Architecture and the Built Environment: Question for Short Debate – Transcript
Asked by Baroness Whitaker
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the Farrell Review of architecture and the built environment.
Baroness Whitaker (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Design and Innovation. The United Kingdom is very lucky to have Sir Terry Farrell’s magisterial Review of Architecture and the Built Environment at the very moment when we have a crisis that requires a very large number of houses to be built fast; when we have pressure to question the tall towers of London; when our undoubted national talent in architecture is rarely matched by equal calibre in planning; and when our citizens, at local level, have the new responsibility of developing their own neighbourhood plans.
The intellectual cogency of Sir Terry’s review has impeccable authority not only because of his own distinction, but because of the breadth of its consultation among experts, representative organisations and lay people—and it has some very nice diagrams, intelligible even to the non-expert.
What problem was it set to address? Those of us who have been depressed by the meagre and dismal quality of some recent public housing and have feared a return to the disasters of the sixties and seventies might have thought that reason enough, but in his preface Sir Terry also talks about the increase of urbanisation, the onward march of digital technology and the challenge of sustainability. The Minister, Mr Ed Vaizey, who is much to be commended for having commissioned it, reflects in his foreword to the review on the,
“critical importance of architecture and design in all aspects of our lives”.
The profound impact of our built environment on the way we live our lives needs to be better understood.
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In effect, we would be missing an extraordinary opportunity if we did not get the systems and culture that create good and sustainable place-making right for our time now, and we would do irreparable damage to the fabric of our communities if we missed that opportunity. Our systems and culture have not got it right, although there are examples of great achievement here and there. That is what this review sets out to tackle.
There is a large number of detailed conclusions and recommendations, which I hope all those responsible for planning decisions will study, but they fall into simple broad categories. Interestingly, education comes first. The recommendations travel from ensuring that children at school understand the importance of the built environment to equipping architects and all those involved in planning decisions with the skills to engage the public in making sound decisions—and to being better able to make them themselves. This leads naturally on to ensuring quality, including restoring the profession of planning to its rightful high place, making space for design in infrastructure decisions, and the role of industry and public procurement. There follows an imaginative section on the part played by our cultural heritage, and another on economic benefit.
Through all these sections, several cross-cutting themes run: there must be better understanding of what place-based planning and design is really about; better connectedness between all the institutional stakeholders; better public engagement through education and outreach; a sustainable and low-carbon future for our built environment; and a commitment to improving the everyday built environment—to “making the ordinary better”.
In Sir Terry’s conclusion, an overall built environment policy that can rest outside government is proposed, with an independent PLACE leadership council. PLACE is the acronym for its constituent parts—planning, landscape, architecture, conservation and engineering. There should be a government-appointed chief architect to sit alongside the current chief planner and the chief construction adviser on the council. So it has a broad sweep, based on a very detailed analysis, with clear recommendations. I strongly support all these.
In the time permitted, I just want to pick out a few of the more detailed proposals. From the education section, I was particularly taken by the idea that planning committee members and highway engineers, among others, should be trained in design literacy, with the dedicated commitment of the professionals concerned. For too long we have suffered cities and housing estates made fit for the motor car and thereby also made polluted, dangerous and ugly for people to walk in and children to play in. I am also a fan of proactive planning, as recommended in the review, and have long admired its results in the Netherlands and in Sweden, where there is some of the most varied and attractive public housing in Europe. This would really only work, again as the review says, if design reviews were more widely available, much more participative and not just for new applications, but, say, to revive a high street. The plea for government leadership in explicitly valuing the long-term benefit
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of well-designed places, as well as setting up new institutions to carry forward these values, is well made. What is the Minister’s response to this?
I had rather hoped for a bit of detail on space standards, so important in lifting the quality of public housing in the days of Parker Morris and honoured now only by the Mayor of London; and for post-occupancy reviews of new-build housing by the people who live there, but the frameworks proposed by the Farrell review could easily welcome such features.
In conclusion, to implement this review would transform those parts of the UK that most need it. It would harness our undoubted talents in building and design for the benefit of all of us, rather than the fortunate few. Many of us are proud to live in Britain because of its tolerance, humanity, the beauty of the landscape and our civic energy and conscience. Would it not be good if we were as proud of our built environment and the national well-being that that would create, so clear in some of our places, so lacking in others? What does the Minister say to the recommendations of the Farrell report?
Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, we are all very much in debt to Sir Terry, but we are also in debt to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for drawing this important report to our attention and securing this all too brief debate.
When I wake up in the morning at home in Lincoln, I look to the front, to one of the most glorious buildings in Europe. But if I go to the top bedroom and look down the hill, I see some of the worst excrescences of the sixties and seventies. Round the Brayford Pool, where the university has developed wonderfully, some of the buildings are, frankly, deeply disappointing. They are on the site of wonderful Victorian warehouses that would have made the most marvellous student accommodation.
I will talk very briefly about the heritage aspect of this important report. I remember over forty years ago when I first became involved in the heritage movement those marvellous words of Sir John Betjeman, who galvanised people.
“Goodbye to old Bath! We who loved you are sorry.They’re carting you off by developer’s lorry”.
Of course, it was his stinging verse that helped to reverse that trend. We need to be conscious of the enormous value of our historic built environment. We do not want a repetition of the tearing down of the terraces of Liverpool, the rape of Worcester and Gloucester and the despoliation of the lower town in Lincoln 40 or 50 years ago.
What I hope we can take from this report, among other things, is the message that it is often still better to adopt and adapt than to tear down. There is a great deal to be said for trying to get life back into our cities. Where there is life, there is less crime. So much could be done to adapt and build over the shop, as it were. So much could be done to bring well designed new buildings side by side with adapted older buildings to give pulsating life to our towns and cities.
It is to this that Sir Terry’s report points us. He has sections on the economic benefit of heritage. He has
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sections on the importance of our historic built environment. If in the few minutes that each of us has at our disposal tonight we could help to underline some of the messages of this seminal report, the noble Baroness will indeed have performed a signal service.
Lord Sawyer (Lab): My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Baroness Whitaker for securing this important debate, and Mr Ed Davey, and Sir Terry Farrell and his team for an excellent and groundbreaking report. If it was implemented, it could provide a real cultural change in the way in which we live, and approach our communities, towns and houses.
There are many big ideas in the report. One of the biggest is the embedding of design and place-making in our children’s education. If that was taken up and implemented, it would have an enormous impact on future generations. The concept of place institutions and urban rooms is another big idea. A national conversation between architects, planners, local councils and housing professionals, along with the communities, on a regular, systematic basis is an excellent idea, which will have enormous benefits if implemented.
There are many good ideas in the report, but I want to spend my time on the issue of implementation. That is very important. Without it, the report may as well not have been written, like many similar reports in the past. I understand that the Government will be expected to play their part. It will be interesting tonight to hear what the Minister has to say in that respect. I see in the conclusion the comments about Sir Terry keeping track on what is happening and having regular meetings with Ministers. Sadly, I think that that part of the conclusion is a big hole in the report. It is nowhere near enough.
In its conclusion the report needs a huge commitment from the profession, the big-name architects and others. They need to say that they will make this work. That is what we should be looking for. They need to say that they will fund a not-for-profit organisation—let us call it the “Centre of Place”. This will have the stamp and resources to fund and fulfil the mission of this report. It should be a 10-year-plan.
I expect the Government to take a role but I do not expect them to carry the full responsibility. I look to the profession. This report will not happen unless it lives its own prescription—in other words, from the bottom up. We have heard in these debates over the years names from the past, such as Howard Parker and Unwin Hollanby, who gave without asking for return, who changed the face of architecture and the built environment in our nation and I vote that Sir Terry Farrell’s name eventually goes on this list.
Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, I warmly endorse the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and share her enthusiasm for this review. I am so supportive of the general thrust of the analysis and recommendations that I fear that I may be thought unduly critical in expressing a very sincere warning about one conclusion and the associated recommendations.
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Conclusion 1B3 says that decision makers should receive training in design literacy. What follows is full of good intentions but we all know what happens to good intentions. From my experience in the 1960s and 1970s, as the vice-chair of a planning committee, and when I was working for and with architects, and especially as a senior member of the RIBA staff, I am filled with alarm by this recommendation.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Who is to undertake this training? It is an oddity that councillors, faced with the subjective advice of a fire safety officer or a highway engineer, will invariably bow to the superior judgment. Given careful guidance by an architect, drawing on long training, expertise and experience of three-dimensional design, that same committee will treat it as if it is the subjective result of personal taste.
