– in the House of Lords at 2:07 pm on 27th March 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 2:07 pm, 27th March 2008

rose to call attention to the case for encouraging high-quality architecture in the United Kingdom and for ensuring that design quality is taken into account by local planning authorities; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, we are projecting a vast amount of building in this country: healthcare facilities and schools on an unprecedented scale, Olympic facilities, regeneration of the Thames Gateway, 10 ecotowns, 2 million homes by 2016, and 3 million homes by 2020. That is a huge opportunity for good or, indeed, for ill. We should be determined to create fine buildings and we should never build less than well.

Great architecture occurs when patrons and architects are inspired to create beautiful buildings, but government can create conditions in which architecture can flourish. By establishing CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the Government have facilitated advice and assistance from some of the best minds in Britain for those who aspire to build well. Tony Blair affirmed his ambition that, in our generation, we should leave,

"a legacy of high quality public buildings that can match the best of what we inherited from the Victorians and other past generations".

Hazel Blears has said this week that:

"People deserve homes ... that are not brutal, but beautiful".

Rightly, the Government encourage fine architecture, though they cannot command it.

Urban design is much more susceptible to direct influence by public policy. As defined in By Design, urban design,

"concerns the connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and the built fabric, and the processes for ensuring successful villages, towns and cities".

Nick Raynsford and Stuart Lipton said in their foreword that:

"Good design always arises from a thorough and caring understanding of place and context".

Terry Farrell has said that "place is the client". English Heritage rightly insists that:

"Good design arises from a good understanding of the context of new development and its likely impact on the setting of existing places".

Better Public Buildings explained that good design adds value and reduces whole-life costs; creates flexible, durable, sustainable development for the community; minimises waste of materials and energy, in construction and in use; provides functional, efficient, adaptable spaces; is attractive and healthy for users and public; contributes to construction which is quick, safe and efficient; and produces buildings which are safer and easier to clean and maintain. Good design enhances people's lives and transforms how they feel and behave. It can revitalise neighbourhoods; reduce pressure on the countryside; uplift and bring hope to neglected communities; reduce crime, illness and truancy; and help public services—hospitals, schools, housing and transport—to perform better. The Government have now rightly committed us to a zero-carbon standard for new buildings. There are empirically tested ways to achieve good design and there is no excuse for bad design.

The costs of bad design are disastrous. In Utopia on Trial, Alice Coleman examined 15 design variables in 4,000 blocks of flats and correlated these with the behaviour patterns of residents. She found that as the design values worsened, litter, graffiti, vandalism, pollution and the incidence of children in care correspondingly deteriorated. Bad design leads to higher management and maintenance costs, earlier replacement costs, environmental costs and poor quality of life, worse educational attainment, worse stress, worse health, worse crime rates, social exclusion, and all the economic costs associated with these. In Estates: An Intimate History, Lynsey Hanley has written movingly of tower blocks that,

"sap the spirit, suck out hope and ambition, and draw in apathy and nihilism".

Bad design is utter waste.

In 1918, Lloyd George declared that there must be "homes fit for heroes" and, by 1939, there were more than 1 million council houses. The Tudor Walters standards stipulated generous scales and good materials. Aneurin Bevan insisted that quality should have precedence over quantity in public housing, as well as insisting on what he called,

"the living tapestry of a mixed community"— the avoidance of physical segregation by class.

But then mistakes were made. In 1951, the new Government gave precedence to quality over quality in housebuilding. There was also the cult of the tower block. Le Corbusier was a great architect, but a disastrous social theorist, and many of his disciples were disastrous architects. Modernist architects were messianic. As Philip Johnson later said:

"We really believed, in a quasi-religious sense, in the perfectibility of human nature, in the role of architecture as a weapon of social reform ... The coming Utopia when everyone would live in cheap prefabricated flat-roofed multiple dwellings—heaven on earth".

The prophets and architects of utopia swept aside the survey evidence that people did not want to live in flats. Local authority leaders were enchanted by utopian visions for their cities. Paternalistic chief planners and city engineers saw that they could quickly and cheaply rehouse wholesale. Big builders made a fortune. Central government not only endorsed but intensified the utopian disaster. The Housing Subsidies Act 1956 rewarded local authorities with a bigger subsidy the higher they built.

Other forces also militated against good-quality design and construction. Stop-go economics destabilised architects' practices and contractors' workforces. Systems building required little craftsmanship and there were fewer apprentices. The free-market ideology of the 1980s led to the dismantling of local authority architects' departments, weakened planners and allowed shoddy builders a clear run. Oppressive central control and audit stifled creativity in the public sector. Capital gains tax exemption for owner-occupied homes and inflation led to properties increasingly being regarded as investment units to be traded rather than as homes. The mediocrity and meanness of much housebuilding generated public antipathy to development. Wanton destruction of built heritage produced an aversion to the modern and the different. Subordination of other design considerations to the imperatives of the motorist dehumanised environments.

Much that was good was built in these decades, but we must learn from the bad experience. Since 1997, this Government have made serious attempts to improve the quality of planning and design.

CABE was set up to work for improvement in quality of life through good design. It champions well designed buildings and public space, runs public campaigns and provides expert, practical advice. It works with planners, designers, clients and architects. Although it exercises no statutory powers, CABE has become an influential and creative force within Whitehall and across the country.

The Office of Government Commerce, which is responsible in the Treasury for public procurement policies, no longer insists on the cheapest up-front price, but now propounds the importance of economy in whole-life costs. The National Audit Office also supports far-sighted policies in the procurement of buildings. Although the picture of PFI remains very mixed and the contracting process is often unsatisfactory, there are signs of a better recognition that initial expenditure on design and quality will abundantly pay for itself in lower maintenance costs and better outputs of public goods, such as health and education. The concepts of social inclusion, intergenerational equity and sustainability— language that we have come to use in recent years—are all serving to engage us in better thinking about design.

In 2005, planning policy statement 1, Delivering Sustainable Development, said roundly:

"Design which fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area should not be accepted".

Paragraphs 33 to 39 say, in brief, everything that one would want in government guidance on the principles of good design. Planning policy statement 3, on housing, issued in 2006, is equally to be welcomed. To help translate the maxims of the planning policy statements into actual good practice the Government and CABE have promoted the appointment of design champions within Whitehall, local government, the health service and the housebuilding industry. Design quality indicators and CABE's "design for life" standard are helping to establish a common language and reference points for design quality. Pre-application discussions and design review panels are improving the planning process. Changes to the planning rules have given councils more scope to demand higher design standards. The Barker review of land-use planning and the Callcutt review of housebuilding delivery have emphasised the importance of design, as have the housing and planning Green Papers.

All that is no less than is needed. In 2006, Richard Simmons, the chief executive of CABE, reported in The Cost of Bad Design:

"We continue to see badly laid out housing estates, hospitals that aren't fit for purpose, schools that aren't inspiring and public spaces that are green deserts".

CABE's 2007 housing audit found,

"far too much development that is not up to standard ... and far too little that is exemplary in design terms".

Only 18 per cent of developments were classed as "good" or "very good". The quality of 29 per cent was,

"so low that they simply should not have been given planning consent".

CABE has also found that too many local development frameworks,

"lack a genuine vision for the area ... They are often not realistic or deliverable".

So, as we head further into this period of intense building activity, what is needed?

We need a drive to improve skills. Among transport planners only about two-thirds have had any formal urban design training. The planning policy statements require high-quality design, but we still will not get it, unless we are lucky, if planning officers and members of planning committees have a poor understanding of design or lack the confidence to reject inadequate design. In 2004, a skills survey by the LGA found that 52 per cent of local planning authorities admitted a lack of design skills. More planning, one might suppose, is being done by consultants working for developers than by local authority planners. Local authorities need more firepower. Just as Sir Terry Farrell is the master planner for Edinburgh and my noble friend Lord Rogers advises the Mayor of London, should not more architects be assisting other local authorities as planning and design gurus? Planning inspectors need the design skills to ensure that poor-quality designs are dismissed at appeal.

We must work to universalise best practice. Design champions should be appointed in all relevant bodies. In January 2007, only 65 per cent of local authorities had a design champion. Many said that they did not know how to use their design champion to best effect. Design champions need to have the standing, the time and the skills to be effective. Design review services should also be available everywhere. Legislation should empower the Secretary of State to make provision for design review panels and for their findings to carry weight at appeal. The new legislation should indeed lay a duty on planning authorities to promote high-quality design. Post-occupation analysis— examination of how developments have actually worked—should become normal practice, enabling us to learn quickly from experience.

Planners and developers need to take to heart paragraph 43 of PPS 1, and ensure that there is genuine involvement of the community in the development of plans and designs. I visited Barcelona with my noble friend Lord Rogers and Sir Stuart Lipton, chair of CABE, to study how the authorities there had made such a success of new development. What was impressed on us was that Mayor Maragall not only had a passion for architecture and for his city, but had spent endless amounts of time meeting citizens in their own neighbourhoods, explaining, listening and responding. He also had power in Barcelona to raise money and take decisions effectively untrammelled by Madrid.

Paragraph 38 of PPS 1 states that,

"planning authorities should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes".

If people want traditional architecture—and very many do—they should be allowed to have it, albeit constructed to sustainable standards. The debate about style should be won honestly. There should be no more hubristic imposition of the "innovative". We need to think about how to structure rewards and penalties to encourage good design and construction. Long-term costs and benefits for society often are not aligned with costs and benefits for developers. Richard Simmons has noted that accounting and valuation methods often give low weighting to design quality. In the public sector, capital and revenue costs are usually allocated to different budget-holders. Often in the private sector, it will be someone other than the developer who gains from added value arising as the benefits of good design are gradually experienced. Equally, if the development is sold off quickly, the developer does not have to incur the long-term costs of poor design. With land supply limited by planning, the value accruing from scarcity may far surpass the value added by good design. In favourable market conditions, should they come again, almost anything will sell and there is little premium for good design. Planners need to correct this market failure by rejecting bad design. The Government should add what pressures and incentives they can for good design. The Homes and Communities Agency will need capacity and commitment to require high-quality design. The housing and planning delivery grant should reward quality as well as quantity.

We should set space standards that are more, not less generous. It will not do to create 3 million hutches. We must also ensure that enough time is available—you do not get good design in a rush. Encouragement of pre-application discussion will help. In the hurry to get schools and houses built—and I understand the reasons for pressing forward—there is a risk that insufficiently considered and poor-quality design will be churned out.

