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We have tabled the new clause so as to assist your Lordships to complete a legislative task which the House has undertaken in recent months. We amended the Housing and Regeneration Bill in this House to lay a duty on the Homes and Communities Agency to

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contribute to the achievement of good design. We have amended this Bill to lay a similar duty on the Secretary of State and the IPC in the development consent regime. But what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. It remains now to provide plainly on the face of the Planning Bill a parallel duty in the town and country planning regime. This new clause would make it clear beyond doubt that everyone exercising planning functions within the general planning system must do so with a view to promoting a high standard of design quality in the built environment.

The Minister may argue that the new clause is inappropriate or unnecessary, because planning policy statements 1, 3 and 6 already provide the requirement for good design. Of course the planning policy statements have legal standing, and PPS 1 does indeed declare eloquently the duty to promote good design. If the duty would not, then, be a new one, there can be no objection that local authorities have not been consulted. Planners should already know in principle what they are supposed to do. The problem is that the planning policy statements are not generally perceived as creating a legal obligation for real. They are widely seen as guidance, as policy wallpaper and limp-wristed legislative gesture at most. We need to energise and make much more effective the policy in the planning policy statements. Too many planners lack the will to meet the standards set in the planning policy statements. Powerful developers, such as sections of the volume house-building industry, conform minimally in practice to the PPSs. CABE continues to pour forth justified lucubrations about the inadequacy of too much design.

The Government may say that the notion of “high standards of design quality” is too imprecise to be written into statute. High quality design is no more or less vague a term than sustainable development, which we spatchcock into legislation at every turn. We need to insist on both. If the Government argue that sustainability includes high quality design, I have to disagree. The term “sustainability”, in its present usage as a cure-all, risks being so stretched and twisted as to lose useful meaning.

It may be suggested that a more fruitful approach will be to develop existing initiatives on design review, design champions, improvement of skills, the recently updated building-for-life criteria, CABE’s new national network of assessors, design quality indicators and so on. All of those will be useful. So, no doubt, also will be new efforts to mobilise the RDAs in the cause of good design, and the Homes and Communities Agency, too, will surely give important impetus and practical help. But all these efforts will be far more effective in the context of this amendment. Then it will be understood that a commitment to high quality design will not be an option for enthusiasts but a statutory duty on everyone. It will not just be the policy of the Government for the time being, but the established will of parliament.

Perhaps the Government will pray in aid the impending report of the Killian-Pretty review as a reason for rejecting this amendment. Unless Killian-Pretty is going to say that high quality design does not matter after all and planners should wave through anything, however tacky, the new clause cannot be in conflict with a more rational and coherent approach in planning.



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It would be too cynical if the Government were to say that a duty to promote high quality design would be observed merely mechanistically, as a box-ticking exercise. That would be to disparage the good people in local government who want the best design for their communities. Alternatively, it may be suggested that the duty in the new clause would be a distraction for planning authorities, causing them to spend disproportionate amounts of time thinking about design. That will be the day! The quality of design in the built environment is, in truth, among the most important responsibilities of a local authority. I quote one of the greatest of local government leaders, Joseph Chamberlain, who said that,

Perhaps we will be told that this duty would simply be too expensive. We may be offered horrified visions of local authority resources being thrown at armies of design consultants. I remind the House that design review costs effectively nothing, thanks to the public-spiritedness of architects who are willing to provide design review services for no payment. Planning officers ought in any case, as the Government have often said, to be competent in design matters. If the duty is already there in the PPSs, unless indeed they are being ignored wholesale, in which case the amendment is undoubtedly needed, it cannot add to costs to reiterate the duty in statute. It is a commonplace that the extra upfront costs of a well designed building, which are a very small proportion in any case, pay for themselves handsomely over the lifetime of the building. CABE has compellingly demonstrated the cost of bad design in its publication of that title. Equally the benefits of good design have been demonstrated in numerous studies, notably in Alice Coleman’s work. Good design quickly pays for itself in reduced crime, improved educational performance, better health and reduced staff turnover in hospitals. It is much cheaper not to have to rebuild after a Ronan Point collapses or an Aylesbury Estate proves to be a community disaster.

