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Northern Ireland plans CABE-style champion

Northern Ireland is set to gain its own CABE-style design watchdog, which could be up and running within two years.

Latest delays in the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly could speed up moves to establish an architecture policy for the province, with a design commission as a central feature.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has been pushing the UK government to adopt its recommendations for a cross-departmental policy on the built environment.And discussions have been taking place, hosted by the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) with the Department for Finance and Personnel, to develop the plans.

The Arts Council's architecture and public art officer Paul Heron said details about the new watchdog were yet to be concluded.

'At the moment we are in the process of trying to establish a framework, ' he said. 'What form a design commission would take would have to be decided. But some say it should follow the model adopted in Wales.'

The Royal Society of Ulster Architects has been contributing to the discussion. RSUA president Ciaran Mackel said he would like the new commission to have greater power than England's CABE, including a statutory right to examine all major projects.

Mackel added that the extended suspension of the assembly, likely to follow last week's elections, could in fact aid progress: 'In theory, it could and should go through faster, but we would prefer it to be adopted by the assembly, to be voted in by local people.'

Mackel said the creation of 'design champions'was also on the agenda. But since the different departments in the province were much smaller than those in Westminster, there would probably be just one champion for the entire regional government. The arts minister would most likely take on this role.

A draft policy could be in place by 2004 with implementation scheduled for 2005.

The discussions in Northern Ireland follow the creation of a CABE-style body in Wales, the Design Commission for Wales. CABE's chief executive Jon Rouse visited Belfast last year to offer initial advice.

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