We need to complete the culture change that has begun. Our civic leaders in the 21st century, like their predecessors in the 19th, must aspire to the best for the people whom they serve. Indeed, they must insist on the best. Leadership at every level and a willingness to learn will be the keys to promoting good architecture and urban design. Nothing will be better for national morale. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative 2:22 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I do not seek to damage in any way the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, but I did agree with every word that he said. We are in different political parties, but in the same pro-design party. In his splendid, broad-brush introduction, he set the scene for this debate.

I will address my remarks entirely to that part of the noble Lord's Motion that raises the importance of design quality being taken into account by local authorities, with which I agree wholeheartedly, and then only in relation to one particular issue, that of good housing design in brownfield and greenfield edge-of-town housing schemes. These may seem a bit prosaic and humdrum compared to shards of glass and signature architects' vaunting ambitions, skyline-changing statements and so on. However, in the mass, the three million houses that the Government predict will come off the production line will have much larger impacts on the landscape—irreversible impacts on the landscape, changing it for ever. They will also affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I hasten to add that I have no commercial interests to declare and am also out of sight and sound of any proposed developments affecting our homes in Westminster and the West Country.

At the moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, new house building is slowing. However, when home construction speeds up again, as it will, the demands of even the most conservative predict-and-provide projections will mean an awful lot of new homes. The Government must realise that, in an age where design, community and landscape appreciation is so high, these will be acceptable only if they are thoughtfully produced. There have been advances in recent years with road schemes. They are never popular, but they have been made a little more acceptable because of the much greater attention that has been belatedly paid, after decades of complaint, to key issues concerning surface noise, landscaping, planting, light reduction and the lessening of pollution of the night sky. There has been something of a revolution by road engineers and designers in order to get the schemes through. We need much more of a revolution in attitude by two of the most important players in the mass home-building area—the design departments of local authorities and the design divisions of our mass new-home builders. First and foremost, a rigorous approach by them should lead to building layout dictating highway design, rather than the other way round. There are still schemes coming forward that are based around highway design, which is generally unfriendly to community, landscape and the night sky. This approach is the first building block in creating an attractive new public landscape—the framework for a well structured layout, making use of, and reflecting, local landscape and diversity.

It cannot be easyI do not have these skills, I am an amateur—to produce a master plan to build a scheme of 250, 500 or 1,000 homes on the edge of a town, embracing perhaps both brownfield and greenfield sites. The problem is that even if an attractive master plan is produced, it does not ensure necessarily that detailed good design will follow. That is the next frontier. This demands great skills by building companies, but they need to be guided with a firm hand by local authorities' design departments and planners. Having spoken to and corresponded with designers and planners over the years, I do not think that either group has all the skills. Behind them very often are councillors with the very difficult job of implementing schemes that have been urged on them by central government—build more houses in your region to meet the numbers thought to be needed—often in the face of considerable controversy and concern by local residents.

What happens next is a bit sad and sometimes even—I choose my word carefully—pathetic. In local newspapers up and down the land, you see that councillors about to press the planning button are advised by officers to get that planning gain from developers—as though the planning gain of a new zebra crossing, community centre or school, wrested from a house builder or developer, is in the end what local councils are really all about—and, once that planning gain has come, that is it, their job has been done. While planning gains are significant in themselves, they sink into insignificance compared with how councillors should oversee the way in which schemes are planned and built. The biggest planning gain that any council anywhere in the land can achieve is always found in good and sustainable design, sympathetic to setting and heritage, giving the backdrop for the new community that is going to live in that area. Councillors need to wake up to the fact that this is their main responsibility. Some do, but not all. For such new developments will irreversibly alter the landscape, for better or worse.

Too often, house builders still work from a pattern-book approach—one design fits all. Affordable, two-bed, three-bed and then, right at the top end, a few four-bed and five-bed McMansions added on to give a touch of glamour on the margins. This must be why the chief executive of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, writing in his foreword to its housing audit in 2007—a document referred to by the noble Lord in his excellent speech—wrote that,

"the housing produced in the first years of the new century is simply not up to the standard which customers have the right to expect".

The chief executive of CABE was absolutely right in what he wrote. The approach that leads to this dire situation is one that I recall with amusement tinged with horror. A few years ago I was talking to the CEO of a major house building company at a private, informal gathering. I pressed him a bit about design. He turned to me and said, "Design, John? Come on". At this point he lapsed into Anglo Saxon vernacular not so shocking that I cannot risk it in your Lordships' House. "We basically have the same patterns everywhere in the country and then we use a few gob-ons on the buildings". It took me a second or so to understand what these gob-ons were. I then realised that he was referring to the fact that in chalk country a flint porch is added, while in the Midlands they gob-on a little brick façade with a bit of what is probably plastic barge boarding. That sort of thing has done the UK house building industry no end of harm. Builders deserve the opportunity to build if the Government want them to, but they must do so in a way that is acceptable and gives customers what they want. We cannot have any more identikit design with a bit of locally derived façade stuck on the front.

In conclusion, there is a huge opportunity for planning authorities, encouraged by the Government, to do what are often marginal things such as checking the designs for estates with huge trees planned for the edges. Those trees are planted as slips and take 20 to 30 years to reach maturity, so that is the ultimate deceit. It is in paying attention to little things such as minimising abrupt and harsh lighting on town edges that pollutes the night sky that in the end will help to deliver the Government's housing objectives. I look forward very much to hearing what the Minister has to say in response.

Photo of Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank Liberal Democrat 2:31 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, it is rare to have a debate in the House primarily about architecture, although we have had occasional debates on design. So I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, has sought this opportunity and spoken in the way that he did. My own preference today is to look at a larger canvas because there is every reason to celebrate the profession and current British architecture, although I am anxious about some developments.

For six years I was the director-general of the RIBA and I now enjoy a modest pension. When I arrived at the RIBA in 1987, as a layman in these matters, I called on Richard Rogers to discover my new role and to sit at his feet. He already had a distinguished international reputation, but I did not expect then, as I now do, to receive some of his mail through the House of Lords Post Office, including a letter this week praising the new Heathrow terminal. Equally, some post is forwarded to me from the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside.

It is now a quarter of a century since Foster, Rogers and Stirling broke through to the wider public with a new generation of remarkable architects in the influential Royal Academy exhibition. James Stirling died much too soon, but his name is carried in an international architecture prize, the Stirling Prize. As for Foster and Rogers, they have gone from strength to strength, and their world reputation stands exceedingly high. But there are many other outstanding British architects working at home and abroad, including our own Michael Hopkins—if I may call him that, given Portcullis House. Outside the world celebrities, we have practices such as Edward Cullinan Architects—Edward Cullinan was awarded the 2008 RIBA gold medal—and MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, which has designed many fine buildings in our universities.

It may seem invidious to name names, but architectural practices are usually marked by high quality individuals, dedicated and sometimes idiosyncratic. That is unlike some other professions which often appear to be anonymous. I can think of no structural engineer by name, although the profession plays a crucial role in major architectural projects. However, if the top 10 per cent of the architectural profession is outstanding, some should probably not be practising at all, and even very good architects can make mistakes. But despite architecture being a relatively poorly paid profession, many talented young men and women are seeking places to study architecture in our universities and colleges.

I hope that the profession has overcome the brutal, damaging and unfair speeches made by the Prince of Wales in 1984, when he referred to the "monstrous carbuncle", and in 1987 when he made comparisons with the London Blitz, along with remarks about the British Library and other buildings he did not like. They were quite inappropriate given his status and disproportionate influence. Those were rather depressing years, including the acceptance of the public finance initiative that diminished the importance of design and put the contractor ahead of the architect in creating major public buildings.

I have to say that the arrival of new Labour in 1997 greatly raised the morale of the profession and, more important, pointed towards even better architecture. In particular, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and which is now a statutory body, has been a very good thing in advising contractors, architects, planners and clients. That is important, for without a good client, even a good architect cannot create a good building.

One great loss in the 1980s and 1990s was the role of the county architect. Despite some building disasters, the LCC in particular, and then the GLC, had many good architects. The model of an outstanding architect in the public estate is Colin Stansfield Smith of Hampshire. His schools were, and still are, a byword for high quality design supported by a good client; they are pleasing to teachers and pupils alike. There is currently a large school building programme and I hope that these schools will be as good as those of Hampshire, despite what seem to be more complicated contractual arrangements. For example, in the London Borough of Camden there is to be a new academy school sponsored by University College, London, on a key site near Swiss Cottage. I hope that the design will be regarded as a model for other academies. Perhaps the Minister will explain in a letter to me the precise construction procedure—that between the decision to go ahead with the academy and building to begin.

As for my concerns, some arise from success and, hitherto, a confident economy. As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, pointed out, there are massive building developments in east London arising from the forthcoming Olympic Games, but there is inescapable pressure both on time—it is sooner than we think—and the budget. It must be tempting to cut corners in design and the quality of the architecture, but it would be unforgivable. Again, and in due course, I should be grateful if the Minister could explain the procedures and bodies responsible for establishing the permanent buildings and spaces which should last for many years.

Recently I visited Liverpool, where I was born and brought up and which is the European Capital of Culture 2008. I rejoiced in the many exciting changes, but I am reserved about the building site now called Liverpool One because of its bulk. As for the huge conference centre, the Arena, it seems to overshadow the strong and historic Albert Dock area and draws nothing from the river. In turn, in Salford, BBC Manchester has a great opportunity for utilising first-class architecture in the major new developments and to redeem some awful buildings in Wood Lane and White City. I should like to know what is happening and to be reassured on the financing, given that Gordon Brown and the Treasury have cut the BBC's licence fee income to the bone.

As for housing, there are far too many blocks of flats in the private sector that do not appear to have used an architect at all. I hope that everything will be done to ensure that higher standards in social housing are achieved in the bold programme that Ministers envisage. But there is a degree of scepticism—what an expert recently called "an impossible aspiration"—about new homes becoming zero carbon emitting by 2016 and all new buildings three years later.

Beyond all that, I rejoice in the fact that British architecture is outstanding and competing so successfully in the world.

Photo of Lord Sawyer Lord Sawyer Labour 2:41 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, on initiating this debate, and on giving such an interesting and knowledgeable overview of a subject on which we can all make our shorter and possibly more targeted contributions. I enter the debate to encourage the Government to extend the opportunities that outstanding design and architecture create for enhancing the lives of people throughout the country, particularly in the north of England, and to continue making such opportunities a part of their ongoing policies on regional regeneration.