I have rehearsed all the excuses I can imagine for the Government rejecting this amendment. None of them washes. I cannot believe that my noble friend, who is serious about good design, will advance any of them. So surely she will agree with us.

If we do not state this duty in the Bill, all our other efforts will be undermined. We will drift on as we are, with occasional good and very good design amid a mass of mediocrity and ugliness which is an affront to civic values and decent aspiration for our communities.

I do not of course suppose that good design can be brought about simply by legislation. The amendment would make it vastly more likely that people engaged in development and planning will think responsibly and imaginatively about the quality of what they bring into being. It will become normal for more people to think seriously about design and to make a conscious effort over it. There will never be unanimity about what is good design; there will always be battles of the styles. The modernists and the traditionalists will still

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go at each other. There will still be antagonistic dogmas and silly fads. One person’s carbuncle will still be another person’s masterpiece. But what could transform the general standard of design for the better would be precisely an energy of debate released by a newly emphatic requirement in law that good design must be sought. More and more people would be drawn into discussion. People would no longer be resigned to enduring whatever the system and the current orthodoxy impose on them. They would demand better.

Politicians in Britain since the Second World War have largely been embarrassed to talk about architecture and design. It was not always so. On 8 July 1861, the House of Commons debated the design of a new Foreign Office building. Lord John Manners made the case for the Gothic style. The Prime Minister himself, Lord Palmerston, made the case for the Palladian style. He opened his speech by observing that:

It was an unpompous but passionate debate. Like the debates about the Great Exhibition 10 years’ previously and debates in every Victorian city about appropriate architectural styles for libraries and town halls, it was a debate about the soul of the country. Architecture, it was believed, surely rightly, should express and advance civic purpose and idealism. There is a similar spirit of debate today in Holland. The Dutch care deeply about how every square metre of their land is used. So should we. The Secretary of State, Hazel Blears, has made inspired statements in recent months about the necessity of good design. Now is the chance to give that rhetoric substance for the planning system as a whole. My noble friend has already shown her leadership in amending legislation elsewhere. If she will now accept this amendment to Part 9 of this Bill, she will take her place in history as the Minister who, with a sensitivity to the mood of the nation and with the courage of her convictions, seized the opportunity to elevate our national ambition. She will have opened the way to a new and better era of architecture and design in Britain.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am delighted to be a cosignatory to the amendment and to be able to indicate, very briefly, some support from this side of the House. I am not sure whether the Minister seeks to emulate the feats of Palmerston or sees herself as a latter-day Palmerston this afternoon, but I believe that there is an additional reason to those already expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and the noble Baroness. It is that there is a general increase in interest, concern and anxiety about the quality of design in our country. It is a public issue in a way that it has not been for several decades.

I shall take two examples that demonstrate this. First, just recently the RIBA published the Stirling Prize. Considerable publicity was given to it, which generated a lot of genuine debate about the quality of 21st-century design. Secondly, there is the Channel 4 programme “Grand Designs”. Here I should perhaps declare a non-interest, in that I have been in discussion

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with the programme makers because my wife and I are in the process of designing a modest retirement home that will be ecologically sensitive and sustainable. However, they have taken the view, which is probably right, that it is of no televisual interest because we do not intend to have a major row with our architect, to go twice over the price that we can afford or to have a major row between ourselves. Therefore, it will not make good television. However, the point I wish to make is that that Channel 4 programme has a huge and growing audience. People are interested in the quality of design. I wish to add to the points that were powerfully made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that there is an obligation on Parliament to set the tone in expecting better design in the future than we have experienced in the more recent past.

