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CABE's capabilities 'overstretched'

London planning officials have warned that CABE's cash-strapped design review panel is being forced to 'cherry-pick' landmark projects and ignore less-prestigious schemes in the capital.

Several boroughs, including Southwark and Hackney, have flagged up cases where they say CABE has failed to respond to pleas for design advice.

One recent example is Allford Hall Monaghan Morris' Barnham Street commercial development in Southwark.

When asking for advice in the case Adrian Dennis, a planning team leader at Southwark, said he was told by CABE that it is 'not a design agency to advise all developers on their applications, and has to be selective due to their limited resources'.

Another high-profile case is Farrells' Eagle House tower in Shoreditch, east London, which won the green light from Hackney's planning department in April.

Project co-ordinator Alberta Matin told the AJ: 'The response we received [from CABE] was: 'We are consulted about more schemes than we have the resources to deal with and, unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any further assistance on this scheme'.'

It's no secret that CABE's design review panel has been starved of resources since its inception. It has 30 experts to its name who formally advise on about 75 major schemes in any year.

Dennis accepts CABE is severely under-resourced but insists ordinary everyday schemes benefit the most from expert design advice.

He said: 'I get the impression that there are currently so many major applications of interest to CABE it has to turn down the more routine or mundane type of development.'

The increasing demand for CABE's advice reflects the value local authorities attach to it. But it is also a consequence of the increasing importance of good design in planning policy such as PPS1.

Defending CABE's track record, director of architecture and review Selina Mason emphasised that local authorities are now forced to pay more attention to design issues.

She said: 'This is good news but it poses a resource issue for them too, as many do not have adequate access to design advice. We think regional design review panels are an important way to increase capacity, though,' she said.

by Clive Walker

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