Lay person though I am, I believe that this is a golden age for design, for architects and for architecture. I see before me designers and architects at the peak of their professional potential, and I have observed their work in many locations. They are undoubtedly helping to create some of the most beautiful, sustainable and human-friendly buildings and spaces ever known. We should harness their knowledge, experience and skills at every opportunity. There is absolutely no excuse for some of the dismal failures of the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, outlined, or some of the mediocrity referred to both in this debate and in the CABE report. The profession's skills, abilities and initiative make such failures inexcusable.

In the university town of Middlesbrough—particularly at the University of Teesside, of which I have the honour of being chancellor—we have transformed our town by creating outstanding public buildings and open spaces and using outstanding architecture. The university itself is a tribute to modern architecture. From humble beginnings as a small Gothic college, it is now a beautiful campus in the town centre, with 10 buildings constructed in the past 10 years. Some are iconic, including an institute for digital innovation and a centre for creative technology. We have a new student union building and a new performing arts centre. We have enjoyed 12 major refurbishments over the same period.

Alongside the university, bang in the middle of the town centre and costing £14 million, we have the beautifully designed Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, designed by the leading Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat. The building has won several awards and is absolutely central to our town's drive for regeneration and renewal. It has opened the town hall area to give light, space and a completely new perspective on the centre of town. It has brought to life, in a way which was never possible before, the original, beautiful Victorian town hall building.

Complementary to the creation of that public space is the Middlehaven project, a riverside development which is bringing the vision of the Tees Valley into being. It is growing where the town was originally founded, on riverside land that was dominated in the previous century and first part of this century by the steel, iron and heavy engineering works of the last Industrial Revolution. It is a place where people will live, learn and work in a new industrial revolution, with apartment blocks, houses, offices, hotels and leisure and entertainment facilities built to the highest sustainable and environmental standards and for people to enjoy.

I cannot begin to tell your Lordships how important this is to a town that was blighted and damaged in the 1970s and 1980s by factory closures and economic decline. Initiatives such as those in Middlesbrough and similar ones in Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and other northern towns and cities are rebuilding our regional economies and the lives of the people in the region.

This is a short speech that applauds the Government for helping to regenerate our university, our town and our region. There is, however, still a north-south divide which was referred to extensively in the earlier debate on equality in your Lordships' House. Economic and personal problems in the regions still need to be addressed and I do not want to minimise that. Too often, from a regional point of view, the debate on design and architecture is also London-centric. I ask the Government to keep up the important investment in the north. We have to battle every year for our share of investment against a range of other priorities, and we understand that. But my noble friends on the Front Bench should make no mistake: the regeneration of our northern city and region which I have outlined today is making an important difference to people's lives.

I would also like the Government to value the contribution that architects can make to regeneration. My experience in this is very limited, but it seems to me that the profession has much more to offer than its usual contributions on design and build. It should be involved in regeneration and development work beyond the usual confines and expectations.

To the architects I say: well done—but we want more involvement. Exactly 100 years ago this year, Philip Webb had just retired but Norman Shaw was still working, as was WR Lethaby. CF Voysey and CR Ashbee were at the height of their powers, and Barry Unwin and Raymond Parker were building the garden cities. All of them, as noble Lords will acknowledge, were undoubtedly under the influence of their forebears John Ruskin and William Morris. They laid down the standards of architecture for the people, not just in Britain but in Europe and around the world. Some of them were great influences on giants such as Frank Lloyd Wright. They are the foundations on which today's best architecture is built. However, they were more than architects, they were also social reformers. That is the bit that we need more of today. Architects are important agents for social reform and they should promote it. They should extend that part of their contribution. It would benefit us all.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench 2:47 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for initiating this debate. I am familiar with the noble Lord's interest in design from the time when he was Minister with responsibility for architecture. He kindly opened a beautifully designed block of apartments for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, of which I was then the chief executive. I declare my interests as an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association.

In contributing to this important debate, I will confine my remarks, like those of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, to the design of UK housing, and address three questions. First, how do we recognise good design and where can we actually see it? Secondly, how can we secure better design through an inevitably imperfect planning system? Thirdly, how can we pay for better design when housing is already unaffordably expensive for so many?

On the first, it is not impossible to witness imaginative and creative design of new homes that fit harmoniously into their local context. Seeing these is believing that good design matters. Although the bulk of house-building in the UK is the subject of blistering criticism from the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), a small number of private developers and quite a few housing associations have produced some really fine modern buildings sympathetic to their surroundings. As the housing associations increase their output, it is right to look to these—now highly professional and well-motivated—social businesses to show the way. Presentation Housing Association's Angel Town estate in Brixton, Wherry Housing Association's Brooklands development in Cambridge, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust's new Art-Eco scheme in York, and so many more, demonstrate ways of integrating environmentally sustainable new homes into their localities.

However, might these social housing providers, with their captive market, repeat the mistakes of the councils of the 1960s and 1970s which resulted in those dreadful concrete estates and ugly tower blocks that we are now demolishing? I think not, for two reasons. First, the mood of the age is to involve and encourage local people—future residents, consumers, neighbours—in decisions about these developments in a way that eludes the private sector house-builder. Secondly, the now universal practice of building mixed-tenure schemes of both tenants and owners—not segregated, separated welfare housing for the poor—means that homes for sale must satisfy the aspirations of purchasers who are making substantial long-term financial commitments and exercising choice in the marketplace next to the tenants in the social housing. Good examples exist of what we mean by better design. Hopefully, as the housing associations expand their work during the credit crunch now inhibiting other development, there will be increasing numbers of inspiring and influential new developments that we can see with our own eyes.

My second question was how we can secure better design through an inevitably imperfect planning system. How can decisions be taken on good design when the staff of the local planning authority cannot be expected to have the expertise required to make difficult design judgments? Many councillors on the planning committee will have had little training in that discipline. After all, an architecture course lasts five years, and even then it may not include much on urban design. The Local Government Association's Improvement and Development Agency has a good planning advisory service. English Partnerships gives very good guidance on large-scale planning applications through its ATLAS scheme. At a national level, the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment, as I know from direct experience, comments most helpfully on design aspects of important projects.

How does all that filter through at the local level for the multiplicity of house-building applications? One very sensible answer is through local design review panels of unpaid volunteer experts who meet regularly to offer advice before planning decisions are taken. This commendable arrangement works well in a number of local authorities and could be extended to many more. The use of panels was supported by the thoughtful review of house-building delivery from John Calcutt. Although it brings with it some important governance issues—members must have no vested interest, and a regular turnover of members is needed to renew the panel—it has been shown to make a substantial difference to design quality at the local level.

My third question was: how can we pay for better design when housing is already unaffordably expensive for so many? We have heard of the dismal design record of the UK house-building industry, which produces the smallest homes of any EU country; yet our house prices, relative to incomes, are already extraordinarily high. The house-builders argue that better design would add extra expense. Engaging an architect costs money, and better design may well mean higher space standards for greater accessibility—the full lifetime homes standards, the subject of a Question earlier today—and probably the use of more sympathetic and durable materials. To pay for buildings that are designed specifically to fit different local contexts, rather than using standardised pattern-book designs, would add to the cost and push prices further beyond the reach of many purchasers.

If standards are low yet prices are high, where is all the money going at present? The answer is that the cost of land for each new home in this country has risen so far and so fast that, since there is a finite limit to the amount buyers can afford to pay, something has had to give. That something has often been the standards that go with good design. How can we break out of this negative loop of high land costs leading to poor design and bog-standard housing? The answer is by making planning consent conditional upon design requirements, thereby depressing the value of the land. The landowner always gets a residual sum once planning conditions—including requirements to produce a certain number of affordable homes, to achieve environmental standards and perhaps in future to pay a community infrastructure levy—have all been satisfied. Thus it is that the landowner, not the house-builder, ultimately has to absorb the cost of better design.

It is already possible for local planning authorities to turn down developments where the design is abysmal, and I have addressed the question of improving the skills and confidence of planning authorities in answering my earlier question. It is through this route—insisting on design quality, the cost of which must then be factored into the price paid for the land—that standards can be improved without the purchaser or tenant, or even the house-builder, having to foot the bill.

When the new Planning Bill reaches this House, will the Government be sympathetic to amendments that seek to reinforce the design elements in future planning decisions, perhaps through greater use of design review panels, so that the 3 million new homes that will be built in the UK in the next 12 years or so really will be a national asset for our children and our grandchildren?

Photo of Lord Rogers of Riverside Lord Rogers of Riverside Labour 2:56 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I refer your Lordships to my various interests, all of which are listed in the Register of Lords' Interests. It is almost four years since I spoke in your Lordships' House on architecture and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Howarth on securing this debate. He has excellent timing, as the Planning Bill will be coming before your Lordships in a few weeks. I am impressed, as I often am when I am here, by the way in which quality of design is valued across the parties. I disagree with very little of what I have heard today.

In any civilised society, well designed buildings and glorious public spaces should be a fundamental human right. Better design makes better citizens. Degraded buildings and public spaces degrade society; as Hazel Blears has said, they brutalise us. You need only compare the vitality of Notting Hill with the desolation of many contemporary housing estates to see the truth of that. Beautiful cities, however, do not just happen. From Amsterdam to Barcelona, from Copenhagen to Venice, the cities that we love to visit were created. They are the result of collaboration between clients, architects, builders, government agencies and local authorities.

Ten years after John Prescott asked me to lead the Urban Task Force to assess how we could turn around our failing towns and cities, there is much to celebrate. This is the first Government to have actively encouraged people back into cities, setting clear targets for developing brownfield land and reversing depopulation; it is the first Government to appreciate that the compact, multicentred city is the only socially and environmentally sustainable form of development; and it is the first Government since the early 1940s to have set out a vision for sustainable, long-term change in our cities.

There has been success in creating new agencies and new devolved government, too. In London, we have a mayor who has pledged to accommodate 1 million new residents within the city's current boundaries. Ken Livingstone has said that all new building should be on previously developed land, has set tough targets for affordable housing and lower CO2 emissions and has established a dedicated design team under my leadership. Cities around the world now look to London. Nationally, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has been a major success, creating a focus for expertise, for design review and for helping to make better buildings, towns and cities across England.

