Terry Farrell has admitted the make-up of the government’s new housing design panel is unbalanced
Questions were raised about the new watchdog almost as soon as prime minister David Cameron announced Farrell would be joined on the panel by 77 year-old classicist Quinlan Terry and 70 year-old philosopher Roger Scruton.
Representatives from the Design Council, campaign group Create Streets, the RIBA and RTPI complete the panel.
Reacting to the news, Jonathan Ellis-Miller of EllisMiller Architects commented on the AJ’s website: ‘Would it be too much to ask if there were a token architect who was less than 65 on the panel? Or is this for Tory supporters with a country estate only?’
While on Twitter, architecture critic Douglas Murphy said he was ‘surprised people [weren’t] more angry’ about the make-up of the body, adding that the selection of Terry and Scruton was ‘the laziest, most stupid of appointments’.
In response Farrell, who is 76, said he understood the backlash.
He conceded: ‘I agree with the overwhelming industry response that the government’s new Housing Design Panel needs to be more balanced. I would urge the organisations represented on the panel, in particular the RIBA and Design Council, to help address this.
Farrell added: ‘I would also urge the government to ensure the panel is as balanced as possible, not just reflecting the broad spectrum of architectural design, but also professions such as landscape and engineering who play a vital role in placemaking.’
Earlier this week the Landscape Institute criticised the government for overlooking the organisation, saying that the exclusion ‘flied in the face of the support provided for landscape in the Farrell Review’.
Meanwhile the remit of the new body, which was unveiled at the same time as a new Starter Homes initiative giving first-time buyers a 20 per cent discount on new homes, has also been questioned.
Dickon Robinson, independent advisor on architecture and chair of the RIBA’s Building Futures said: ‘The panel’s remit looks remarkably similar to the role Cabe was successfully delivering via Building for Life and other programmes at the point when the coalition abolished it. Plus ca change! Will house builders be “terrified” into improving their ways? Unlikely as they hate being instructed by this kind of patrician, architect-led pressure group.’
He added: ‘What they respond to is pressure from their customers and until house buyers vote for better design with their wallets it will be difficult to make progress.’
Richard Simmons, visiting professor, University of Greenwich and former chief executive of CABE
‘The problems with housing design come from the economics of the house building, mortgage and land markets, the business models of the major builders, weak and inconsistent planning regulation, a shortage of skills in the industry and its fear of doing things differently.
‘To have real impact this panel of the great and good must be empowered by the Prime Minister to deal with these issues, builders must be willing to work with it on problems such as poor standard designs and space standards, and planning authorities and inspectors have to take note.
‘It needs to expand its cast list to include Historic England, the Environment Agency, and experts on housing market economics, sustainable design, architects who have designed decent commercial housing and builders who have commissioned it. It must broker a remit to tackle the fundamentals, not cosmetics.’
What will the panel actually do?
Other than naming its key protagonists, the government has put out very little detail on its plans for the housing design panel.
AJ asked the Department for Communities and Local Government for details of its remit, which minister it would be chaired by, how frequently it would meet, and what would be done with its input.
Apart from clarifying that the panel’s work would extend beyond the 100,000-unit Starter Homes programme, hardly any further information was forthcoming. It is understood that a first meeting of the panel will take place in the New Year, when its role and operations will be discussed in more detail.
A department spokesman said: ‘The Design Advisory Panel will work with government to set the bar on housing design across the country, including helping to encourage the delivery of well-designed Starter Homes.’
Farrell hits out at balance of own housing design panel