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Diane Haigh answers readers' questions

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CABE's new director of architecture and design review answers your questions

‘Given the pressure on resources at CABE and its respected position across the private and public sectors, isn’t it time for CABE to train architects and outsource its Design Review enterprise to local planning authorities?’
Paul Latham, director of the Regeneration Practice, East London

Diane Haigh: Right now we don’t support the creation of local design review panels. We do support regional design review panels, and think they have huge potential. They need to have independent, insightful panel members and indeed many are former CABE reviewers. Although these panels aren’t run by CABE, they have learnt from our processes and are becoming well established. I don’t think outsourcing is the answer - local authorities themselves are entitled to independent advice and at times it is difficult for their own staff to stand aside from political pressure.

’What can be done to help raise the quality of local authority committee decisions?’
Peter Murray, exhibitions director of New London Architecture and director of Wordsearch

DH: Local authorities need to become far more confident mediators of design quality and ambition. Every single planning committee member should be required to get some training and experience of what makes good architecture. Multi-area agreements can be used to share design capacity across smaller local authorities. This still leaves the thorny issue of just how far some planning authorities are prepared to stand up for design standards against pressure from developers. My greatest regret is to see ill-considered and exploitative schemes pushed through despite CABE giving the local authority all the reasons to insist on better urban design, or to reject them. This lack of confidence or ambition means that many smaller towns, especially those who feel economically disadvantaged, are losing opportunities to rebuild an integrated urban fabric and reclaim their historic town centre.

'How can CABE put itself into aposition where it can exert more influence over planning committees' decisions? Currently the committees can choose to simply ignore CABE's views and advice on applications if they wish to.'
Jeremy Estop, managing director at MJP Architects

DH:It takes a brave committee to ignore CABE’s views. It does happen, but not often. The response of planning committees to schemes after we have reviewed them is monitored - many do demand changes before permission is granted, and schemes are often rejected because of CABE’s advice. We see our relationship with local authorities as a constructive partnership, not wielding a big stick. It is not just design review which can influence design quality of course – our enabling, skills and regional teams also promote good design before schemes come to review.

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