However, there is something wrong when, nine years after the Urban Task Force published its report, we still have no examples of regenerated neighbourhoods and cities in the UK that compare with the best in the world. There is something wrong when the Thames Gateway, Europe's biggest regeneration project, is still peppering the banks of the beautiful River Thames with shoddy, toy-town houses and Dan Dare glass towers. There is something seriously wrong when new houses across the country form rootless estates that could just as well be in Beijing, Buenos Aires or Belfast—developments that have no regard for the community's sense of place, belonging or identity.

I fear that we are building the slums of tomorrow. Why is this the case? It should not be. Britain has some of the best architects in the world, as we have heard. Indeed, only the USA has more winners of the Pritzker prize, recognised as the key international award for lifetime achievements in architecture. The answer is simple: we are sidelining the talent that we have. In what should be a golden age for British architecture, our output is simply lacklustre.

In November 2005, members of the Urban Task Force produced an update on the original report but, unfortunately, due to numerous ministerial changes over the last two years, no Minister has had time to take it on board or to respond to the recommendations. This exposes a government weakness. It takes at least 15 years and strong leadership for urban visions to become urban realities. In Britain, every policy is watered down through negotiation with countless agencies and every proposal is bogged down in endless process.

As noble Lords may know, the first planes landed and took off from Heathrow's Terminal 5 today. When my firm started designing this building, I was a much younger man. It was 19 years ago. We have to speed up decision-making. We are entering a new era of devolution. The Government have empowered local authorities to play a stronger role in delivering 3 million new homes by 2020 and to lead the shaping of their towns and cities. This is great news, but to get it right we need to make sure that all agencies have the tools that they need.

What needs to be done? I recommend action as follows. Trained architects should be placed at the heart of decision-making, at ministerial level in government and at cabinet level in local authorities. We must make sure that these design champions have the clout to make a real difference to decision-making. Design quality should be made a central corporate objective for every agency with an impact on the built environment, from the new Homes and Communities Agency to individual housing associations. All planners should have access to advice from skilled architects and vice versa. In my role heading Design for London, I am endlessly impressed by the way in which local authority officers go out of their way to seek advice. We need to make sure that they can get the support that they need. I recommend that we strengthen CABE to provide that support. CABE is one of the great success stories of the urban renaissance, but it needs a stronger regional presence. Why should local planners from Newcastle have to travel to London to get the advice that they need?

I propose that we clarify, simplify and reduce the number of delivery bodies—Thames Gateway, for example, has over 30 authorities and partnerships involved—and move towards establishing single-purpose, area-based delivery bodies. Architectural quality should be central to our public sector procurement. We should make design competitions mandatory where public money is involved, using the guidelines prepared by the Greater London Authority. Every city and district should be required to prepare plans encompassing existing public spaces—the squares, parks and streets where friends and strangers meet—as well as proposals for new space. Why should there not be a right of access to good public space within a few minutes' walk for every citizen?

In the introduction to the Urban Task Force report, I wrote that local authorities must be empowered to lead the urban renaissance. The Government have gone a long way towards ensuring that that happens. Now they need to give our towns and cities the tools to finish the job. I hope that these recommendations will help to put those tools in place. Unless we empower and enable our civic leaders to create beautiful cities, we will not just repeat our past mistakes but condemn our children to live with them and in them.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 3:04 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to speak immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, who surely knows as much about this subject as any man alive.

In my maiden speech in this Chamber, I expressed the hope that we might have an opportunity to discuss issues of planning and housing in London before too long, so I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for giving us this opportunity today. It is gratifying that so many of the themes that I wished to touch on have been anticipated, but I hope that I will illustrate them rather than simply repeat them. I fear that I am not so sanguine as some noble Lords have been about the spirit emanating from new Labour. Only the other day, I was talking with someone who was trying to promote quality in design in school building. "Don't bother with all that", was the message that she was getting from the department, "just give us boxes to put children in". Boxes, hutches, what is the difference?

The debate is certainly badly needed, for what we are talking about goes right to the heart of the lives that people lead and the legacy that we leave to future generations. RIBA has said:

"Design is about much more than aesthetics. It is functional, sustainable and gives pleasure ... It attracts people, investment and activity to places, and brings social, environmental and health benefits".

But of course what is needed is not just a debate. As RIBA goes on to say, design should be one of the most important considerations in new development. The Planning Bill should be used to entrench design into the planning process. There should be a statutory duty to consider the design quality of planning applications and local authorities should be encouraged to establish local design review panels or appoint local design champions. I would support this, so long as local communities, not just "experts", were represented. Both the Barker and Calcutt reviews endorsed RIBA's recommendations and it would be good to hear an assurance from the Minister today that the Government will take these forward. But it is not just a matter of institutional reform. There needs to be a sea change in the culture surrounding the planning process, away from one dominated by the values of hard-faced accountants to one concerned more with quality of life and user friendliness.

In my maiden speech, I hinted at the baleful influence of the planning policies of the London Borough of Hackney on the lives of the residents of Dalston, where I live. The protocol surrounding maiden speeches precluded my going into greater detail on that occasion, but today I am under no such constraint. If I may, therefore, I shall describe for your Lordships our experience in Dalston, as I believe that it throws into sharp relief much of what is wrong with development today and what accordingly needs to be put right. Let me straightaway declare an interest as the patron of OPEN, a not-for-profit company of local individuals and businesses committed to promoting excellence in the quality of the built environment.

When we heard that Dalston was to be regenerated, we had high hopes that this derelict, neglected and overcrowded area of east London would rise as a modern phoenix. We anticipated that our few remaining historic buildings would be given a new lease of life and inform the proposed development around them. How naive we were. The proposed development consists of two adjoining sites. The driver of the whole project is a site owned by Transport for London, which is building a new transport hub said to be vital for the Olympics. But there is no direct link to the Olympic site. Had it been 300 yards further on at Dalston Kingsland, it would have linked directly to Stratford as well as being much closer to the commercial heart of Dalston. When we protested about this to the London Development Agency, its reply was simply that this was by no means the only transport hub that was mislocated in this way.

A massively expensive concrete slab over the railway will accommodate an unnecessary and potentially dangerous bus stand, where current routes will be cut short. TfL deployed a kind of circular argument: the bus stand is necessary to enhance the scheme and the scheme is necessary to finance the bus stand. A brutal phalanx of tower blocks of up to 20 storeys will be erected on the slab to help to pay for it. These will blight the environment and bring no benefit to the area. Of their 300-odd dwellings, none is to be affordable. This is in direct contravention of the Government's policy as affirmed both in this House and in another place. However, when we asked the Secretary of State to use her powers to review the scheme, we were simply told that the transport hub was essential for the Olympics.

The adjoining site is being developed by the London Development Agency. It has similar disadvantages; moreover, it is aesthetically and architecturally unrelated to its neighbour. Together, they represent the worst type of unimaginative and destructive town planning. No more health and other services are to be provided for the total of 550 extra households. Such high density, in an already overcrowded and underresourced area, completely ignores the potential for alienation, anti-social behaviour and vandalism, as we have heard. As a criminologist, I know that this is not the way to build a housing estate.

The two sites are separated by a strip of land overshadowed by the tower blocks, creating a sunless wind tunnel. This is the public space that the inhabitants of Dalston will have to make the best of for their leisure. Both schemes will be divorced from proposed developments on the other side of the road, in a kind of piecemeal development that lacks any coherence. Instead of design-led regeneration, we have the prospect of a sink estate in less than a generation.

How has the travesty that I have described come about? Three reasons immediately come to mind. The first is a poor understanding of what constitutes good architecture and design on the part of town planners and developers. High-quality architecture and good design do not just consist of buildings, as we have heard. Buildings have context. Good design should blend with and seek to preserve the best of what exists already. That is why the residents of Dalston were so concerned to preserve what little was left of their historic heritage.

The irony of a blind man lecturing your Lordships about architecture will not be lost, but I would say that good design appeals to all the senses. As a native of Edinburgh, I know about well planned squares and streets, gardens and open spaces. Other countries manage these things better. For example, some of your Lordships may be familiar with Montpellier in France, which I recently had the opportunity to visit. It has preserved its historic area, yet it has a modern quarter with a unified design, decent public space, trees and water features. You may say that they have more space in France, but even tightly packed New York has small pocket parks for the refreshment and enjoyment of its citizens.

Secondly, consultation with the public was, to say the least, inadequate, even misleading. OPEN's submissions were even "lost"—forgive my inverted commas. Nevertheless, local residents mounted vigorous opposition to the destruction of their heritage and the imposition of unlovely and unsuitable developments that were wholly out of character with the area. Their case was comprehensively ignored. The historic buildings were demolished, and a modern Gormenghast will rise in their place. This was said to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for Dalston. Instead, we are offered off-the-shelf, unimaginatively designed blocks of varying height, with no relationship either to the Victorian street pattern or to one another and with little aesthetic coherence.

Thirdly, in direct contravention of planning guidance, these schemes have not preserved heritage buildings or enhanced the cityscape that remains. They meet neither of the mayor's much vaunted criteria that new housing should be built to the highest architectural standards and that it should be 50 per cent affordable. The council has waived social housing requirements and parking and space standards. The windows of inhabited bedrooms in adjoining blocks will be just five metres apart; Hackney's official standard is 21 metres. To fund TfL's bus stand, the council has also leased its site to developers on terms so unfavourable that they required the Secretary of State's consent. The Secretary of State refused to withhold her consent.

Why should all this be? The answer lies partly in the need to meet external and undisclosed financial imperatives out of a misplaced fear that developers would otherwise walk away, partly in developers' ability to hoodwink poorly qualified planning officers into accepting substandard designs and partly in the ability of multiple authorities in central and local government to evade responsibility with a cynicism bordering on the corrupt. In a country of historically renowned architects and with present-day architects who are changing the face of the world, surely we can do better in our own backyard.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Spokesperson in the Lords (Mental Health and Disability), Health 3:14 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, on seizing the opportunity to bring forward this debate, which he has done in his usual attractive way. I am sure that I am the least expert person speaking in this debate, and I warn your Lordships of the danger of a criminal lawyer speaking about architecture. Nevertheless, even as a mere consumer of our increasingly built environment, I have an acute sense as a lay person that we are so cautious and so set in our ways in this country that we are desperately underusing the opportunities offered by a hugely imaginative architecture profession. Architects have the capacity to create and to enable us to enjoy the world's finest and most environmentally sustainable buildings at every level and to a far greater extent than now.

