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Industry Reaction: What next for CABE?

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The profession reacts to news that the government has withdrawn its funding for the 11-year-old Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment

Victoria Thornton, director of Open-City
‘With the coalition government determined to ensure that responsibility is taken at a local level, the real question is whether a new version of CABE or any national organisation is the right vehicle to deliver design advice at a local level. Uncertainty continues to plague the planning outlook, but with the new localism bill expected soon, we do know that local input will be at the core of planning going forward.

‘The question for the government is whether a reformed CABE without statutory powers can add value or if it’s better to strengthen local architecture organisations which are arguably better placed to deliver aspects of the localism agenda. Above all, and by all means, we must help local people to build up their understanding of good design rather than tell them what it is.’

Terry Farrell, long-term CABE supporter 
‘The Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC) was at its best when immersed in big projects and big issues. CABE continued this leadership, but widened it and was very effective at the beginning of projects and setting the stage. It was wider, more proactive and beginning to become more local than the RFAC ever was. There needs to be even further evolution towards more local, more accessible and proactive design and creative planning leadership. CABE did get quite big and perhaps there could be a tighter, more focused role at national level. Whatever happens, there has to be an organisation or body to continue this leadership as development control alone is totally inadequate, creative proactivity is invariably woefully absent from UK town planning.’

Alan Howarth, Labour peer and former Arts Minister who helped found CABE in 1999 
‘The decision to cease to fund CABE is barbaric. CABE has mobilised for the public good the expertise and good will of leading urban design professionals at minimal cost to the taxpayer. It has worked un-bureaucratically and enterprisingly through persuasion, example, education and stimulating debate.‘The return has been immense, in improving both value for money in development and quality of life. We can’t rely on the culture that CABE has promoted continuing without CABE, particularly given the cynicism of too many developers and the ignorance of too many planners. Are we to go back to a passive acceptance of mediocrity, shoddiness and downright ugliness? Maybe the better spirits among urban designers and developers will support in some new way the ethos and practice of CABE.’

Graham Morrison of Allies and Morrison 
‘CABE barely made it past the elaborate celebrations for its 10th birthday. Turning off the funding tap was a thoughtless act. With CABE being the child of New Labour, it was brutal, because it has about it the ring of retribution for the execution of its predecessor, the Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC). It is thoughtless, because it may leave a dangerous vacuum of authoritative design commentary. We need a CABE, or something like it.
‘CABE is not without its critics. We can ignore the complaints of those who suffered from the rigorous and candid judgments of its design review panels – and this includes myself. But in the current climate, the claims that CABE costs too much money could not be ignored. Its budget of over £11 million supporting a staff of 125 was an easy target and, in any case, many think its activities are too widely spread.
‘But under the searchlight of austerity, these and other things could be fixed, should CABE be allowed to survive in some slimmed-down form.
‘The one thing that must survive is the work that the old RFAC did exceptionally well – the design review of major or strategic projects. Planning committees need the well-argued commentary that the RFAC consistently produced – a role that CABE inherited.

Alan Simpson of Taylor Young
‘As an architect I am passionate about improving design and CABE went a considerable way to forcing design to be considered, but it was very crude, and relied more on a culture of fear. CABE was too fashion led. In my opinion, the members had a view on design that was extremely narrow.
However the regional design reviews, such as Places Matter, Inspire East are truly excellent. They offer a forum for discussion, were less rigid, allowed a mutually respectful discussion and were not architecturally bigoted in their approach. Personally, I do not think the HCA is the right vehicle, but equally, the reviews need some funding. This is certainly worthy of debate as linking a review panel to planning is generally positive. The problem as always, is that unless the panel has teeth, it has little power. In austerity days, design quality will get knocked hard so a sensible approach to design standards is required.
‘Also, more emphasis needs placing on quality of material and product rather than debating the nuances of image.’

Stephen Hodder of Hodder + Partners
I was deeply disappointed at the DCMS decision and unless an alternative is mind, the decision fails to recognise the value of good design. At a time when design commentary within local authorities is poor, the need for design review and advice has never been more vital. I recognise that CABE Design Review is not without criticism (lack of consistency, commercial or contextual awareness) but as a process I believe it has undeniably improved the quality of the built environment.
‘It has also become the model for regional design review panels and they must seize the opportunity if there is to be no replacement…with the RIBA taking the lead?’


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