We are all amateur architects. At an individual level we would never trust our teeth to a farrier or our appendix to a barber; but individual buildings and their impact on the built environment are daily left to the tender mercies of the unqualified. I simply do not understand how this recommendation can be made to work to the benefit of the environment and the wider community. Given that about 50% of the top-tier local authorities in the country do not even employ a chief officer architect today, what quality of training can we expect and what notice will the trainees take of it anyway?
In those circumstances we must look carefully at the pattern of employment of qualified architects. Since the 1980s the proportion of architects in the public sector has dropped from 63% to 11%. I am glad to say that unitary authorities have managed to reintegrate some of the skills that are necessary, but all too often, where there are two tiers, the planning profession is split and there are no architect-planners left. I return to my original warning and question. What training in design literacy will take place? That is surely no substitute for appropriately qualified architectural advice.
I am very strongly in support of this review, not least because it makes congratulatory reference to the “long life, loose fit, low energy” project that I headed at the RIBA all those years ago. I am bound to be in support. Yet I wonder whether it has touched on a really important issue and shied away from an appropriate response. While I am wholly supportive of the localism agenda, I must question whether local authorities, who have no such architectural expertise at a senior officer level in house and not even a department on permanent call, should continue to be allowed to exercise the full range of plan-making and development-control responsibilities.
The Earl of Lytton (CB): My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for giving us this opportunity, and of course to Sir Terry and his team for an excellent piece of work.
My interests as a chartered surveyor and my links with the parish and town council movement, and therefore with localism, are well known. I like the suggestion of working better with what we have rather than always trying to invent something new. That applies to the way in which central government, departments and local authorities run their affairs and in which the professions respond, as well as to the
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philosophy of building reuse as opposed to endless redevelopment, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
A sense of place is as old as human settled habitation. Yet the report rightly points out how poorly we educate ourselves on the practical implications of this. It is not just about professions and procurers being ignorant of the principles of design, but also—to blow my own trumpet a bit—of being insufficiently apprised of concepts of valuation, in whole life economic and energy-accounting terms. Who can blame municipal planning officers or their councillors for not reflecting these when the process of training that I went through and regarded as holistic has now become modular and fragmented, with endless post-qualification accreditation now required? We risk incoherence and linguistic silos worthy of the Tower of Babel.
Modern buildings and layouts often have too little of that slack in design that made old mill buildings capable of being re-engineered into quality homes and wharfsides into modern business centres. I would like to comment particularly on the question posed in the review as to why good design is not better reflected in property valuation. I am a property valuer. The same question has often been asked about energy-efficient environments and was asked of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Excellence in the Built Environment also. As a valuer I understand where location, design and market sentiment coincide. Values reflect these elements but not immediately or in prospect.
Property valuation, especially for secured lending purposes, is heavily regulated. It necessarily follows market evidence and extrapolates from that to arrive at opinions. As such, its basis is inherently dated. It is both extremely unwise and professionally improper to speculate forwards in valuation. There are heavy liabilities for getting it wrong, due partly to the stance of lenders and partly to the legal arts of allocating risks and responsibilities. So projects without evidence of future market effect frequently get a raw deal.
Tenants may not be as choosy as one might hope, and landlord investors may be more interested in returns and bank covenants than in build design, quality and cost of occupation, sad though that may be. It is only in only the private owner-occupied sector that you find the maximum synergy, and even then not always. However, tenants and investors make markets, and if they do not value excellence in design and efficiency, it is difficult for valuers, who strive to interpret their actions to do so—even if their estate agency colleagues can afford to be rather more bullish.
Baroness Andrews (Lab):My Lords, it is a very important report, and I am very grateful to my noble friend for securing the debate and for introducing it so comprehensively.
The unifying and really big idea in the report, which has not been provided with such clarity or meaning before, is about what constitutes the elements of good places and good place-making. What makes the argument in the report compelling is not least that
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it presents a view of planning which is potentially creative, humane, connective and dynamic—somewhat the opposite to the constrained and rather mean-spirited version that we have had in recent years, which is focused on development control, is seen to be burdensome and has been unfairly blamed for failure, notably to deal with housing supply. I suggest that those failures have their roots in the economic and social challenges which show up the clear failure of policy on place-making and regeneration as a whole.
