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Built Environment: Design Quality

Volume 722: debated on Monday 22 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to promote good design quality in the built environment.

The Government believe that the quality of the built environment is crucial in creating liveable communities. In the context of the deficit reduction programme and the proposed major reform of the planning system, we are still considering future measures the Government can take to promote high standards of design, especially at local level. There will be a proposed national planning policy framework.

Does the noble Baroness acknowledge that the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment—CABE—has made a very valuable contribution to improving design quality in the built environment, not least by making available across the country, to developers, planners and members of the public, the advice of excellent professional people? Does she agree that design quality is crucial to functionality, value for money and well-being and that it is desirable that CABE, in an appropriate future incarnation, should support local people to shape the physical development of their neighbourhoods to high standards of design?

My Lords, I know how much the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, cares about the built environment and design, not only from his letter to the Times on 25 October but also as he was responsible for the founding of CABE. The Government acknowledge that good design is indeed important to achieving value for money and happiness. I pay tribute to the work of CABE, which the Government greatly value. I agree that CABE has helped to raise the standards of architecture and design in public building and more widely through its internationally known design review service. On whether we are continuing to discuss future arrangements with CABE and the Department for Communities and Local Government, a further announcement will be made in due course. Part of the discussions will be about high standards of design and how they can be promoted at local level.

Will my noble friend confirm that the role of CABE is absolutely critical in energy conservation and sustainable building, which of course have become even more important issues since its foundation? Does she agree that it is very important that that kind of professional and practical advice is available to government from an independent source?

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, touches on an important and topical point. CABE was established by DCMS in 1999 as the national champion for better design in England’s building places and spaces, and in regard to design for climate change. It became a statutory body under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. It is sponsored by DCMS and, since 2003, has been jointly funded by DCLG.

The Minister’s department used to be the design champion within Whitehall. I hope that that is still the case. Would she be kind enough to confirm it? In that capacity or in any other, how does her Secretary of State see the future of the Design Museum, whose funding is to cease in four years?

The Design Council remains the UK’s national body for design, but under the proposed option it would no longer be within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Instead, it would operate outside the public sector, retaining its charitable and royal charter status. The proposal would reduce the Design Council element of BIS and refocus its activities—which cover, I imagine, what the noble Baroness was talking about. However, the key programmes that are valued by stakeholders would be preserved.

My Lords, I remind my noble friend that, during the passage of the Planning Act 2008, amendments were made, often at the insistence of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and undertakings were given by the then Minister about the importance of incorporating good design, not least for the benefit of disabled people, into the future planning system. Can the Minister give an undertaking that those amendments and undertakings will be carried over into the new planning legislation of which my noble friend has already spoken?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for his question regarding the national planning policy framework. We will make an announcement about the framework and how best to take it forward as soon as it has been agreed. The implications for specific areas of planning policy, including design and related surroundings, will become clear during the process. Design for disabled people, especially with regard to the Olympics, is very much in the department’s thinking.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Whitaker asked the Minister a question about the Design Museum; I believe that her answer was about the Design Council. Could she answer my noble friend’s question?

I am afraid that I have no information on the Design Museum. I would not like to lead the noble Baroness on a different trail.

Will the Minister take into account the importance of soft landscaping and greenery in any designs? In asking her to do so, I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Gardening and Horticulture.

My Lords, my noble friend asks an important question. I agree that the design of gardens and their surroundings, which came under the remit of CABE, are very important for the well-being that I mentioned earlier.