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CABE in White City war of words

Constant changes to one of the biggest retail regeneration schemes in Europe have thrown the project into turmoil.

In a rare departure from its policy of only slamming projects that have been through the design review process, CABE has attacked the design management of Ian Ritchie's huge 16ha shopping centre in White City, west London.

The organisation says developer Westfield Shoppingtowns has dumbed down Ritchie's designs for the retail scheme, close to Shepherd's Bush.

And as CABE waded in with its concerns, Ian Ritchie Architects was silenced by its client as senior sources confirmed rumours that communication had almost broken down between the two parties.

The debacle began in early July, when Westfield - which has this year sought to expand its in-house architecture team rapidly - submitted revised designs for the site's south-east corner, a pivotal section of the project.

In doing so Westfield has, it is claimed, undermined the original work of big-name architect Ritchie.

The property developer has undertaken a comprehensive review of Ritchie's designs since it took greater control of the development late last year, when Multiplex scaled back its involvement to concentrate on other British projects.

In light of its scrutiny of the earlier work, the firm has claimed Ritchie's designs were 'compromised' in relation to commercial aspirations. The developer claims that its changes 'substantially improve' Ritchie's original proposals.

With Ritchie unable to fight back, CABE has now broken the silence by panning the developer's hope to provide a pedestrian walkway. Westfield claims it will provide a 'strong uninterrupted and highly legible physical link between the south-east corner and western edge of the development.'

In a statement released late last week a CABE spokesman said: 'CABE is always concerned when a high-quality consented scheme by an architect of recognised skill and ability is then diluted by subsequent revisions.

'CABE has not been consulted by the local authority about the revisions to the White City proposal, which in view of the size and importance of the development we find surprising.

'CABE's publication is a guide to local authorities as to how they can apply conditions to planning permissions that may prevent dumbing down.'

In its statement CABE refers to its publication, Protecting design quality in the planning system. It says: 'Councils should be careful in considering minor amendments, allowing some flexibility for changes which are positive in planning terms while resisting amendments which will reduce quality.'

But the council has defended its actions, and dismissed the involvement of CABE. In a statement released on Tuesday, a spokesman said: 'The south-east corner revisions are simply minor design changes to one small part of the building so CABE's involvement is not necessary.'

by Rob Sharp

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