My complaint is not about great public buildings and other large-scale structures. Some of those are being built to the highest possible quality. My concern is about the vernacular—about domestic and small business spaces in every population centre, down to villages and the rural countryside. Like the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in another place I represented a Welsh constituency. His was mainly urban; mine almost entirely rural. Wales provides a useful microcosm of the state and progress of architecture and of many other aspects of life. Wales has seen much new development in the past 25 years. There are some remarkable small contemporary buildings in Wales, but I doubt whether they could be counted on the fingers of more than four hands at the most.

Over the same period, cautious and defensive planning policy has led to an unremitting increase in mock-Victorian cottages, neo-Tudor townhouses and factory units that I would describe as post-nondescript. There has been a disease of bad architecture. The bungaloid growth has been like chicken pox over the countryside, while very good farm buildings that would have lent themselves to modernisation of the most dramatic and interesting kind have been left to go derelict. As a result, there are few housing developments, particularly in the private sector, anywhere in the United Kingdom using the best of modern materials and design.

The dwellings of today should be light, spacious, warm, efficient and sustainable. Too often they are the opposite. However, the housing association movement, in which the noble Lord, Lord Best, played such an important role for many years, has striven at least in some places for the kind of standards he described in this speech, but it is rare to find the same aspirations, and very rare to find the same achievements in the private sector.

Very few planning departments have the will or the funding to judge whether something different is good different or bad different. If it is different, you cannot have it—that seems to be the rule. That makes it all too easy for refuge to be taken in the tried-and-tested shelter, and the results are often disappointing. I reflect that very few of the finer houses, terraces and housing estates of Britain would have had a chance of being built in the current planning attitude.

In areas where land is still relatively cheap—relatively speaking at least—some people might well have the will to construct the equivalent of the small Georgian mansion. Yet I feel sure that most local planning officers would have shown Mr Palladio the door rather than even unfold the second copy of his plans. In most areas potential developers know that they would be wasting their money even to go to an architect, let alone to suggest a house or estate be built at the cutting edge of design and materials. Too often design comes from a catalogue rather than an imaginative catalyst. The entrenching of design in the planning system is recognised by Planning Policy Statement 1 of 2005. However, if one goes outside the sort of areas that the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, described, there seems to be little palpable change, resulting in architects, planning advisers and builders tending to play safe. Therefore, I support the conclusions of the Barker review of 2006 and the Calcutt review of 2007 that good design should be raised to a new level of first principle in planning applications.

CABE regional design review panels are beginning to have an impact and should continue to do so. However, it is now imperative that they should be rolled out to become available to every planning authority in the country, wherever it is and where most decisions are taken. The modern should not be messianic, nor should we presume the idealism of the pastiche. There is a real danger that what 70 years ago Osbert Lancaster described as "pelvis bay" is now being replaced by the horrors of "pastiche pastures".

My other theme is about the effort we make to showcase United Kingdom architecture at all levels abroad. There are, of course, some remarkable successes—we have heard of one today. British-designed buildings abound abroad—big, public buildings that will be iconic for centuries. However, in October 2006 I took the opportunity to visit the Architecture Biennale in Venice and the contrast between the British and German pavilions could not have been starker. The British pavilion was quite imaginative and moderately interesting. It made me determined to limit my number of visits to Sheffield during the next 12 months because it presented a depressing view of that city, despite being a pavilion that was community-based in its design.

The German pavilion, on the other hand, contained multiple mini-showcases of projects involving many architects on every scale and throughout Germany, including public buildings, hospitals, houses and a baker's shop that I remember had been redesigned by an architect trained in the United Kingdom—a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The exhibition revealed what one observes in Germany—an enthusiasm, perhaps built on the enduring legacy of the Bauhaus, to embrace the new within and around the old. The Germans manage to do it at a micro level; why can't we?

By our reluctance to share that approach we sell ourselves short both at home and in the international arena. I hope that this debate will provide at least some encouragement to those who are prepared to regard vernacular architectural design as dynamic rather than historic. If 3 million homes are to be built, that means 3 million opportunities for good architecture.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 3:22 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on devising this debate, which could not be more timely, for the reasons he gives in the broad sweep of his powerful speech. I, too, want to speak about housing.

The buildings where we live are our first and constant cultural environment. We are all profoundly influenced by the design of our immediate surroundings, probably in ways that we are unconscious of and only realise when we stay in different architectures. There is no non-cultural building, but there are homes whose building style, whose architecture, is a life-enhancing culture and there are those which are not.

In the past we have put up a lot of those that are not life-enhancing. As my noble friend said, Lynsey Hanley delineates acutely the bleakness, corrosive social segregation and the resulting poverty of aspiration and easy move into crime—estate-linked identities which sink with the estate, created by the architecture of successive governments' housing policies. We need to remedy those estates and prevent their reappearance in Dalston, as elsewhere. We need to rehabilitate the attractive homes of earlier times, and we need to build new one in very large numbers which lift the spirits and make wholesome communities easy to grow. And all must be done sustainably without unnecessary stress on the vulnerable atmosphere of our planet. This cannot be achieved without design and high-quality architecture. But it can be done.

Lynsey Hanley describes the rescue of Broadwater Farm. A few weeks ago I saw in Angell Town in Brixton the rehabilitation of exactly one of those estates, accompanied by new building, which created attractive, safe and affordable homes within a strong community, steered by residents' own wishes. Nearly three-quarters of them said that they now felt safe, that they were satisfied with their new homes and that Angell Town was now a pleasant, friendly and attractive place to live. A few years ago, half knew a victim of crime and it was a deeply unpopular place to live.

However, this sort of thing is not yet the norm. For that we need a cultural lead—political leadership—to promote as widely as can be done that it is reasonable, natural and feasible for everyone to have a good built environment. To make this a norm, it must be mainstreamed. But design is invisible in many national policies. Why does the Audit Commission, jointly with the Housing Corporation, in last February's report, Better Buys, on improving housing association procurement, make so little, in 54 pages, of design or architecture other than a nod to sustainability? The joint consultation by the Audit Commission and the services for social care, health, police, prisons, probation and education on how to assess service provision ignores design. Yet physical design can make all the difference about accessibility and about social integration.

What happens in schools? RIBA and CABE do good work on how to teach design and architecture as living subjects, but how widespread is the teaching that good design matters, that it can be chosen and that it must be available to the ordinary citizen? Where is the cultural champion in Whitehall whose task it is to promote attention to design? In the admirable plans for pensioner-friendly homes set out in Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods, developed by my noble friend the Minister, good design is implicit; but it could be made much more explicit. If all areas for regeneration have a holistic design focus like Sir Terry Farrell's magnificent new plans for the Thames Gateway, developers will want to build in previously abandoned areas.

The private-sector review prudently set up by the Government last January does have it in its remit to look at "the quality of homes" converted and maintained by private landlords. Such quality standards would have to be monitored by local authorities. This brings us the role of the planning authorities and their support. One of their best supports is the CABE system of design champions; but fewer than 70 per cent of local authorities have them. As many noble Lords have said, there is an acknowledged lack of design capacity in planning authorities and they do not even have to consider design quality. This is perhaps the biggest area for structural change that the Government could look at.

We have a good national framework with Planning Policy Statement 3, but you normally find people with design skills on the bodies which choose plans for affordable housing in other European countries. This is not a requirement here. There are widely respected regional design review panels under CABE's auspices, as we have heard, but they are only for major schemes, so it is hardly surprising that one-third of housing applications in the past five years was found to be substandard. The Barker Review of Land Use Planning and the Calcutt Review of Housebuilding Delivery recommended the systematic use of design review within the planning process. A national network of local panels, as described by the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Low, active from the beginning of the process, could make what are now wonderful exceptions, like the developments created by the social entrepreneur Presentation's design guide, part of the ordinary course of events.

Everyone has a right to the well-being which can be induced by good design and architecture. We could do it once, with our pioneering garden cities and social housing copied all over the world. We have done it here and there since. We can do it again, for the many, not only the few, with our brilliant architects. Derek Walker, the architect of Milton Keynes, said:

"we can only start with a contemporary vision of the immediate future".

We must own the design of that future now. Our new towns will be the gift of a better future, but first, design must be the Government's big idea.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice 3:30 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I was enormously impressed with the comprehensive canter with which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, introduced this very interesting and timely debate. I want to take up one or two points that he made and which have been echoed by all participants, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Whittaker, just now.

I want to put it in the form of a specific question to the Minister. I am doing it right at the front of my speech, in the hope that she has an opportunity to obtain a specific answer. It is simply this—what proportion of planning officers with responsibility for giving advice on development control issues have experience and expertise in three-dimensional design? In other words, how many planning decisions in the United Kingdom are based on trained and experienced architectural expertise? What is the trend? Is it getting better or worse?

The outcomes to which a number of noble Lords have referred, and which have been well-documented by CABE, suggest that an awful lot of decisions have not been based on that sort of advice, so even the best of planning authorities cannot be expected to get the decisions right.

I am not a qualified architect, but worked with and for architects for more than a decade. I have a huge amount of respect for the profession. In the early 1970s, I was responsible for planning policy at the RIBA. I remember during that period sitting in the public seats in the Committee Room at the other end of this building, listening to the then Conservative Minister decide how to compromise on the allocation of planning powers between two levels of authority, as part of the local government reorganisation legislation of the 1970s.

Faced with the competing claims of counties and districts, he ignored the good biblical example of King Solomon and cut the planning baby right down the middle, with plan-making going to the higher authorities and plan implementation, through development control, going to the lower authorities. Through great areas of the country—wherever there was not a unitary authority—that split has had devastating effects, not least, of course, on the planning profession itself. The career prospects in the smaller development control authorities were very limited, while those in the higher plan-making authorities were necessarily conscribed, because they could not see what was going to happen in terms of implementation. Impermeable glass ceilings were appearing everywhere that those two levels of planning authority were installed.

In the three decades since, the situation has deteriorated further. It could be—and the Minister will be well aware of these issues—that the creation of new unitary authorities will give us a new opportunity to put that right. By bringing together planning expertise to fulfil both functions, we have a much better chance of a well-rounded expertise and experience, with all forms of specialist within one department, serving the community at large.

As the noble Baroness knows, I welcome the fact that Cornwall will be one of the authorities able to do precisely that. Bringing together those responsibilities, so that implementation and plan-making are within the same departments—and councillors are well-served by people involved with both—will be a great step forward. However, there is a long way to go, hence the importance of my question to the Minister. I hope, in particular, that she will be able to give us some indication of the trend over recent years.

