CABE's commissioners have appointed a planning-trained regeneration expert as the design watchdog's new chief executive.
Richard Simmons, the current director of development and the environment at Medway council in Kent, has played a key role in the government's Thames Gateway plans. It is understood he saw off competition from two other shortlisted candidates in his bid to take over from departing boss Jon Rouse.
The arrival coincides with a change in CABE strategy, which will see the quango focus more of its manpower and resources on 'town and city centres, and areas of high and low housing demand'. The new strategy document, Transforming Neighbourhoods, sets out a three-year plan through which CABE will target specific geographical areas and building types where its 'can make a major difference to people's quality of life'.
Simmons currently heads up the massive regeneration programme in the Medway area and has responsibility for 500 staff. He also oversees neighbourhood renewal, planning and economic development, parks and environmental services.
CABE chair Stuart Lipton said he was excited to have a new leader for the new strategy. 'This is a new chapter for CABE, ' he said.
'We grew rapidly and achieved an extraordinary amount in less than five years under the management of Jon Rouse. But we are now entering a new era, with a new strategy.
Richard joins a strong senior management team and a group of talented young staff. He has an obvious passion for CABE's agenda.
'He is a strong, creative thinker, and understands the connections between architecture, urban design and people's quality of life.
RICHARD SIMMONS FACTFILE A qualified planner, Richard Simmons also holds undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in economic history.
His professional career started as a planning officer with the London Borough of Hackney and then in the Inner Cities Directorate at the Department of the Environment.
Simmons then worked for the London Docklands Development Corporation during the 1980s, taking responsibility for masterplanning and delivering infrastructure in the Royal Docks and the Isle of Dogs.
Prior to joining Medway council in 1998, Simmons was chief executive of Dalston City Challenge, where he promoted the regeneration of London's Hoxton Square.
At Medway, he worked on the council's regeneration push and was involved with the development of the Thames Gateway plans.
He is also the council's Design Champion, a director of the Kent Architecture Centre, and the chair of South East England Development Agency's Urban Renaissance Advisory Group.
Ed Dorrell spoke with CABE's new chief executive? You must be pleased to have made the move?
This is a fantastic opportunity. It is a once-in-a-lifetime job and a wonderful chance to join a great organisation that has made astonishing advances in the past five years. It is also exciting to be taking the lead of an organisation that produces such great material.
Do you think that your background in planning will help in your new role?
I was something of an unusual planner.Through most of my career I focussed on the delivery of regeneration and urban renaissance and very little of the development control process. I did do a little bit of that at the beginning of my career and I am sure it has helped.
How did you first become interested in urban design, planning and architecture?
I first became interested in cities and urbanism when I was doing my first degree in economic history but architecture has always thrilled me.For example, when I was a teenager I became very interested in Victorian buildings.Architecture is incredibly interesting because it is a fine art that also creates places that people actually live in.
What do you want to focus on when you take up the role at CABE?
There are several aspects that interest me especially. I like the current focus on urban design and have been impressed by the series of documents produced recently on the importance of neighbourhoods. I have never been one to accept the 'it's good enough for Hackney'attitude to urban design.
I also like the fact that CABE is looking at the skills agenda.
This is one of the things that I am very interested in. I have been working on a Centre for Urban Renaissance at the moment in Medway. I want to look at getting far more teamwork in the skills and professions. The other thing that attracted me has been the move into Urban Space - this is an extremely important agenda.
What do you want to achieve with CABE?
I want CABE to start listening more to what people and communities want and deliver more of what they desire. I think that sometimes modern architecture is not properly understood by people but they come to love it very quickly if it is good.There are lessons we could learn from Bilbao and Spain in this area. I do, however, think that there is more the design and construction community could do to provide choice in the design of homes.
Do you have a favourite building?
I have several at any one time but I have to say I find [Norman Foster's] Swiss Re really quite inspirational at the moment. I also really enjoy Canterbury Cathedral's International Study Centre [by William Whitfield], which is a real example of craftsmanship in buildings.
And a favourite city?
I have several cities that I consider home. I was born in Manchester and spent many years studying in Leeds - so both of these are important to me. And I have also worked in London for many years before winding up in this area [Chatham]. I also love going out in Bilbao in the evening and, of course, Paris.
If there was one thing that you could achieve in your time at CABE, what would it be?
I simply want to continue the successful delivery of the design agenda. It is for this purpose that the CABE commissioners have appointed me.