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Wales to have its own design commission by spring 2002

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Wales is to create its own design commission to champion good design, establish a 'Welsh architecture' and counter negative stereotypes about building in the country.

The body will fill the void left after the Royal Fine Art Commission was disbanded and replaced by CABE in 1999. While the RFAC's mandate stretched to include Wales, CABE's work is restricted to England.

The Design Commission for Wales will come into effect in April 2002, having been passed by the Welsh Assembly with an initial annual budget of £100,000.

But director of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales Mary Wrenn stressed that the Design Commission for Wales would not be an offshoot of CABE. However, it will look to CABE for inspiration - most likely focusing on the 'carrot' of early-stage design enabling, rather than the 'stick' of design review.

It will 'influence, educate, bring pressure and promote good examples', she said.

The move - to be announced tomorrow at the annual conference of the RSAW - follows a longrunning campaign by key figures, including Geraint Talfan Davies, chair of the Institute of Welsh Affairs and ex-controller of BBC Wales, exRSAW president Robert Firth, Welsh Assembly minister for the environment Sue Essex, and Welsh Millennium Centre architect Jonathan Adams.

Adams believes the priority for the commission must be to 'generally upgrade the overall debate about the design environment in Wales'.

Key to this, he said, is to follow the lead set by the Scottish RFAC and to 'get people to understand that a different country needs a different design identity. It must be bold, ' he urged.

It is not yet clear exactly what the commission's remit will be, but observers agree that it might have been able to prevent the past disasters that have left Wales with a reputation for being a difficult place in which to build.

Wrenn has suggested the body could have taken on an advisory role during the Welsh Assembly fiasco, which could have produced an altogether different outcome.

And Adams believes the loss of Brynmawr could have been avoided if there had been a united voice to promote the regeneration possibilities of restoring the listed rubber factory. But at the time, 'there was no one here to put that position across'.

The amount of power given to the body is not a primary concern for Adams. 'I'd rather it had brains than teeth, ' he said.

Members of the commission will be appointed in the coming months, following open advertisement. It will take the form of a non-profit-making organisation, rather than a CABE-style quango, and will also recruit from outside the country.

Once formed, the commission's board will then decide on the details of its work.

Adams would like to be on the commission 'but most of all I want to be supported by it and answerable to it', he said.

The RSAW's annual conference, 'Can Wales build? - architecture for a new nation', will be held in Cardiff Bay on Friday 2 November. The conference will be attended by CABE chief executive Jon Rouse, RSAW president Skip Belton, head of the Welsh school of architecture Malcolm Parry and RIBA president Paul Hyett.

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