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Your article 'CABE's Capabilities Overstretched' (AJ 18.05.06), highlights the value local authorities attach to advice from CABE's design review programme. Around 19,000 major planning applications are decided every year and CABE considers 350 in its role as a non-statutory consultee. We would have to expand our capacity by more than 50-fold to meet that kind of demand, which is clearly unrealistic.

We recognise that London is under huge development pressure - but so too are housing-market renewal and housing growth areas, and the core cities. CABE's remit covers the whole of England, and in deciding on whether to review a case, we are alert to other significant projects across the country - and there are many schemes outside London that we are not able to review.

Part of the answer clearly is to establish regional design review panels, such as the South East Regional Design Panel, and CABE will shortly be issuing guidance on setting these up.

But the underlying issue here is the increasing requirement for local authorities to give appropriate and, importantly, consistent consideration to design issues. This is a result of the new and very welcome significance accorded to good design in planning policy, particularly PPS1. In order to respond to this, local authorities not only need to consider design issues when dealing with planning applications but are also increasingly required to be proactive, for example in establishing a tall-buildings policy.

This is good news, but it poses a widespread resource issue.

Many local authorities do not currently have adequate access to design expertise, and this is the challenge that we need to address through skills development, capacity building and better resourcing at a local level.

Selina Mason, director of architecture and design review, CABE

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