I am inclined not just to welcome the report but to say, “Amen: at last a different vision. A prospect for the sort of change that so many people who care about this country and what it feels and looks like have wanted for a long time”. In particular, the report makes clear a positive and integrated version of place-making, in which you indeed need planning, landscape, architecture, conservation and engineering working together across disciplines. We have never needed such a powerful vision more urgently than we do now. As a country, we need to plan on a scale which has simply eluded us so far. We need to build new power stations, green energy sites, gas storage facilities, reservoirs, airports, railways and towns. That all requires of us an approach to spatial planning, integrated labour markets, environmental sensitivity and climate change. We need to plan for food, energy and climate security. At the same time, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made so clear, we need to conserve and work with the character of what makes this country so beautiful and different: the spectacular heritage of the everyday and everywhere.
To do all that means accepting the second definition in the Farrell report: that place is character. It involves politics, life, advocacy, community and the environment—elements which bring together not just the professionals but the whole community. Fundamental to that is expanding and sharing knowledge and the need to learn the constituent elements of place-making from the primary school to, yes, the planning committee. I do not agree with the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made. I think that there is a lot we can do to assist planning committees of elected officials to understand some of the basic criteria that go into making good decisions.
We also need to inspire a new and energetic generation of place-makers drawn widely from different disciplines who can be taught in different ways by different people—not least, to develop a national habit of design. I have reservations about detail and implementation. For example, although I applaud the observation that conservation and development are not either/or, I do not think that the answer lies in bringing English Heritage and the CABE-Design Council into a single organisation. They deal with different criteria, which are often contestable, of development.
I am concerned about a few missing realities, particularly the serious impact of the loss of specialist planners and architects and the continuing uncertainties in the planning system. I hope that we will have the opportunity to debate the report at greater length. I hope that the Minister will say tonight that it is irresistible and implementable.
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Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, in my three minutes, I shall touch on just two themes from this excellent and complex report. The first is well-being. It is some years since David Cameron said in a speech that,
“it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB—general wellbeing”.
He understood that economic growth is not an end; it is a means to lives of well-being. That, of course, was understood by the pioneers of planning in this country—for example, those who were responsible for the garden cities movement which, after some hesitation, I think that the Government are again embracing.
Sir Terry Farrell and his distinguished panel want planning inspired by vision, not snagged in process; that is proactive rather than reactive; that is collaborative rather than adversarial. The National Planning Policy Framework touches on a crucial point when it speaks of,
“health, social and cultural wellbeing”,
but it fails to assert that the promotion of well-being should be the overarching objective of the planning system. I am proud to say, however, that the Norwich and Norfolk plan—that is where I live—declares that:
“All development will be expected to maintain or enhance the quality of life and the well being of communities”.
In that spirit, Farrell seeks to broaden design review into a more holistic place-shaping strategy. We need planners to work with health and well-being boards and other service providers. We need planners fully engaging with communities, and confidently and naturally integrating the heritage with the new. If we have planning with that kind of vision, instead of the crises of housing, floods and energy supply and the negativism and resentment about the planning system that we have at the moment, we would have a planning system of vision and ambition that worked towards creating cohesive and confident communities.
The second theme is education. Farrell wants decision-makers—for example, members of planning committees—to be trained in design literacy. I, too, say to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that that is a reasonable challenge. At the minimum, we want planners who know how to read a plan. Just as it is accepted that elected members need to be trained in certain legal and financial skills, so, surely, they ought to be in planning skills. I believe that could be done.
Farrell calls for a multidisciplinary common foundation year for the formation of all built environment professionals: planners, architects, landscapers, conservationists, developers, surveyors, engineers and builders. He wants more routes to qualification. That is surely an idea whose time has come. Ministers should endorse it and professional and academic leaders should get on with it. He wants the public to be better educated—of course, they will need to be if they are to rise to the challenge and opportunity of forming neighbourhood plans. He wants more architectural centres, urban rooms, events such as heritage open days, open house and architecture festivals. In schools, he wants teachers to be supported with some training and useful materials, so that we can gradually build an informed public with higher expectations.
