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Public design hit by legal backlash

The country's new-found addiction to civil legal action has resulted in a drastic failure of design in the public realm. According to a new report by CABE Space, fear of the 'compensation culture' has left decisionmakers terrified of taking risks when commissioning new projects.

What are we scared of? The value of risk in designing public space sets out mainly foreign examples of where risks have been taken, while simultaneously calling on British clients, councils, designers and architects to take risks in the design of streets, squares and parks.

The report demands that, for example, Gustafson Porter's Diana Memorial Fountain should be celebrated as a project that was daring, rather than condemned for being dangerous.

The number of times 'risk' was mentioned in UK newspapers rose from 2,037 in 1994 to more than 25,000 by 2003, the report says.

'While it [risk] can sharpen up practices, the palette of possibilities is shrinking, so constraining their capacity to innovate and provide certain design features, ' it says. 'The increased risk process tends to focus on managing the downside rather than considering potential. The biggest risk is not to take risks if we want to avoid creating depressing cities, ' the report adds.

Edward Hobson, CABE Space's head of development and research, said the report proved that urgent action was required to ease the problems. 'We are fixated on making public space safe, rather than places that people want to be, ' he told the AJ. 'There is seemingly not a problem within the legal legislation if you actually look at the number of claims that are in the courts. The problem seems to lie in the public perception of the number of cases that appear to be going through the courts that is affecting the failure to be bold when making decisions.

We need to make people see that risk can be a positive opportunity.' The report itself is made up of essays from Charles Landry, founder and director of Comedia, psychologist Dr Dorothy Rowe, Professor Iain Borden, director of the Bartlett School of Architecture and Professor John Adams of University College, London.

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