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Urban White Paper boosts CABE

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Deputy prime minister John Prescott was today set to put the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) at the centre of the government's long-awaited plans for an urban renaissance in the UK.

Prescott was expected to announce extra funding for CABE and hand it sweeping new powers to set up networks of architecture centres and urban design skills centres, and to influence planning guidance.

The plans were due to be part of the Urban White Paper announcement due today, which represents the government's response to Lord Rogers'Urban Task Force report.CABE's increased power and responsibility over the urban renaissance will be confirmed with news that it will now be co-funded by Prescott's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) as well as keeping the £1.5 million a year it currently receives from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).The DETR's superior influence is demonstrated by the fact that out of the 105 task force recommendations on which government policy is based,84 are the responsibility of the DETR, while only five come under the auspices of the DCMS.

Additional cash from the DETR will be in exchange for CABE's involvement in three new areas: regeneration, planning and construction.On regeneration, CABE will work with regional development agencies to establish urban design skills centres, with pilot centres spread across different locations in the North West.On planning it will advise on and disseminate new planning guidance and will run a cross-industry urban design skills working group.On construction it will become involved in the Rethinking Construction initiative, which aims to improve the way project teams work and make building sites more productive.

These new tasks will be an extension of CABE's existing design review work and matchmaking between architects and clients.The new emphasis on planning and urban design means that more professionals from these areas will be recruited to work at the commission, said CABEchiefexecutive Jon Rouse.

'We have had an amazing autumn, 'he added.'Architecture and design are now firmly on the political agenda.Our task is to make sure that not only does it stay there but that it results in more great buildings and places.'

RIBA president Marco Goldschmied, lecturing in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia this week, also welcomed the increased powers for CABE in the planning area.

'If CABE becomes involved in rewriting PPG1[the general policy and principles ofplanning] then that is an extremely good thing, 'he said.'This is the beginning ofa joint strategic approach to architecture, urban design and planning which has been lacking.CABE has a good group ofcommissioners and I see no reason not to trust them with this responsibility.The RIBA is fully supportive of CABE.'

The level of extra funding will be negotiated in the new year.Much of the government's policy on urban areas was previewed in the chancellor's pre-budget statement last week, which was broadly welcomed by the built environment profession (see page 20).

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