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Lords force design to top of Housing Bill agenda

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A House of Lords group led by Lord Howarth is demanding changes to the Housing and Regeneration Bill to ensure design quality is embedded in the new Housing and Communities Agency (HCA).

A ‘design caucus’, led by the former architecture minister and backed by the RIBA, has demanded key amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Bill – the legislation which will ratify the creation of the HCA.

With a purse of nearly £16.3 billion, the HCA is expected to deliver 100,000 homes and will be created later this year when English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation merge – neither of which groups had statutory duties in respect of design quality.

Speaking at a Lords debate in the last week, Howarth called for the HCA to be given an explicit role in guaranteeing ‘the improvement of design quality in new housing’, and insisted the new superquango should appoint a design expert to its board.

Howarth said: ‘There can only be benefit in using this legislation to reinforce... the guidance expressed in the planning policy statements [on good design]. There will otherwise be a wide gulf between the aspirations of ministers in Whitehall and practice and decision-making on the ground.’

He added: ‘I also believe it is right that we should require in legislation that appropriate people are in place and procedures are followed that will conduce to good design.’

Howarth’s comments to the Lords’ grand committee garnered widespread cross-party support, with Baroness Whitaker claiming the proposed amendments were ‘the missing link to the bill’s sense of what the HCA is for’.

However, Baroness Andrews, who is overseeing the passage of the bill through Parliament, said she could not accept the amendments in their current form but was ‘sympathetic towards aspirations to improve design quality’.

Anna Scott-Marshall, RIBA head of public affairs, said: ‘There appears to be a head of steam building on design issues and it is clear the government will not be able to ignore this.’

The Lords must now wait for the next stage in the passage of the bill, likely to be next month, to discover the government’s response. Meanwhile, it is understood that the RIBA would be interested in the design expert role.

However, CABE’s head of public affairs, Adrian Harvey, has ruled out embedding a representative from the commission within the new agency, similar to the designated London 2012 Olympic Games position. He said: ‘If the HCA needs to draw on our expertise, as the government’s advisor on architecture we are willing to offer [it].

‘But we are keen that the agency will not be immune from design review and we want to maintain the independent scrutiny role.’

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