Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered a massive boost to the architecture lobby this week when he pledged to radically improve the standard of public buildings and to leave 'a legacy that can match the best of what we inherited from the Victorians'.
He also spelt out his determination that 'good design should not be confined to high profile buildings in big cities'.
Blair's remarks were contained in the foreword to a new government report, Better Public Buildings (AJ 28.10.00), which he was set to launch at a Number 10 reception for the architectural elite as AJ went to press.
The report in the design of buildings and written by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, is the first to win the prime minister's explicit backing. It calls on government departments to 'stop being frightened to take risks', 'stop regarding design as an optional extra', and start 'allowing enough design time for projects of real quality to emerge'.
CABE's new chief executive Jon Rouse rejected the suggestion that its recommendations risk becoming lost amid the welter of recent government reports on design.
'The prime minister has thrown his weight behind it, ' said Rouse.'Unlike the other reports, this is the first time the PM has held a reception to get together everybody who has responsibility for public buildings and say 'this is what I want and I'm the PM'. That is very powerful.
What it shows is that CABE is held to be important at the highest levels of government.'
In particular, Rouse highlighted the appointment of a string of ministers across government who, on CABE's advice, must champion design in their individual departments. These include housing minister Nick Raynsford, chief secretary to the Treasury Andrew Smith, arts minister Alan Howarth and science minister Lord Sainsbury.
CABE chairman Stuart Lipton welcomed Blair's backing as a sign that the government now accepts 'that top quality design can sit at the heart and soul of a modern efficient and caring Britain and help define our nation'.
He added that CABE wants to 'inject design into the bloodstream of our people and into the mainstream of government.'
The government already spends £7.5 billion a year on buildings, but CABE claims the government's design initiative comes at a crucial time because increases in public expenditure will mean a sharp rise in government building projects over the next four years. Chancellor Gordon Brown is planning to release an extra £12 billion for schools and colleges and an extra £12 billion a year to the NHS by 2003/4. Blair said that he is 'determined that this money should be well spent'.