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We need to develop a culture that demands quality, so that, in the end, there will not be a market for rubbish, for the second-rate buildings that the big retailers and the volume housebuilders inflict on us. We also need to emancipate local government to make room again for civic pride and ambition and to allow councillors to have the power to take decisions in the interests of the well-being of their communities and not be overruled by an inspectorate.
We need leadership at every level and, indispensably, across government. So I await with excitement the response of the noble Lord, Lord Bates.
The Earl of Clancarty (CB): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for the opportunity to participate in this debate. The report in question, as one led by an architecture practice, emphasises the immediate built environment, which to me feels refreshing. The report rightly stresses the significance of school education, a central aspect of which should be an awareness of the importance of, to cite the review,
“‘your home, your street, your neighbourhood, your town’ where the smallest part, your home and your street, collectively make an enormous contribution to the future of our planet”.
There are many contexts for the study of architecture. The distinction between public and private space is one crucial context not addressed in the report. The first place where the child experiences architecture in a meaningful way must be their home; a good topic, surely, for a child’s first learning about architecture
The reality is that architectural and planning decisions are being made every day around us. My young daughter was aghast when she went to our local playground only to find that many things, including her favourite climbing frame, had disappeared and been replaced by other equipment. She got used to the changes, but she did feel left out of the decision-making process—as, in the wider sense, do many adults about the planning process, and increasingly so, despite the coalition’s long-standing localism agenda. The right as a citizen to have a say in one’s architectural environment should be taught in schools. That should include at least one visit to the local council.
Architecture is clearly not only about history or about famous buildings, important though they are, although the national curriculum would have us learn first at key stage 2 who the so-called great architects are. If this report is to be taken seriously, then we should be looking carefully at the tone and content of the national curriculum.
The report stresses the importance of teaching. It states:
“Architecture, the built environment and an understanding of ‘place’ … through many different subjects including art and design, geography, history and STEM subjects … rather than as a subject in its own right”.
That multifaceted approach fits with what architecture schools want.
A problem, however, with this approach is that art and design are under increasing threat, particularly in state schools, and less so in independent schools—as is teacher training in these subjects. This is well demonstrated in a new survey by the National Society for Education
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in Art and Design, which also makes clear that these are things which the Government have in their power to rectify. If these trends continue, success will be made more difficult for some of the good ideas that this report contains, such as the local “urban rooms” that could be used for school outreach work.
I was taken with the idea that councillors should have training in design literacy. At a time when the public have less and less faith that the right planning decisions are being made, this can only be a good thing, although it would mean public money being spent on this, as well as in other areas—despite the plea for volunteering—if this report’s recommendations are to be followed through.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Lab): My Lords, we welcome this report and the opportunity to review the built environment. It is more than the buildings, of course; it includes the air in the buildings, the air outside, the water and the landscape. I have always been interested in this. I was a city councillor, dealing not only with pollution and traffic but enabling people to choose the colour of their front door, which was very revolutionary in the early 1970s. It is 15 or 16 years since we had the report from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. It was a very important report and helped to move London forward in its designs—for example, with the Olympic area in the east part of London.
There is unanimity of feeling about this report, and I would like to introduce a constitutional procedure and ask noble Lords to put up their hands if they want a Select Committee. I would want to put up mine, but I am sure I will not be allowed to do that by the chair. We have never had a Select Committee on this subject. Select Committees are extraordinarily powerful bodies—I have sat on a few myself. It would be the only way to have a genuine cross-cutting move.
There are a number of specific points in the report that are important, one of which is to have a chief architect. Currently, the government chief scientist is doing a tremendous study on cities and buildings. It would be tremendous if there were a chief architect for him to relate to. I have just been lecturing to 1,000 architects, engineers and scientists who are studying the indoor environment and its relation to the surroundings of buildings. There is progress in low-carbon buildings, with low-energy water cooling rather than noisy air conditioning. The important point was that there are many dangers in modern buildings in terms of viruses and microbes. There is the extraordinary statistic that 80% of office workers are dissatisfied with their buildings, according to statistics produced in the United States. One reason they are so dissatisfied is that engineers produce perfectly controlled environments and people want to control their own environments and have a good deal of randomness. I believe in randomness; I studied turbulence.