Early in my time at the RIBA, I was responsible for a project entitled "Long life/Loose fit/Low energy". I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, may even remember that; it was a long time ago—forty years ago. At the time, it needed some explanation. Today, I believe that it has come of age as it is now fairly obvious what it is all about. I believe that the profession has adjusted to those important criteria. I am not sure that the community at large or, in particular, clients have—whether in the house-building industry or anywhere else. We took as examples opposite extremes that clearly met the requirements of LL/LF/LE and those that equally blatantly did not. The Georgian terrace house was clearly a good example. With substantial load-bearing party walls but lightly constructed interiors, it might change its usage and character several times over the centuries, even through several decades: family home; business premises on the ground floor, perhaps with family use above; full use as office; doctor's surgery; split neatly into flats; and even back to family homes again, as has been the case in more modern times. Indeed, it was fairly economic both to heat and insulate.

However, the contrast with what was being built as hospital or school buildings in the 1960s and 1970s was extraordinary. I remember a very distinguished architect who worked particularly with hospital buildings—Alex Gordon, president of the RIBA— explaining to me that, during the course of the design, planning and construction process for a major hospital building, which would take at least 10 years and sometimes longer, the consultants, each with an individual, not to say idiosyncratic view of medical and clinical necessity, would change the whole thing. There would therefore be major changes in the resulting design in just that period. The design brief and specification would change, each time at considerable cost. In his view, the only sensible way to plan for those sorts of buildings on a long-life, loose-fit, low-energy basis was to build a very basic shell. He thought that aircraft hangers were probably the best way to provide that shell, which the hospital management could fit it out temporarily and cheaply and then move on with the next medical fad coming from the consultants.

Energy is obviously topical while the Climate Change Bill is going through your Lordships' House. There has been great emphasis this afternoon on house building, particularly the domestic residential sector. I shall do the same. Of the UK's carbon emissions, 27 per cent are produced by the electricity, gas and oil used to heat, light and power our homes. This is twice as much carbon dioxide as our cars produce. Cutting greenhouse gases produced by our homes by 60 per cent, the Government's target for 2050, would cut these emissions more than taking all cars—every single vehicle—off the road. If we had the same home efficiency levels as Sweden, the average householder, every single one of us, would save nearly £400 a year. Three quarters of the housing stock to be used in 2050 has already been built. Just sorting out new build from now on will only make a fairly modest contribution to that target. These figures do not include other building types which will be just as important, if not more so. Nor do they take into account the energy currently used in traditional forms of material and construction usage. There are major issues to be addressed in that context.

Architects are fully immersed in these environmental issues throughout their training and career development. Energy use in construction materials and usage, quite apart from eco-friendly design for sustainable buildings over ever-increasing lifetimes—we must hope—are wired into the architectural mindset from the very beginning. I know that the RIBA now spends a great deal of effort ensuring that architects are doing excellent work on the low-carbon agenda throughout their careers. Sad to say, that will not be seen in many new buildings, especially in the speculative residential sector, to which much reference has been made in today's debate, simply because no architects are involved in that process.

I am back to my original question, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be fully briefed by the time she rises to her feet. How many planners have the necessary expertise and experience to make this vital contribution to the quality of the design of our built environment? That is why this debate is so timely.

Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench 3:40 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on securing this debate, particularly because I wanted to speak in his earlier debate on design and healthcare but was unable to do so. I declare an interest as a very part-time consultant with HLM Architects. I am a consultant on public policy issues, not architecture, and was going to claim, along with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the distinction of being the least experienced or knowledgeable person to speak in this debate. I speak, in part, on the basis of some years' experience as chief executive of the NHS and Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health. I was, in some ways, a proxy client for some very substantial developments.

This may indeed be a golden age of architecture, but my starting point is to question whether architecture and its related professions always do enough to influence their clients and the public about the importance of good architecture and design and, indeed, to explain what it is. As lay people, we all carry around in our heads rather different versions of what high-quality architecture and design quality are. You might have wanted me to say "to educate" the public, rather than "to influence", but I am not sure that this is education, which seems to me to be very one-way and top-down. Rather, this is to engage, demystify—as all professions need to do in this more democratic and information-rich age—explain, discuss and be more open to challenge. Let us engage with you, and influence.

After all, a lot of the discussion about quality and design can feel highly technical to the lay person. It is sometimes quite theoretical, often very sophisticated and, in appearance at least, pretty elitist. Our understanding, as lay people, is made more difficult by the fact that very few of us are involved in more than one major building project in our lives. We are always, or almost always, beginners. And, of course, what is contained in the terms used in this debate on "high-quality architecture" and "design quality" is very wide-ranging and open to disagreement and interpretation. The task that architects and designers have is not, by any means, easy. How do they reconcile all the different aspects such as the aesthetic, the spatial, the ease of use, the environmental, the social and the economic, to name a few, let alone the vast difference in viewpoints? No doubt it is largely about the balance between all these things, between the aesthetic and the utilitarian, the beautifully functional and the functionally beautiful, things that are fit for purpose, durable and a pleasure to use.

One aspect of high-quality architecture is the functionality of buildings. I know the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and others in his recent debate talked about the importance of creating a healing environment within hospitals and other health facilities. They drew attention to research which shows that there are real, tangible benefits in terms of faster healing, less stress for staff, and patients in mental health establishments having fewer episodes of aggression. This is clearly a vital function of a healthcare building that should be in the design from the outset, but often is not. This point needs much more attention and, in turn, perhaps, more research so that we understand more fully how it works.

I do not want to replay that earlier debate, but rather to pick up on a different aspect of architecture and design that very strongly needs, in the words of this debate, to be encouraged; that is, the social aspect. I am indebted to colleagues at HLM, Chris Liddle and Les Welch, for helping me to understand how big a part social and community function and impact can and should play in high-quality architecture and design quality. This is not only about the social or community role that the building may have as a school or, indeed, a hospital, or about the contribution that the development may make—or, as my noble friend Lord Low has said, may not make—to social and economic regeneration. These are both massive. It is also about breaking down barriers of all sorts, such as the barriers between the community and the development. How integrated, how user-friendly is it?

It is also about breaking down barriers within the community itself. Let me illustrate this last point. We increasingly understand that there are good health and educational reasons for making better links between health and education facilities. Physical activity, diet, surveillance, mental health and health education all have a part to play in both areas. I have seen physiotherapy gyms in schools for children with walking problems; exercise facilities and classes in GPs' surgeries; and children learning about trauma management in hospitals. Too often, however, we plan facilities within tight constraints, not allowing for overlap and reinforcement and, in doing so, create gaps and dislocations between things that should be linked. Therefore, we create problems.

I hope that your Lordships will not think that I am stretching the notion of high-quality architecture too far by including such social considerations. Buildings shape what happens within them, but they also describe and even shape the way that we see things within the world. After all, we need only look across the river to St Thomas's to see how Florence Nightingale's original hospital not only responded to clinical needs but, as she intended, influenced and helped shape clinical and, subsequently, societal behaviour. It still does. Think, for example, about how we understand infection control or the importance of fresh air flows for health—in our lives, not just in our hospitals. It is worth noting that, like all designers, she did not get everything that she wanted. In particular, she did not want the hospital to be so central to this great city and beside the "great stink" of the river, which was so antipathetic to healing.

Today's great public clients, the Government and the NHS, should of course be able to exemplify high-quality architecture in all its aspects, including the social. They do so very successfully on many occasions; there are many examples of that. I think of the new Birmingham University hospital, currently under construction. It is a huge regeneration project, creating up to 2,000 jobs in the short-term but also building a health hub, a learning and skills centre for long-term unemployed people, thereby enabling 750 previously unemployed people to gain employment. It embodies the other qualities of high-quality architecture: it has high design values, meets its sustainability and environmental requirements and is open and welcoming.

Finally, I turn to the process of planning and approval and to the call of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for design quality to be taken into account by local authorities. Again, I speak as a layman who does not understand the intricacies of the system, but one who has seen many NHS boards struggle with the planning, design and building of facilities of all kinds.

Why are we not always successful in getting what we want? Part of the answer is financial: the fact that the financial, funding and economic considerations are not only so important but so complex and time-consuming that they can tend to overwhelm other considerations. Another part of the answer is that design considerations often come too late in the process. Another is that the whole process is not simple and that there are tensions and conflicts between different goals. A single example that summarises this for me is that patients may well want a building where the windows can be opened, but the energy consultants will certainly want a sealed unit. How do we reconcile the differences that will come up in the design process?

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, is right to want local authorities to take design quality seriously, and I note that proposals will come forward for the consideration of design quality to be a statutory requirement for local authorities. I have some sympathy with that, but my greater sympathies are with the view that there should be wider use of design review panels and design champions. I am with my noble friend Lord Low in saying that the panels should not consist purely of design experts. It is important that the discussions are not conducted in a private language of reference and concepts that lay people do not share. High-quality architecture and design is too important to leave entirely to the experts.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government 3:48 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for a very up-beat introduction to the debate. I have to declare interests as a vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association, as joint president of London Councils and, although I hesitate to do so after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, as having a connection with the Greater London Authority.

The case for encouraging high quality, the title of this debate, is really a no-brainer, because quality is always to be encouraged. In the case of architecture and design generally, it is so important to one's well-being, both physically and mentally, as noble Lords have said. My spirits lift when I see both Westminster Abbey and the London Eye. Conversely, poor design, leading to a lack of care and affection, affects the physical environment and, as the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, put it, degrades society.

We have to define the terms. Quality now clearly encompasses sustainability—in both construction and in operation, indeed, in the life of a building. I am shocked that we are now on the third generation of buildings in London's Docklands. It may be that the first and second generation buildings were not that good, but it is awfully wasteful. The initial outlay does pay for itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said.

For a time, I chaired the planning committee of the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. I was chair of the committee when the Richmond Riverside Development was constructed. It had consent before the Liberal Democrats took control of the council, so we inherited a scheme. I would have been much more comfortable, and perhaps more enthused, by something that was not traditional, not pastiche—the word that a lot of people applied to the riverside—but something splendid and modern whose form expressed its function. However, I am not sure that I would have been right about that. It was so clear, after the development opened, that people enjoyed it. They took pride in their own place—a point which picks up on what the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, said—in the buildings and spaces which were liberated by the development. The importance of spaces, and of the public realm, is something that many noble Lords have touched on. I wonder whether we should be attaching status to spaces as much—or even more—as to buildings. Certainly, in London the spirit of the princes of San Gimignano seems to live on.

