The built environment is now the only area where people have low expectations of design, said Terry Farrell at last week's Urban Design conference. He formally launched his proposal for an Urban Design Council, along the lines of the Design Council. Farrell lauded the work of the council - achieved with a grant of £7 million a year and 38 executive staff - but did not explain where he hoped this sort of money would come from for the UDC.
The importance of money was also a key note of other speakers' presentations. John Rouse, secretary of the Urban Task Force, stressed the importance of convincing not only the DETR and DCMS of the importance of urban design, but also the Treasury. 'Design costs money but creates value, ' he said. 'If we want a good fiscal set-up that encourages good design, we have to convince the Treasury on its own terms.'
He warned: 'If we don't get this part of our work right - a sensible arrangement built up by cogent reason - we will be compromised.' Without Treasury backing, he said, too many projects could end up like Bristol's proposed Harbourside Centre, 'an archive of unbuilt schemes'.
Also concerned about money is Kevin Murray, a director of EDAW and also chair of the Urban Design Alliance's housing committee. 'Getting an urban design element in to a project does cost, ' he said, and asked: 'Who pays for that?' The problem, he said, is that the benefits are not felt rapidly enough for the housebuilders to benefit. Instead, the benefits go to 'the second, third and fourth generation of owners'.
Time was also a worry to Rouse. Of his Ruskinian 'seven clamps of urban design' (see editorial, page 25), his seventh was 'The clamp of short-termism'. He said that most spending programmes are dominated by 'five-year funding programmes, the four-year political cycle, and the spectre of annuality'. Good urban design cannot, he said, be realised within such a short timescale.