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DC CABE to ‘refresh’ design panels

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Regeneration expert Nahid Majid has been tasked with revitalising the now-independent design body, adding ‘faith and community advisors’ to its 450-strong network of architects, designers and academics

Design Council CABE (DC CABE) is ‘refreshing’ its network of design review panellists and enablers as part of a wide-ranging overhaul of its business and operating model.

The former government design watchdog has appointed regeneration expert Nahid Majid (pictured) to carry out a reappraisal of its activities, following the end of its role as the ‘government voice’ on design.

Majid, who replaced architect and former design review chief Diane Haigh, said DC CABE was creating a ‘self-sustaining enterprise’ and considering a range of potential new products including ‘design visioning’ and ‘design procurement’.

‘We’re looking at creating a self-sustaining enterprise and one of the things we are really keen on is getting the right sort of people involved,’ she said.

Majid’s last job was programme development director at the Mayor’s Fund for London and her CV includes appointments at Turner & Townsends, the Princes Foundation and the Department for Work and Pensions.

The new direction comes after Peter Bishop’s DC CABE review recommended greater devolution, more design support, and services aimed at both private and public sectors.

Architects and designers will remain ‘crucial’ to design review but, Majid argued, flesh blood was needed to demonstrate DC CABE’s ‘broad commitment’.

‘The fact that we are independent and not just the government voice anymore, we want to develop that by refreshing our family and getting more skills,’ she said.

Architects, planners, landscape architects and academics traditionally made up the bulk of DC CABE’s 450-strong network of enablers and design review panel members.

That make-up could be revised to make way for DC CABE’s new, ‘more flexible and diverse’ network of Built Environment Experts (BEEs) which, according to Majid, would include ‘faith and community experts, not just designers and architects’.

‘Architects are not just architects anymore,’ she said. ‘When we are developing spaces we need to understand the cultural issues, particularly if we are designing for communities.’

Recruitment starts today and closes on 30 March. The BEEs would be at the forefront of DC CABE’s work on communicating policy and building trends to local authorities, developers and communities, but they would also operate in a new world where the organisation has to charge for design review.

Majid was unable to say how many design reviews DC CABE would need to carry out each year and how much it would have to charge in order to survive. By January this year it had completed 189 design reviews since the Design Council and CABE were combined.

Majid also dismissed the threat of competition from organisations such as the Princes Foundation, which underwent a communities-focused rebrand earlier this year and was chosen to roll out the government’s Localism agenda.

‘It’s great that lots of organisations are doing this work,’ said Hajid. ‘We’re working very closely with the Princes Foundation. The more people that buy into this agenda [the better]. It’s fantastic.’

Last summer’s riots in the capital also boosted demand for design services at Design for London, which started hiring new staff as a result.

But Majid was cautious about linking design problems to London’s social and economic divides.

‘There are numerous factors that contribute to riots. Design is one element of that and it can be a process that can reconcile social and economic problems. I don’t think it was the main reason for what happened.’
Merlin Fulcher


The new built environment experts network

Recruitment to DC CABE’s new Built Environment Experts network opens today (Thursday 1 March) and will close on Friday 30 March at 5:30pm.

DC CABE is holding an introduction event for those who want to find out more on Monday 19 March from 6pm to 8pm at the Design Council offices in Covent Garden, London WC2.

Visit designcouncil.org.uk/cabe to apply.


The future of design review

Anna Scott-Marshall

Anna Scott-Marshall

Anna Scott-Marshall, head of public affairs at the RIBA

It’s clear that with fewer in-house resources in local authority planning departments, extra support for design quality such as design review will continue to be incredibly important.

In the future, there is likely to be much more flexibility as to how local authorities access design review, whether that is via their own panel, a shared panel with other local authorities or via a national service. It may well be that design review will start to be a service that is paid for. If developers, architects and local authorities are clear what service they are receiving and the benefits of doing so – including, ideally a smoother passage to planning if the panel outcome is positive – then there is likely to be little resistance to this. The problem will be if it is seen as an extra hurdle without any gain. We’re hopeful that the national planning policy framework may provide some of that certainty.


Matt Brook

Matt Brook

Matt Brook, director of global architecture, urbanism and design at Broadway Malyan

There are two potential paying audiences for design review: local authorities and private developers. Paying for external design reviews would be a very cost-effective way for resource-strapped local authorities to bolster their in-house design advice. For developers, paying for a design review service would help ensure that their product is the best possible in a very competitive market, while also helping fast-track the planning process.

To become a more effective tool for clients, potential failings need to be addressed. Review teams must remain consistent for repeat reviews and have good local knowledge. However, the key aspect of design review that needs to change in the UK is its planning status. Design review needs to at least become a material consideration. It also needs to happen at an early stage, before applications are made.


Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Chris Brown, chief executive of Igloo

Most people welcome development when it is well designed. As all good developers know, planning is easier when developers design with communities. However, when there are differences of opinion independent processes like design review can be helpful.

The question is who should pay and how much? Much design review today occurs through the pro bono time of design professionals. Such time is scarce, so we should only design review where there is a dispute or potential dispute. Design review does require administration and that needs paying for. It shouldn’t be a significant burden though. A few hundred pounds for a simple design review at most. Should developers pay? My view is, absolutely. On the whole, only the bad developers in dispute with communities (or those seeking outstanding design sign off) will need to pay, the costs will be small and a ‘design OK’ valuable.


Bob Ghosh

Bob Ghosh

Bob Ghosh, director of K4 Architects

I can only speak from my own experience. When we took the Birmingham Central Fire Station to DC CABE design review, I felt the panel demonstrated an extraordinary lack of appreciation of the site, its context and its complexity. Some of them had clearly never even been to Birmingham. They also dismissed the economic and enabling arguments that underpin the scheme, choosing to look at pure design issues in isolation.

I have great respect for the professionals that make up the DC CABE design review panel, but I think some of them are detached from reality. I find a structural engineer expressing negative opinions about the fenestration of our building bizarre. Call me old fashioned, but surely it would be more appropriate for another architect to peer review this aspect of design. DC CABE could learn a lot from some of the regional panels.



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