However, the difficulties are much greater in the smaller, less significant schemes. The big schemes—the big buildings—attract public debate and the resources of organisations and authorities. They allow for pre-application negotiations. There may be a lot of controversy revolving around style and taste, but the basics of how people move around, for instance, are likely to have had proper attention—or they should have had. I share the concerns expressed about the Thames Gateway—so far, at any rate; let us not be too negative about the future. The debate about the gateway too often seems to have taken on an air of desperation about numbers. It must not be a case of the little boxes, made out of ticky-tacky, all looking just the same, which the noble Lord, Lord Lowe, did not quite say.

The day-to-day—I would not call it humdrum—business is much harder. There is a shortage of planners. There is a shortage of training of planners. I can answer my noble friend Lord Tyler's question—and he knows the answer—which is, not enough. Nor do I get the impression that there is much training these days for members of planning committees, although I am well aware that many of the professionals would say, "Don't let the politicians anywhere near the design".

Design panels have been referred to. I confess to a slight sense of unease about bringing in experts, because what is the implication for those whose job it is to reach decisions and to undertake the work? PPS1 states:

"Good design is indivisible from good planning".

That is quite right. However, it does not seem to be easier to refuse an application on design grounds. Is that not the crunch? I thought that PPS1 was rather a good, short, analysis of both quality and design. However, I found it difficult when reading it—as I did again, yesterday—to see how one could reach a decision using PPS1 other than on the very functional criteria on what is described as "beyond aesthetic considerations" in the paper.

When I became chair of the planning committee—I am horrified to realise that that was 25 years ago—I was told about the traditional stand-off between planners and architects. I do not know whether it is better now—I hope it is—but I feel some need to defend the planners from criticisms made by, among others, my noble friend Lord Carlile, whose skills as a criminal barrister proved to be very relevant to this debate. Architecture seems to breed a supremely self-confident and assertive group of professionals, and it must be very tough for planners to hold their corner against them. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, put it rather more politely.

Planning tends to be, even though it should not be, in essence reactive and regulatory. I have not heard much this afternoon about that, but it is important to understand how planners and the planning system function. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to local authorities' design departments. That is not an animal that I know. I do not think that local authorities can afford design departments. Speakers expect a great deal from planners—more, I think, than they have the tools to deliver.

Reference has rightly been made to local community engagement. The noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to the mood of the age being to involve. My noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank talked about the need for a good client. I regret that I cannot remember who said it, but someone said earlier in the debate that the place is the client. It is not, however, the only client. For the past six years, I have worked in the Greater London Authority building, where the client has been the Government Office for London, not the occupants of the building. I give this small example. The building is iconic, admirable and in many ways wonderful to work in, but if it had been possible to ensure that all the political groups working in it shared the same water coolers, the building and the people in it would have functioned differently. That perhaps is the post-occupation analysis to which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, referred.

The everyday presents challenges that are as least as great as the big schemes. If we can achieve something that is better than bad, that is very good, but we should aim for better than the mediocre. As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, said, perhaps that is the big idea.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 3:58 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has done the House a service in bringing this debate here this afternoon. There is no question that this is a significant subject. Debating it in this form enables us to look at it in the round and in a fairly abstract way, but at the same time with a strong sense of agreement—in principle, at any rate—on what we would like to see in the communities that we all serve outside.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, was being very modest when he tried to claim to be the most ignorant person here today. I thought that that claim belonged to me, although I am not going to compete particularly for it. The truth is—this is one of the wonders of this place—that we bring a breadth of experience to a task such as this. The end result is that we usually have, as we have had so far, an extremely good debate and all feel better as a result. If a little collective wisdom rubs off in a small way outside—sometimes I despair that it will—we have a major achievement on our hands.

I declare an interest. I have sold land for building and I still own land which might go for building. It is as well that that should be understood. It gives me very particular experience in relation to the debate. I have also served for five years on a county planning committee, an institution sadly defunct although the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, may be able to revive it in Cornwall. Of course, it will not be called a county planning committee but the Cornwall Planning Committee, and that will perhaps be a good thing.

I was also pleased to hear from the noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Low of Dalston, what I might call a somewhat agnostic approach to the institutional structures that we have to rule, regulate and develop our planning systems and control development. When the job is done well, the result is a town or a village that looks and feels good and then the community feels good about it and, generally speaking, is happy. Not least of the problems that we face, which have not really had a great deal of discussion this afternoon, is how we prevent communities that were formerly good from becoming sink communities. It can happen accidentally over time by a process of drift and I do not know how we stop that. Equally, the opposite process can suddenly take place. Communities can begin to pick themselves up again and there is a very real sense of hope.

Nearly 35 years ago, I was responsible for the whole of the building estate of Essex County Council—not that it was my personal responsibility to look after day-to-day details. I had to control the whole of the maintenance and services budget for those buildings. It was a very interesting experience. Obviously, the buildings had developed over a long period. What I particularly want to talk about in this context is the estate of buildings I inherited, so to speak, that had been built just after the war. In those days, they were built to cost limits set by the Government. That particularly applied to educational buildings. That was the way the system worked. I pay huge tribute to the architects who produced those buildings. They produced volume for very low cost because that was what they were required to do. We needed new schools in the county and it was a very successful programme. We need to remember all the time the context in which people and society are working.

Fifteen years later, of course, we had the most horrendous building maintenance costs and hugely expensive energy costs to keep these buildings warm. They were frame buildings with cladding panels, too much glass, no insulation and so on. One of the results of that was that we put in place a study to see what we should do about building quality. Essentially, the study showed that, if we could reduce the annual running costs of a building by 5 per cent or more per annum, we could afford to double the amount we spent on the building in the first place.

The beginnings of a good architecture preceded 1997 and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment by some considerable amount. Indeed, I have an abiding memory of the improvement in London when we began to clean the city up again.

I am somewhat sceptical about our institutional structure. All the time, we need to remember the great buildings that we long to preserve and the wonderful small communities. We should think of the beautiful architectural arcades in big cities and the wonderful stone in the towns and villages of the Cotswolds. In East Anglia, timber-framed buildings are stuck together cheek-by-jowl and there is an immense difference in character as one goes along the street. Early Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian structures are interspersed with ancient structures. They are higgledy-piggledy buildings in conservation areas, which we fight to preserve, and they were constructed without the benefit of any planning system whatever.

I often wonder what the modern conservation societies might have had to say if they had seen Sir Christopher Wren's plans for St Paul's Cathedral before it was built. One can imagine their approach. They may have said, "Not in the British tradition. It is out of scale and out of character". They may have said that it was Romanesque or even—perish the thought—popish. All those things would have been said of the glorious building that is central to London and an example of what we seek to preserve here. When I am thinking about the London skyline, I think of the Victoria Tower. When it was built, it must have had a dramatic impact on Westminster Abbey, particularly when the rest of this building was added. I am told that when it was built, it was the tallest square tower in the world. We need to remember that progress sometimes is not the way we perceive it to be immediately. In time, our successors may judge things very differently, but that is not to say that we should not make every effort we can to get design improved.

We also need to be sure that there is a clear distinction between design, which has to do with an agglomeration of property, and architecture, which—in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, if he will forgive me—seems to be about a particular building. Design is particularly important. If I want to see good, domestic architecture, I go abroad, by and large. In this country, planning committees have all too often reduced everything to the lowest common denominator.

There is hope and I look forward to a better quality of design all the time. But, ultimately, it will depend not particularly on planning committees and our institutional structure, but on people who want to have land developed to a high standard; on architects and designers working together to create good design; on financiers accepting that; and, most of all, when the chips are down, it will depend on the client being prepared to buy it and not to buy anything that is not good design.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 4:08 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, this has been an exceptionally good debate. I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Howarth for creating this opportunity and for, as with every debate in this House, uncovering such a wealth of expertise and experience. For example, I did not realise that so many noble Lords had served on the RIBA, and it is always intimidating to find that out at this stage of a debate.

In the tour de force that my noble friend Lord Howarth introduced, he described the power of good design and the blight of bad design. Much of what noble Lords have said has said has left me reeling at their wonderful examples, as well as being very mindful at their examples of poor and bad design that we all live with still. There has been some wonderful language. I particularly hope that the notion of the post-nondescript passes into the lexicon of what we do not want to see.

There has been an implicit debate about the relationship between good architecture and social reform. Such debate is apposite in this great, iconic building, designed by an architect who placed such emphasis on the moral influence of architecture, and spent so much time thinking about the way in which architecture mediated behaviour. It is an interesting example of that. The debate is timely for many reasons. Design is a big idea and should be a bigger idea—but it is certainly a big idea for this Government. We are on the threshold, as noble Lords have said, of several different things that make this a critical point in our architecture and design history. We are on the threshold of the most ambitious 20-year programme for building new homes and communities. We are in the midst of a renaissance of our city centres, to which some noble Lords have paid tribute. We are in the midst of a programme of social and economic regeneration and housing change in areas of the country that for a long time have been victims of economic catastrophe, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Sawyer. With the Olympic site, we have the opportunity for the first time to demonstrate what we can create as a global showcase.

We are living in a golden age of opportunity and the price of getting things wrong is very high. It was instructive to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, talking about what went wrong with building after the war. Much of the change that we now have to manage, with as much imagination and skill as possible, is being driven by demographic and economic forces that are driving house prices beyond the reach of many people; but is also in the context of an ageing society, which will present the challenge for better inclusive design, to ensure the opportunity to grow old in comfort and in place. All this is taking place in the context of climate change, which has a bearing on where and how we build, and how we manage our land and resources—whether that is energy, water, aggregates or skills. It gives us an opportunity for thinking, planning and building differently, whether we are talking about how we maintain the integrity of our historic villages, how we manage intensified urbanisation, how we reconcile our built heritage so that it drives the future as well as reflects the past, and how we design for identity within density, and for cohesion within spaces that by definition will be very tight. These are big issues and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we should raise the status of the public realm. People are concerned not only about the type of house they live in, but the place they live in. That is what shapes behaviour.

Sixty years on, we are asking the same questions, and with the same intensity, that characterised the debate on the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. David Kynaston's book Austerity Britain describes the ferment of activity and ideas in the debate on planning at the end of the war, and what came to fruition and what did not. We have had a catalogue of failures in many respects, judging by what noble Lords have said—not least the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. We know the price of dysfunctional buildings and monolithic estates. I welcome this debate because it gives me a chance to set out why I know that the future can and will be different.