The other important point in this report is the notion of landscaping. Others have not focused on this so much. The greening of industrial areas, particularly in London but also in other parts of the UK, has
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made them more beautiful and generated new life. In particular they have improved the health of communities with low incomes and multiple deprivation. Research shows that if you have patches of greenery through a large area there is a lower mortality rate, particularly those associated with heatwaves.
The document also referred to public involvement. In a splendid book, which can be found in the Library on London’s environment—it is the only city in the world that has a book on its environment—there was a review of what Labour did in London through computers and public engagements. There is a notion in the report of an urban room—a strange term, but it involves people in participation. We discussed in a recent Energy Bill that there should be information centres about climate change, energy, ventilation, and so on. I believe that we can bring the energy and architecture people together. We need to have that kind of urban consultation. That is an important part of the point that other noble Lords have been making.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, reference to the Tower of Babel earlier stimulated me to speak in the gap, and I believe that there is time to do so. Skyscrapers are quite ambiguous—they work in some places but not in others. Why does the Shard work but the Cheesegrater look completely out of place? Maybe that is just my own subjective judgment. Why do some cities that have no need of skyscrapers feel they want them? Some cities in Australia that have all the space they could possibly want still have an instinct to build skyscrapers. It indicates how important the environment is for us. We see no skyscrapers in Paris or Rome. The urban planners there do not allow them.
Buildings have a huge impact on us. We are very conscious in the church that we are responsible for nearly half the great listed buildings in the country. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, they have an impact on the spirit. Over the years I have had a lot to do with architects in connection with these buildings. I have always thought that the architectural profession in our country is to some extent the poor relation to other professions. A huge amount of work goes into training an architect, but they are not valued, as was mentioned earlier. There is a role for more proactive planning and involvement of architects but I would think it a danger if we thought that all the creativity will be decided in advance. We need a combination of planning and allowing initiative.
I sometimes think that in this country our whole planning regime is too constricted. We need only look at the modern housing that has been built in the last 20 years. I fear that we have the slums of the future. Houses are squashed together because of rules on density that were introduced. They are often on three floors so it is very difficult to put in stair lifts, and so forth. They have very small gardens. Is this really the environment in which people will want to live in the future? Buildings affect the spirit and a planning that involves architects who have a real sensitivity for space and place is important. Alongside that, we should ask people what environment they want to live in rather than decreeing it through some over-rigid planning regimes.
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I read the summary of the report this afternoon. It is very important and I hope that the dignity of the architectural profession will be enhanced in the years to come.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Whitaker on securing this important debate. I want to put on record our thanks to her for her tireless commitment to design in the United Kingdom. I thank all speakers who helped to flesh out the report we are discussing today, and to reflect on some of the points made.
I am not sure what the Minister of State at DCMS thought he was going to get when he commissioned Sir Terry Farrell for his review. As has been mentioned, it was done very quickly—in just under a year. It had a fantastic advisory group. The names of people who joined it are extensive and important. It had a very public and important engagement process with stakeholders, and with 60 recommendations it has brought together a huge number of issues that we need to seriously consider if we are to make progress in the areas that it touches. The results are very comprehensive and they will need some working through and thought before they are implemented, as I hope they will be. There is no doubt at all that this is an important report.
Another aspect that noble Lords have mentioned, and which is important to record, is that people have read the report and liked what they have read—so much so that there is quite a lot of enthusiasm across the trade press about it, and a lot of anticipation about where it might be taken. As the Minister said, he doubts whether a more thorough and wide-ranging exercise to seek out views and ideas has taken place in the sector for several generations. Having said that, it is a bit of pity that more has not been made of the preceding work done between the last Government, and in particular, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton, the excellent report Towards an Urban Renaissance, written by the urban taskforce, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, which was published in 1999 but still bears reading today.
The report has five cross-cutting themes, which people have mentioned. They are important in the sense that they form a new appreciation of the training information required among the population as a whole, in the profession of architecture and planning and among those who have responsibilities for developing buildings, places and spaces. These recommendations, which take up a large proportion of what is there, are important. However, as others have mentioned, too, so is a commitment to making the ordinary better and improving the everyday built environment—an important theme, which we must not lose sight of—plus the requirement, as we must all have these days, to have a sustainable and low-carbon future.
