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Commons adds to CABE pressure

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CABE has come under fire again this week following the publication of a parliamentary report into its activities that attacks much of its day-to-day work.

The ODPM House of Commons select committee, chaired by Clive Betts, has produced a report that questions the current value of CABE's design review and the perception of commissioners' conflicts of interest.

The document, which was drawn up after investigation at the end of last year, also hits out at CABE's attitude to the historic built environment, claiming that it fails to recognise the importance of context.

'While the new chairman [John Sorrell] is not a developer, development interests are still too heavily represented on CABE, which may skew its priorities in favour of new developments rather than conservation,' the report says.

'There are major concerns that the quality of consideration on some schemes is cursory and does not appear to be based on any clear set of criteria. CABE should consider fewer schemes more thoroughly,' it continues.

The report also calls for reform of the current design review system. 'The pin-up sessions, when the design review chairman and a member of CABE staff look at drawings of schemes, should no longer take place,' it goes on.

The report, 'The Role and Effectiveness of CABE', also recommends that the Design Review Committee should meet in public, rather than behind closed doors.

And it goes on to discuss the historic context of schemes. 'CABE's remit is to consider the design quality of new developments, but it appears to neglect the historic location in which schemes are located, so seriously reducing the validity of its comments,' the report adds.

However, CABE chief executive Richard Simmons said that the report was not completely critical. 'If you read the whole report, the committee has said how important CABE's role is and that we are dealing with the audit,' he told the AJ.

'But if there are good ideas in there, we are always happy to listen. You always expect a select committee report to give constructive criticism and it would be churlish of me not to listen to it since CABE also gives open and constructive criticism.

'I don't agree that the value of our advice is in danger of being undermined,' he added. 'If that were the case we wouldn't get large numbers of customers telling us how satisfied they were - and there is no slacking off of people taking our advice.

'It is not CABE's policy to promote new buildings for the sake of it - we promote good design,' Simmons added.

by Ed Dorrell

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