolished. But we also knew the quality of the Secretary of State to whom we would be transferring it. Since we had the new system where two departments could make the decisions, we took the decision to list it and, if that department still wanted to demolish it, it would have had to have gone to the other department.

I tell that story in support of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, because it is a moral story. The decision was taken by the other Secretary of State to resist the efforts to demolish the building. A highly imaginative developer came along. It is now an icon building, which people fight to get into. That is a demonstration that quality will out.

Lord Greaves: I was not going to speak on this amendment, but I should like to add one point to those made by my noble friend. I am provoked by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who made some valuable

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points about how important it is for issues of design to be understood and acted on at a local level, which is where the real decisions are often made. I should declare an interest as a member of Pendle Borough Council, which is a housing authority, a planning authority and all the rest of it. I should also apologise for not taking part at Second Reading. The fact that I could not do so is linked to the fact that I am still a member of Pendle Borough Council. I was otherwise occupied electioneering at the time and managed to scrape back where all my colleagues were falling around me. Such is life and such is politics.

The last time I remember a head of steam building up in the House of Lords on design issues was when we were discussing the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill in 2004. Exactly the same sort of head of steam built up, the same arguments were put forward, and the legislation was amended as a result. I very much hope that the same thing will happen and that the Government will negotiate a sensible form of wording to reflect the clearly widespread view that design should be incorporated in the Bill, as happened in that previous legislation.

As a member of a local planning committee—at the other end of the system completely—it has been extremely valuable that local authorities and local planning committees can now consider design overtly as part of the decision-making process. Applications can be changed and can be rejected on grounds of design. Following the changes to that 2004 legislation, and the way in which it was fed through planning policy statements and so on, it is now an important part of the planning process. Some planning officers still say, “Well, I am sorry, I have not done any qualifications in design and I cannot give any advice to the committee”, and some councillors say, “Well, we have no qualifications, but we are going to do what we think is right”. That is what democracy is about, although it is not always easy to defend on appeal. The fact that it is now built into the system at the local level that the noble Lord was talking about is important and valuable, as it is, in a different way, in the area of social housing, regeneration and so on that the HCA is going to be involved in. It is not a panacea because what gets built and how it gets built is inevitably a matter of negotiation and compromise and it is always a question of balancing ideals against practicalities, particularly those of cost. We cannot click our fingers and get brilliant design everywhere, even if we could all agree what brilliant design is, which does not necessarily happen. Nevertheless, putting it there and putting it in the equation, the negotiations and the compromises is important and I wish this amendment well.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I have to remind the Committee formally of the interests I declared at Second Reading. They remain on the record. Having got that out of the way, I hope the Committee will not mind if I explain the rather devious technical device that we are using to have this debate. It is a measure of the importance that all sides of the Committee place on this issue that this procedure was agreed. The manuscript amendment that we are formally discussing, Amendment No. 1A, was agreed by all sides because the noble Lord and the

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noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, were likely to have a clash of dates with the second day in Committee next week and it was arguable whether we would get to the rest of the group of these amendments today in time for them to be properly discussed. It was in order to avoid that embarrassment that we are having this debate. I am quite sure that the noble Baroness gave her agreement as speedily as I did. It is a measure of the significance of this subject.

I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Brooke and Lord Lucas for reminding the Committee that design is a matter of taste. Not only are there the complexities of Ministers coming and going, but tastes, fashions and, heaven help us, planning committees come and go, and one needs to have some comment to make on the planning system. One can have the most wonderful architects but in the end planning committees say what will and will not be built. We have all heard criticisms of inappropriate designs for houses and estates. Fortunately, we are long past the words of a song that was around in my youth about little boxes made of ticky-tacky that all looked just the same. I am sure some Members of the Committee will remember that song.

However, the other side of this debate is that we need to remember that for many people any house is better than no house. We have already had some reiteration of the housing numbers. When I started in local government, we were building 360,000 houses a year with all the services that were required. It was a remarkable achievement. It was post war, and there was war damage to recover from and all the rest of it. But, if there was bad design, it was because of the urgent requirement to produce more houses. We have been through that phase and many of those houses have now gone, but some of them remain.

I should probably declare another interest—or confess, perhaps, to an aspect of my life which is a little odd. I have never lived in a house less than 350 years old. Two houses I have lived in have had parts which go back 500 years. That is an immense tribute to the quality of the design of those days. One of those houses depended entirely on prefabrication; it could be built in only one way from one specific post. It is not that they were grand houses; they were timber-framed farmhouses. Plenty of cottages built in a similar period remain in the countryside. The buildings are a tribute to the durability of the materials and the skill of the people who put them up. Whether we achieve that again today remains to be seen; realistically, I think probably not. However, I would like to think that there will be buildings we put up today which will still be here in 500 years time. That is what this debate, among other things, is all about.