Lord Best: My Lords, I am delighted that my name is also on this amendment. I shall collect the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, to produce a short book containing the wisdom and good sense that he has delivered to us during this stage of the Bill. I shall add a small annexe to that that one of the potential criticisms of measures to support good design is that design is simply a matter of taste and subjective judgment about which it is impossible to legislate. I am pleased to note that a national standard for well designed homes and neighbourhoods has been agreed between the key organisations in this field. It is run by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment—CABE—and the Home Builders Federation, and the Civic Trust, the influential Design for Homes, English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation have all signed up to the Building for Life standard. That is now the subject of annual awards. Twenty-four projects have just been given the seal of approval under that standard, and CABE is now committed to establishing a network of 500 local assessors—at least one in each local authority area—who will be trained, accredited, monitored and supported in using this objective assessment tool to decide whether the Building for Life standard has been met. The arrival of this practical, low-cost, objective process for making design decisions significantly helps the case for insisting on design quality appearing in the Bill.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, my last moral tale was negative in intent, but my present one is positive. Forty-seven years ago, I had to open an office for a small American firm. Our scale was such that we were not going to go out and acquire a building or even design one. I went down to the Design Council and identified the only spread-eagled coat stand that it recommended to the nation. I then found where I could buy one and purchased it. I also bought two chairs by Edward Barnsley. Thirteen years later, I led the management buyout from the American who had founded the firm, and I had five years in which to transform it from being a firm controlled by a single person into a firm that was owned by 50 people. I am delighted to say that more than a quarter of a century later, that firm is the largest of its kind in the world in private hands. I do not want to make too much of this, but it seems to me that the way we began is the way that we have gone on and have therefore been able to flourish.



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Finally, although Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson’s great Texan colleague, said that the three wisest words in the English language were, “Wait a minute”—and they apply to the amendment—I think that close behind them comes a sentence that I learned at the Harvard Business School, to the effect that if you do not know where you are trying to get to, any road will get you there.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Tyler said, the amendment has enthusiastic support from the Liberal Democrat Benches. When we discussed design issues in Committee, I said that that I thought that the 2004 Act included something like this. I remember discussion and we were probably fobbed off with the promise of guidance rather than anything else. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, looked through the Act line by line, and assures me that it is not there. I am sorry about that.

Secondly, it would be a great help to those, like me, who struggle with local planning issues on the ground to have that firmly written into legislation. I can introduce the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, to local planning officers up and down the land who regard planning policy statements as something close to Holy Writ when they are arguing with their councillors. It would help to have that in the Bill. At present, I am one of the people holding informal negotiations with a supermarket chain, which has put in a reserved matters planning application for quite a large new supermarket in Colne, where I live. Design and new supermarkets do not necessarily fit together. New supermarkets challenge people interested in design more than almost anything else, because they are just big square or rectangular boxes. Nevertheless, we have had interesting discussions with the supermarket chain about how to make it less ugly than it would otherwise be, if I may put it that way, and it has come back with substantial improvements. That is because we are trying to get better design on the ground.

Sometimes when I listen to the Ministers, I see them thinking of big projects or prestige projects of any size at the top level of design. All of the real world is not like that; it is a spectrum. There is good design, there is awful design, and there is everything in between. It is incumbent on all of us to try to push the boundary with every project as far as we can in a better direction on that spectrum, even if it is a local supermarket box. It would really help to have this in the Bill, so that we could say to people, “Look, we have to consider this. We are not just arguing for the sake of it. You have to listen to what we say because if you take it to appeal, we have the legislation behind us”.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I support the amendment. I listened to the previous speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and this one, and it is good to hear the voice of the architectural profession in the Chamber at this point.

Having spent a number of years sitting on committees trying to persuade them that design might come into it, with a perfectly good presentation before the committee but a not particularly good discussion about it and, sometimes, an appalling conclusion come to, it seems to me that the great value of making a statutory requirement at this point in the Bill is that a committee

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would have to say, “What about the design?”. The members of the committee would not agree about what was good design. Some of them would be rather knowledgeable; others would not have a clue. Some would be totally utilitarian; some would have a good visual sense; but they would at least say, “Is this good design?”, and the architect could deploy his argument for why it was good design.

The amendment is sound and I do not see why the Government should not accept it.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, at this stage of the debate, I will not take up the House’s time with a long speech; it is hard to gainsay the case of the mover of the amendment. I am passionate about good design, which is key to the creation of a humanised environment for people to live in. I may even be almost as passionate about design as the Minister told us in Committee she was. That is why the Bill needs to place a duty on the new development consent regime and the town and country planning regime to have regard to the desirability of securing high standards of design.

