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CABE design review lives on – here’s how

Paul Finch’s letter from London: The future role of Design Council CABE

Since the Design Council (DC) was reorganised as a charity and its merger with CABE, its new trustee board has been assessing how Design Council CABE (DCC) will operate in its new guise, and in its economic and political context. (I should declare an interest since I have the privilege of being deputy chair of the DC and chair of DCC.)

While the CABE team of 20 has been carrying out regular business, for example handling nearly 100 design reviews in its first 100 days, a review has been taking place into the challenges of promoting and achieving good quality design and place-making that Britain faces. Peter Bishop, former head of the London Development Agency, along with a sounding board formed of professional and industry organisations, including the RIBA and RTPI, led the review on behalf of the DC.

The findings have been submitted to the DC, along with recommendations as to how DCC (a subsidiary of the charity) might operate in the new localist environment, as well as the proposed planning policy reforms. I have listed a few points raised by the Bishop Review below.

1. There is no monopoly of design reviews, and nor should there be. Quite apart from DCC, reviews are undertaken by eight ‘affiliated design panels’ working across England, some part-funded by DCC; some by more than 50 individual panels working in specific local areas; and others by panels run by or connected to organisations including the RIBA and the Architecture Centre Network. The question is how these resources are best deployed and what role DCC might play as a co-ordinating organisation.

2. The fact that there is no London panel as such is something the Bishop Review draws attention to. He thinks there should be and we (DCC) plan to start one. Since we see a large number of significant London schemes anyway, this should not prove difficult.

3. DCC will continue to run specialist panels, such as those related to major infrastructure projects or large-scale developments that require reviews over very long periods, for example the Olympic Park.

4. The question of national reviews and who should carry them out has prompted much thought. The thrust of the Bishop Review is that, in general, local panels with sufficient breadth of experience and with robust procedures should be capable of reviewing schemes of any scale or importance, but with minor exceptions. These would include schemes that have implications for government, as with world heritage sites, where it could be useful to have a national view from DCC.

5. Thematic reviews into emerging or changing building types or planning contexts, such as residential buildings above supermarkets, are something that DCC is anxious to continue undertaking. The idea is that local panels would send them our way so we could produce advice after comparative analysis to feed back to all panels.

6. Judging by our previous experience, the demand for planning advice from both communities and planning authorities is likely to be huge. Again there are many organisations that can help here, and DCC will need to work out how it can be most useful, given our own limited resources, in communicating who can help in different situations, while continuing to do some work on the ground.

7. Underlying all the above is the question of how reviews and advice can play to the government’s low-energy, low-carbon agenda and its goals for social and economic sustainability.

As this column has noted before, this is not a government that appears to be opposed to creativity, design or environmental improvement, whatever squalls there may have been over school design. The prime minister’s continuing support for the Better Public Buildings Prize, won most fittingly by Hopkins’ Velodrome at the British Construction Industry Awards last week, is a symbol of that. As an example of collaborative working and economy of means, the Velodrome is not a bad precedent for DCC in the years to come.

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