Having said that those are the five main strands of it, it is important that the 60 recommendations, which are more detailed and specific in the traditional sense, are also looked at. Several noble Lords picked out some of them and I do not want to go through them in any detail but, importantly, the strong accent on heritage
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and the way in which it can truly be a part of the sustainability of modern development was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. My noble friend Lord Sawyer talked about the need to think creatively about the place discussions—a sense of trying to bring people together in new configurations so that we can look at places and spaces. That was picked up by my noble friend Lady Andrews and it is also very important. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, brought up an interesting point about the way in which experience of architecture and its skills have leached out of our public departments. If what he says about the numbers is true, that is really quite shocking. Design literacy will be important but it will not substitute for the professional skills and training that go into architecture, even though the report says that that training might need to be done in a different way.
I was also struck by what my noble friend Lord Sawyer said about implementation; others also touched on this point. At the time the review was launched, the Minister said:
“Good design builds communities, creates quality of life, and makes places better for people to live, work and play in. I want to make sure we’re doing all we can to recognise the importance of architecture and reap the benefits of good design”.
You cannot throw out phrases such as “I want to make sure we’re doing all we can” without having a suggestion that you might have to follow through on that. It is the fate of many politicians to will the end but not the means. I hope that is not going to be the problem with this report. When he comes to reply, can the Minister confirm whether those aspirations still remain the Government’s intentions here? I say this because in the note accompanying the report, Mr Vaizey says:
“I hope this report is the beginning of a dialogue within the industry about how we can build on our successes and recognise the critical importance of architecture and design in all aspects of our lives”.
That sounds like damning with faint praise. Simply consigning a report to further industry debate is not going to deliver the promised future. This report deserves better than that and I hope that the Minister can reassure us.
Lord Bates (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on securing this debate and for the inspiring way in which she introduced it to your Lordships’ House this evening. Her words about the importance of understanding better the impact of the built environment on our lives are something which we can all understand, particularly as we are having a debate in such a fine example of an architectural built environment, with heritage as well. I listened with care and interest to the commentary of your Lordships on the debate in response to the Farrell review. To respond initially to the points made in conclusion by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in a sense every debate has to start somewhere. I think everybody is agreed that what Farrell has produced in this review is an excellent platform on which we can then start a continuing dialogue, which must also lead to implementation, as the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, said.
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Britain has some of the best architects in the world but that does not automatically mean that the standards of design in England are as good as they could be. That is why my honourable friend Ed Vaizey invited the renowned architect Sir Terry Farrell to undertake an independent, industry-led and funded review of the way that our built environment is designed and planned. Buildings are important: we spend about 20 hours a day inside them—on certain days, some of us spend even longer. Research shows that the quality of the built environment affects our well-being—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. Good design helps build communities, create quality of life and make a place better for the people who live and work there.
I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, during her time as chair of English Heritage and when she was a Minister at DCLG. She spoke about the importance of our heritage. The future remit of English Heritage is being considered in the lead-up to the establishment of Historic England, its replacement body. Heritage was also touched upon by my noble friend Lord Cormack and, in an ecclesiastical setting, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester; it is an essential part and a theme which runs through the National Planning Policy Framework document.
My honourable friend Ed Vaizey’s department, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is responsible or jointly responsible for policy on the creative industries, which include architecture, and much has been made of the value of that historic environment, including our built heritage, to national and international tourism. All those areas are critically interconnected. The beauty of our landscape clearly affects our tourism.
His officials also work closely with many other government departments whose policy responsibilities influence, or are influenced by, these themes, including the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for the National Planning Policy Framework; the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport. Each department is responsible for national policy statements for significant infrastructure. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is jointly responsible for a construction strategy towards the industry in the UK and beyond. The Department for Education is also responsible for the Engaging Places initiative run by Open-City.
Lord Framlingham (Con): I want to say a very brief word on behalf of trees. Trees are, of course, not built but planted. However, they are still a very important part of the built environment, providing as they do beauty, shelter and shade. As well as all that, they manage to take in our carbon dioxide and give us back their oxygen, which is an incredible thing to do in terms of our battle against atmospheric pollution. Although this debate is about the built environment, which is very often softened and made bearable by our trees, I hope that in such a debate the role of trees in that environment will be given the highest possible priority. I hope that the Minister agrees with that.
