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Lord Falconer promises major review of urban design

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Regeneration minister Lord Falconer last week promised a 'fundamental review'of urban design across all government departments. Speaking at the UDAL annual conference in Birmingham, he promised that an 'urban summit'would be convened in autumn 2002 to pull together the different strands of best practice and ministerial thinking. 'Our towns and cities do not have to depress, they can uplift the people who live there, 'he told delegates. 'Places should be designed for people, not the other way round.'

Lamenting the quality of many of Britain's urban spaces, Falconer listed a catalogue of problems and shortcomings, including a lack of design skills, a poor maintenance record and an inadequate planning system. For too long, he said, urban design had been pushed down the agenda.

People were right to complain of graffiti, vandalism and abandoned cars, he said, adding that these problems were not 'trivialities'but 'the thousand cuts that can easily lead to the slow death of urban communities'.

Falconer also talked up the review of the planning system, currently being undertaken by ministers and officials.He admitted that 'radical changes'were needed and promised a 'top-to-bottom'examination of the regime.

'If the system is believed to be slow, and is believed to be inimical to sensible, sustainable development, then people will not come forward with schemes, 'he said.

Falconer also used the platform to announce a new initiative to identify good practice from 24 towns and cities, including Gateshead, Sheffield, Norwich and Swindon. Successes would be held up as beacons for how to establish vision, priorities and delivery, he said. 'It is important that we listen to what these towns and cities tell us about our policies and programmes - whether they are helping or hindering them. I am keen that this initiative encourages open and honest debate. Their feedback will certainly help form future policy development, 'said Falconer.

CABE has welcomed the announcement that Lord Falconer is to continue as leader of the ministerial 'design champions'group (AJ 20.9.01). But commission chairman Stuart Lipton pressed the government to accelerate the rate at which improvements were being made. He said: 'Charlie Falconer is the ideal person to drive this forward. However, there is still much more to do. It is coming up to a year since the PM launched the Better Public Buildings initiative. We have come a long way since then but the results on the ground are still mixed.'

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