We should remember that the quality of architecture now has a great deal to do with the word “utility”. As has been said by others, we need our buildings to be energy and space efficient. They need to be adaptable for a number of purposes; for example, to enable a young married couple to move in, to bring up their children—I was going to say to kick their children out, but they will leave of their own accord—and then to grow old gracefully in. That needs a great deal of thinking about.



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I come back to the point that I mentioned when I began. We need to recognise the planning responsibility as well as the architectural and design responsibilities. We have heard about inappropriately designed estates on the edge of old communities that look like sore thumbs. Planning committees will have approved such estates. They did not have to approve them. I once had to lecture to a degree course in planning; I was not asked back again. That was mainly because they were teaching planning as a precise science—which it might be—but I reminded them that the serious planning decisions were all taken by democratically elected members and that, however precise their science was, they would have to learn to put up with a bit of democracy in their planning.

In what we are doing with the Bill—we will come back to this later—there is a need to remind members in local government that they are there to do a job, that they are expected to do it and that they do not deserve to remain in local government if they do not do it. Most people in local government do the job, but very often they take the easy option, particularly in planning matters. You then come to the difficulty, and a different pressure on local authorities, of a lot of planning authorities taking a hard line and demanding very good design, which slows up the development process. I can see the Minister with a grin on her face and saying, “Yes, we shall have to be very critical of them for that”—not for what they are doing on the principle of design but because they will not achieve the necessary volume. We have to remind ourselves all the time that we need volume.

That is all I want to say. I have drifted very much away from the significant question of design because that has been very thoroughly covered in the excellent debate we are having now. We need to remember that there are others in the process—we have not mentioned builders, developers and so on—and we have to get them all positively involved.

5 pm

Baroness Andrews: This has been an excellent debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Howarth on his opportunism and on the coalition of support that he has marshalled around the House, on the way in which he marshalled his arguments and on the way in which noble Lords spoke both to the visionary opportunity as well as—as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, concluded by reminding us—the practical needs that we have to address when we try to marshal support for more impetus for design.

I start by addressing some of the issues raised under Amendment No. 1A. However, I shall reflect briefly on what the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said about places shaping people. That is where we start from—with the notion that beautiful places may not shape beautiful people, but at least they promote pro-social behaviour. Design has a value in itself, but it also has a value for what it communicates and enables other people to do in the community. Members of the Committee know that I am sympathetic to much of what they have said. If they can bear it, I shall leave my final conclusions tantalisingly to the very end.



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On Amendment No. 1A, in relation to this notion of appointing someone to champion design, the challenge for the new agency will be in demonstrating that the skills are appropriate to what it needs. That has to be balanced. So while I am sympathetic to what my noble friend says, and I take the point of the rather alarming picture drawn by my noble friend Lady Ford of having to fight hand-to-hand with architects, I do not think that the proposal is necessary. We need to think very hard about how we put this expertise in the hands of the HCA, however, because there is certainly a role for CABE and an opportunity to develop that sort of relationship. So while I welcome the intent, I wish to give some more thought to how we might best deliver that objective.

I have discovered the answer to the notion of capacity. When we talk about someone with capacity on the board, it means that they have the demonstrable ability and skills rather than expertise, necessarily. So when we think about what we want on the board, that is what we mean by that.

I turn to the substantive amendment, Amendment No. 32. I shall skip over the amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Best, put his name, if he does not mind, as I do not think that I can have a particularly exhaustive debate on “and”. But there is no doubt that we are all of one mind here; we all want to see the highest possible standards of quality and design, not only in private architecture but in the public realm, in the built environment. I shall take Amendment No. 47 at the same time and discuss the notion of the built environment.

We are seeking to build ambitiously and build for a new generation. We are seeking not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We must make that clear in the leadership that we show, the policies that we have in place and the way in which we use all the levers—and they are limited levers. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was right to point that out, but we have to use everything to hand.

During his Second Reading speech, my noble friend Lord Howarth was concerned that the instruments that make it possible for planners and local politicians to deliver better than in the past—guidance, exhortation and reward—are not enough to see the real improvement needed. He both raised and answered on my behalf the questions that he thought that I would put to him. I would probably come up with a few different answers, but I need to make it clear that, although I am sympathetic to his intent, there are two major considerations that we have to address, which he has already identified.


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