Without a duty in legislation, it is all too easy for developers to ignore considerations of good design. Good practice advice and encouragement, strewn throughout reams of guidance and planning statements, are apt to operate in a rather diffuse and diluted way, if they operate at all. A duty clearly laid down in statute focuses the obligation and the mind much more powerfully.

Government amendments to require that the new development consent regime must have regard to the desirability of securing high standards of design are very welcome. I was therefore surprised and disappointed that a duty on the town and country planning regime to have regard to the desirability of securing high standards of design in the built environment has not been written into the Bill. It is simply consistent for the same requirement to apply to the town and country planning regime.

This is the mirror image of our discussion the other day on heritage and the fact that the town and country planning regime, but not the new development consent regime, is obliged to have regard to the desirability of preserving heritage. The duty should apply across the piece to both regimes, and I support the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I speak in part because, after the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, had his debate on heritage on Monday, we met in the Corridor and he was concerned that, because I had sat on my hands, I did not agree with his proposition. I remind him of the adage that silence signifies assent. Again, he has said all that needs to be said, and has been reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, so I intend to take no longer. The fact that I have no more to say does not mean that I disagree. If I had reason to disagree, I would speak at much greater length.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we are excelling in debates on design in this House. As much as I would like to respond to the call of history, as the noble Lord has invited me to do—I certainly feel the weight of historical reference that he makes—I am not sure that

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I can aspire to be there with those great Victorians, whose hands and imagination have created not least this great building in which we work. What a privilege that is. As much as the noble Lord has anticipated some of my response, it is still worth looking at exactly what the amendment calls for and its implications.

The proposed new clause would amend Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, ensuring that a statutory design duty is placed on those exercising development plan functions, whether regional or local, to pursue the objective of high-quality design in addition to the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. I do not want to say “yet again”, because noble Lords know—indeed, they have reflected my own words back to me—that I have tried very hard in this Bill and in other Bills, as well as in my work at the department, to ensure not only that we have a vigorous national debate on design but that we win it, and we are winning it in practical and sustainable ways.

There is no dispute between us that ensuring good quality design is a vital component of a good quality of life in our communities. People have the right to expect and to get the best. I am not convinced that explicitly placing a duty to secure good-quality design in the Bill is the most effective or appropriate way of using the planning system. There has been a chorus of support for this—noble Lords around this House have been eloquent—so the very least I can do is explain my reasoning. I hope that it will find sympathy, not least with those noble Lords who have great experience of local government in this House.

In contrast with the regime that we have just put in place for handling nationally significant infrastructure or the proposals for the Homes and Communities Agency, where there had been no specific pre-existing arrangements on design—I was extremely pleased that we could put this in place—the planning system, despite the description of planning policy statements offered by the noble Lord, has a strong policy framework in which design is an integral part of the process. I have referred to that before. I do not recognise the description of the planning policy statements and their effect offered by my noble friend.

Planning policy statements 1 and 3 could not be clearer or stronger. Design which is inappropriate in its context, and which fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions, should not be acceptable. This is not policy wallpaper. It has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, as Holy Writ in some local authorities. But the Secretary of State, when approving plans, has to be satisfied that all relevant planning policy is taken into account. Planning policies on design can act as material considerations in decisions on individual applications. Local authorities, that have had their applications turned down time and again may have been told that they do not satisfy the criteria and that this is simply policy wallpaper, but it is not. Applications have been and are turned down on design grounds, which is the purpose of planning policy guidance. Planning bodies are required to have regard to these policies in preparing regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks.



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I know and I share the frustration of noble Lords that we have a long way to go before design standards are what we would all want to see. We are making progress, critically, in a progressive and sustainable way. We have been working hard with local planning authorities and PINS to make these provisions work, and we are beginning to see results. Local development frameworks, such as those for areas as different as Chelmsford, Havering and Plymouth, include clear guidance for developers on local design policies. They are embedded in local development frameworks. There is no reason why all local authorities should not include that in their local development frameworks.


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