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CABE exposes lack of design experience in local councils

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Nearly two-thirds of local authorities do not have a registered architect in their planning department, according to CABE's Local Government Design Survey. A broad base of design expertise was also shown to be lacking.Only 16 per cent of authorities surveyed could boast a registered architect, an urban designer and a landscape architect. Almost a quarter had no staff with design qualifications.

Although 36 per cent of authorities had an architects' department, many said such departments had been dissolved or relocated during the 1980s or as part of local government reorganisation in the 1990s. The report says: 'Even where an architects' department exists, the implications for design are limited - only 43 per cent of such departments are involved in assessing the design aspects of applications.'

The report also revealed that 77 per cent of the 222 local authorities surveyed did not use a design panel in assessing the design quality of planning applications. Design awards and design champions were also unpopular - 80 per cent did not have a design champion and 68 per cent ran no form of award scheme.

The survey was sent to every planning authority in England - of which 44 per cent did not respond.

The report stated that CABE was concerned that these authorities may not even have had qualified personnel capable of completing the survey or were simply not interested enough in design.

However, CABE praised two authorities.

It commended Birmingham for having an architects' department within an Urban Design Department; and Leicester, which boasts a broad-based planning department, including planners, architects, landscape architects urban designers and other specialists.

CABE head of design review Peter Stewart, who led the survey, said: 'We know from our casework that the picture across the country is patchy. Some local authorities are exemplary in their commitment to taking design issues seriously. Others appear to have little interest in the subject.'

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