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There is a Quango called CABE, the Commission for the Built Environment, which claims to offer "expert" advice to councils "to help create better buildings and spaces." In reality it is part of the modernist mafia that make up the architectural establishment in our country – alongside the architects trade union the RIBA. It is a force for ugliness and brutalism. It is run by such people as Piers Gough.

CABE last year got over £13 million from the Department of Culture Media and Sport but this funding has been cut off. Congratulations to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt for this decision. Now I hope the Department for Communities and Local Government will follow suit (they gave them £6 million last year.) Over to you, Eric.

This doesn't mean that councils should not obtain design review for important planing schemes. But they should pay for it themselves when he want it. Also they should be allowed to go to CABE if they want modernist advice. But this should not be a monopoly. If I am unfair in my characterisation of CABE and their modernist advice is of merit then let them test it in the market place.

There should be competition and choice in design advice.


I'm delighted that in future we should see just that with the Prince's Fooundation for the Built Environment moving into this area.

Their Chief Executive Hank Dittmar says:

The coalition government has had to take some difficult choices in the past weeks, and one of these was to cut DCMS funding to the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). CABE is the successor body to the Royal Fine Arts Commission, and identifies itself as the government's design adviser. It is important that design quality not slip in the wake of this decision.

While CABE’s Chair Paul Finch and Chief Executive Richard Simmons have been bullish about the body’s continuing role, the removal of a large chunk of its funding does provoke some thought about ways to deliver its primary function of design review.

Quality design has always been CABE’s mantra, and this is a very local and variable subject. What’s appropriate for East Croydon might not be appropriate for Ealing or Norwich, and the notion of a body ordained by central government to arbitrate design quality may not be the only way to maintain and improve the quality of design and building. Might there not be a marketplace of ideas as well as one of goods, and might not a plural world countenance a plurality of ideas about urbanism and architecture provided by multiple organisations?

The Prince's Foundation is investigating the feasibility of offering design review services to local authorities and developers with the help of a network of architects and other designers. Such a service could be provided on a fee for service basis and might introduce the element of competition and choice into the design review process. We’d look to recruit a balanced group, but unlike others, wouldn’t rule out traditional architecture and urbanism.

The Foundation's focus would be toward architecture and design in service of walkable, mixed use neighbourhoods, linked by streets and squares and parks. A design review panel formed by The Foundation would be slanted in favour of buildings and communities for people rather than for designers, and a design process that involves communities. If other organizations — including CABE — similarly stepped into this niche, it might allow local authorities to choose services that best fit local needs, rather than having design quality and style mediated by an organisation funded by central government.

In an era of both localism and austerity, eliminating barriers to entry and design review from multiple sources might be a positive step forward, bringing costs down and loosening the grip of an architecture elite on planning and design decisions.

Some people like modernist buildings. Most do not. In the spirit of localism councils should be allowed to choose. The views of their voters are clear.

14 comments for: End CABE’s monopoly on design review

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