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Lord Bates: I certainly agree; and more importantly, I think that Sir Terry Farrell would agree too. I recognise the great interest that my noble friend Lord Framlingham, as a horticulturalist, and thanks to his time in forestry, takes in trees. They are a critical part of the environment, and we have talked about how the best design achieves a harmony between our built and natural environments.
Government has another interest in design as the public sector is a significant commissioner of new and refurbished buildings, and government is one of the largest single clients of the construction industry. Indeed, construction output contributes 7% of GDP, and even more if the whole-life contribution through planning, design, construction, maintenance, decommissioning and reuse is taken into account. The sector is worth about £110 billion per annum and the public sector accounts for about 41% of that total. Thus the emphasis that government places on design is crucial and sends out a powerful signal to clients. My noble friend Lord Tyler talked about the ability of buildings to depress—as did my noble friend Lord Cormack in reference to one part of Lincoln—as well as to inspire. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, will take great pride, as I do, in the great contribution of the Sage music theatre on Tyneside. It has lifted the spirits of an entire region.
The scope of Sir Terry Farrell’s task was huge so he decided early on to harness the knowledge and expertise of others. He gathered an advisory panel of leading figures from the architecture and design industry and took four broad themes. The first was education, the importance of which was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, who dealt with the importance of education and its wider application in architecture not only in terms of design and technology but in mathematics, history and across the piece. The second was design quality. My noble friend Lord Tyler referred to the dangers of the “armchair architect”. Those of us who are addicted to the series “Grand Designs” will enjoy that description of ourselves. The third and fourth are cultural heritage and the economic benefits. In preparing his final report Sir Terry chose to consider a fifth theme, namely the built heritage policy, another matter which has been referred to.
The response to Sir Terry’s call for evidence was extremely positive, producing a range of ideas from differing viewpoints throughout the UK. More than 200 responses were received, including responses from organisations representing more than 370,000 people. Workshops were attended by 192 leading figures from professions including education, planning, sustainability, architecture, landscape, urban design and policy-making. It has always been my honourable friend Ed Vaizey’s intention that this review should be the start of an ongoing dialogue within the architecture and planning industry about how it can build on its success. Sir Terry, his panel and others in the sector remain committed to this principle. The noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, said that it cannot be imposed from the top down by government but needs to be something that is embraced from the bottom up and raises standards across the board.
Sir Terry Farrell has proposed the preparation of a draft manifesto for a PLACE Alliance, perhaps basing it on the model of the Creative Industries Council, and of discussion papers on taking forward
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recommendations on: proactive planning; digital engagement; urban rooms, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to; education; future cities; heritage, and an international forum on architecture. I know that my honourable friend is committed to helping Sir Terry make the connections he needs within government to take specific things forward. For instance, he intends to discuss with the new Minister of State for Housing and Planning—which brings together the two positions in the new role now occupied by my colleague Brandon Lewis in the other place—the Farrell review recommendations on the appointment of a chief architect, a PLACE leadership council and design review panels for infrastructure projects. He will also liaise with UKTI on the Farrell review recommendation on the creation of a global built environment forum. It is a critical reminder of the economic value of architecture. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, we in this country have sometimes not been able fully to appreciate the value of good design. However, that is certainly not the case overseas. British architects are in demand around the world because of the high quality they bring.
As we have seen, the Farrell review has provided a catalyst for a serious discussion around architecture’s contribution and place within our society. Sir Terry has made some important recommendations and I echo Ed Vaizey’s call to the architecture and planning sector to embrace them. It is an excellent opportunity for the industry to continue its engagement and to shape the future of architecture in this country. It is well placed to do so. The Government also have a role and discussions are taking place on this, led by the Minister for Culture, with colleagues in other departments. There is an understanding, however, that it should continue to be led by the industry and the sector itself. I am sure that the suggestion of a Select Committee, perhaps an ad hoc Select Committee, has not been ignored by the Chairman of Committees. I encourage the noble Baroness to submit an application for wider consideration of that suggestion as part of this review. It should also look at how to champion and promote the best of our design at home and abroad. I look forward to seeing how this progresses and shapes our future.