We have to recognise that things have changed. Since 2004, there has been a cultural change in the climate of planning—not least with spatial planning. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we want to see planning become part of the proactive stage of design and thinking, rather than the reactive stage of mitigation. Planning must go to the heart of policy-making in local government, not stay on the periphery. We can only make friends—and this is crucial—for the sort of housing and community growth that we need if we put such high and irresistible importance on design and quality that people see housing growth as an opportunity for building to the best and most desirable standards. We must create places where people want both to live and to be, so it covers private and public spaces.

Let me take as my text the housing Green Paper published in 2007, which set out key actions that recognise and harness the inspirational power of the very best to make good and very good development the norm, ensure that new homes and places meet everyone's needs by embedding principles of inclusive design, and work to speed up the system. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, along with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was absolutely right to put domestic architecture at the centre of the challenge we face. All these principles will be tested on whether they work in relation to our domestic buildings.

It is easy to celebrate the best. The noble Lords, Lord Rogers of Riverside, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Carlile, celebrated the work of our most inspirational architects and our best places. My noble friend Lord Sawyer spoke powerfully about the changes in Teesside. Recognising and harnessing the inspirational power of the very best is actually relatively easy to do because, however we describe the value of design and the passage from aesthetics to functionality, there is a simple test. They create places where people want to be, whether it is the forecourt of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Sheffield Peace Gardens or Cardiff Bay. All these are places which people colonise.

However, this is also about shaping less glamorous places. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and my noble friend Lord Sawyer pointed out, there are areas in the north of England and the east Midlands where we need to encourage character and memory as well as providing more choice and quality for a new generation. Achieving that will mean that people will want to live in these places again. This is one of the many ways in which the partnership between English Heritage and CABE can help. Master-planning and advising on procurement and preferred developers are crucial, but the most critical challenge lies in shaping the places where people will live in the future. This was alluded to by many noble Lords, but particularly the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I refer here to urban extensions and settlements in the Thames Gateway, growth areas such as in Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Corby, Portsmouth and Southampton, and developments such as Northstowe. These are brownfield and greenfield sites with settlements to build around, but which allow us to imagine the future. It is in these places that volume builders, local authorities and delivery agents are under the most intense scrutiny because they know that the past will not serve the future. The message is loud and clear: no more monolithic housing estates and no more "character" of the kind described by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. We want well designed, diverse, mixed housing for people who may both live and work at home in the future.

This is not just about architecture. The signals we are sending represent a leap of faith because much of this is in development, but it is clear that people have definitely got the message. I shall return to that when I come to talk about local authorities. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, that the Thames Gateway is not an empty brownfield site; it is a place with a wonderfully diverse history. By bringing in CABE, developing design pacts with local authorities and setting targets for design, we are in with a chance of creating a very good site.

One of the privileges of my job is to visit the best and the worst in terms of housing development. Recently I have seen three examples where building for the future has come alive for me in extremely powerful ways. The first is the Sherwood Energy Village. It has been built on an old coalfield site by people from the community who have designed the housing and new industrial site in such a way that it is completely eco-efficient. It is a splendid example of what the community itself can achieve when it has a mind to do so. Returning to our debate and the discussion about design review panels, of course there is a case for not leaving all this in the hands of experts; we do not need to do that. Community involvement is a mark of the way we have changed our approach to planning, and it is an extremely powerful and effective development.

Next week I will be visiting a 2,500-acre site near Peterborough originally owned by Hanson plc and now with O&H Hampton. What is important about this site is the extraordinary way in which green space and water resources are at the heart of the whole community. Water will be recycled in many different ways and there is enormous potential for open parkland as well as developing a dense site.

Last week I visited Southampton, a Living Places priority—one of five sites—which is building regeneration through culture. Its arts centres and visual art commitment will be driving much of the connection between its old estates and its new city centre development. These are inspirational, leading-edge sites. We are good at competitions and awards; we can do things to inspire competition. The challenge is making good and very good development the norm. The Government have to shape a vision, articulate an ambition and create a framework, incentives and conditions.

Some noble Lords, not least my noble friend Lord Howarth, invited us to think about more statutory duties to ensure that local authorities consider design quality when assessing planning applications, but other noble Lords, by reference to PPS 1, PPS 3 or statutory guidance, demonstrated the case better than I can that we do not need more statutory powers; that is not what will guarantee that local authorities are encouraged and enabled.

We have to make the best of what we have, particularly following on from the Urban Task Force and the creation of CABE, for which I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Howarth, who was its midwife, using the partnerships and the tools that we have, which are relatively recent but which make some powerful levers. CABE inspires, assists, guides and demonstrates the value of design, not least in some of the public buildings that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, spoke about, particularly in relation to health. There is some extraordinarily good work going on in public health design. We are talking about well-being—better people and better places. We are working closely with CABE. We fund it to the tune of about £11 million to £12 million, which along with the sustainable communities fund has, I think, made the single most important difference.

There is a raft of good advice in relation to housing, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, knows. We have design and access statements and a whole raft of design guidance, which enables people to plan more effectively for better town centres—we can design out crime. We take extremely seriously the status and capacity of training in local authorities. A great deal of research is in place to scope the nature of the problem. A lot of that has come from the Egan review, but I cannot answer the noble Lord's question despite the fact that he gave me infinitely generous warning; I will have to write. I will say something more about skills in a moment.

This is about dissemination on the ground, whether through the Millennium Communities programme or Design for Manufacture. What excites me is the possibility of demonstrating how best design can work for the future. I am thinking of the opportunities for sustainability in our ecotowns and our need, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, to address the problems of reducing energy consumption, as we have already begun to do through building regulations. Our ageing strategy will give us the enormous opportunity to place both economic and social sustainability together in inclusive design.

As to what we should do, I will start by saying that no one should be in any doubt about what we as a Government want. There is no shortage of leadership or confusion over the statutory framework. There is no excuse for any local authority not to know how and where to obtain help, to plan creatively from the start of development and to get local people involved in planning for community involvement. The challenge is to remove some of the cultural and practical barriers in order to give quality the priority that we have spoken about, to build confidence that people can understand what design is, to address the skills shortage, to put more champions in place and to create advocacy throughout the system. We are on the way.

CABE is critical to all this: Building for Life, the document that it put together with the Home Builders Federation, asks 20 questions to assess design quality in new homes. It helps developers and local authorities to understand what makes a high-quality scheme. We have design reviews, the CABE enabling service and CABE Space. There is no way that a local authority can hide behind an assertion that it does not know where to go for advice. As confidence and discrimination grow, so will the ability to turn down poorly designed proposals.

Design review panels are in seven out of nine regions at the moment. Of course there should be nine—that is what we want—and I will think hard about the arguments that have been made about expanding their scope. We are tackling the lack of design through the use of regional centres of excellence. We are asking regional and local partners—higher education institutes, architecture and design centres, professional bodies—to work with the RDAs to determine the best approach to improving skills and training in each area. That is critical and it is why, following the Egan review, we created the admirable Academy for Sustainable Communities, which promotes not just design and architectural skills in the community but social skills—how to build the sort of communities that we want to see in the future. It is identifying gaps in the provision and how to fill them. CLG itself has grown another 513 high-calibre graduate students across the planning profession. In the future, planning must not be the preserve of planners or geographers; we need the social scientists, the linguists and the critical thinkers to come into planning and be creative. Ultimately, we need more incentives.

With specific regard to the title of the debate, we asked, in a recent consultation on the housing and planning delivery grant, how we might provide incentives to encourage better design through that grant. We are looking now at the responses; I hope that that will be very powerful. The housing Green Paper also set out how we would examine options for a quality assurance scheme. Working on that with CABE will take us forward into a possibility of incentivising local authorities. We have the Bill on the Homes and Communities Agency, which will give us the opportunity to bring all this together.

The Planning Bill gives us another opportunity. I look forward to the debates that I will have with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and with my noble friends Lady Whitaker and Lord Howarth on how we use that Bill to promote design. In that Bill—I say this in response to the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside—we are streamlining the infrastructure so that, if we have to have an inquiry on another terminal or runway at Heathrow, it will not, we hope, take seven years. That can only be good.

I shall conclude not with a reiteration of the quotation from Bevan because we heard that resonant call earlier—although I am tempted—but with a quotation from Churchill, who said:

"We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us".

He might have added, "We shape places; thereafter they shape us, too". I would like to see people from Barcelona coming to visit places such as Middlesbrough, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool and saying, "This is the best that can be done. We want something of this". I am grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to have this debate.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister has outlined the vision and the aspiration quite admirably, but does she agree with me that the trick will be to make the leap from aspiration to implementation and to ensure that there is no disconnect between the two? I agree with her that CABE will be critical to doing that.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but this is not quite the procedure that takes place. However, I am sure that my noble friend has taken the noble Lord's message on board.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 4:29 pm, 27th March 2008

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to every noble Lord who spoke for the quality of their speeches. They spoke with knowledge, insight and feeling. It is a vast subject and no doubt we would all like to have been able to talk about aspects of it other than those that we covered. I would have liked to have been able to say something about the architects and the buildings that I personally admire but it is invidious to pick out individual architects, as it is invidious to pick out individual speeches. I will, however, take that risk and just mention that I am a great admirer of the architecture of my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside. His participation in this debate as one of the leading architects of our times added yet further distinction to it.

There has been much unanimity. It can be dull if there is excessive agreement in a debate so, prompted by something that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, I will court controversy by suggesting that this is not a debate that could have taken place in an elected House. The depth of expertise in this Chamber is such that that is unimaginable. But let us return to that upon which we more easily agree around the House. Every noble Lord who spoke expressed a deep conviction about the value of good architecture and design. We were all happy to acknowledge the abundance of excellent architecture and design in this country. But at the same time we know that iconic buildings are not enough and every speaker expressed deep frustration and, indeed, anger at the poverty and inadequacy of too much of the design around us.

We will very shortly scrutinise the Housing and Regeneration Bill and the Planning Bill in this House. That will give us an opportunity to return to these issues. In the mean time I particularly thank the Minister. We can all take satisfaction from her personal commitment to the cause of good architecture and good design. I know that she will be ready to engage in debate with those of us who may wish to revert to the issue of whether guidance is sufficient or whether we will need to strengthen legislation to lay statutory duties upon those who have responsibility to ensure that we do better. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.