Posted by: Adam Roake | January 8, 2010


I don’t usually read the editorial in BD but this one came to my attention today. Apart from the obvious factual errors (firstly, CABE is just as much an “arm of government” as HCA; it’s sponsored by DCMS and part funded by CLG; secondly all of the housing schemes in Kickstart were originally intended for the private market not the social sector – developers are having to turn some of their private housing into additional social housing to get Kickstart money), Amanda seems to be saying that it is quite okay for the HCA to build sub-standard housing because of the pressing need. This is what happened in the early 1990’s and the result was public money wasted on crap housing much of which has now become unusable. Luckily, according to Amanda, we can spend the Kickstart money on replacing it with an equally short term quick fix of crap housing.

Paul Morrell is already right; contractors and their house building subsidiaries already dominate major construction projects and it seems a little optimistic to expect their architects to do much about it. The man holding the purse strings will get built what he wants regardless of who “designs” it. The real tragedy is not the commissioning of the schemes as Amanda suggests but that they were granted planning permission, when their design was so poor as to warrant refusal.  But perhaps, the planning officers and members who approved them can be absolved from responsibility because they needed to deliver housing numbers and these were the only schemes to come forward. Actually I’m beginning to rather like your argument, Amanda; it works in pretty well every circumstance. And yeah, lets blame the bloody architects; they need a good kicking.



  1. Adam
    I have just seen your blog. Of course there are big differences between Cabe and HCA . The latter is simply the spending arm of DCLG with no real voice in the design community. As you seem to be taking a lot of interest in Kickstart you might like to see my letter to the Guardian last Friday.
    And just for the record, my first leader on this issue was before we obtained the scores for round one through FoI. But my point that architects have to take some of the blame stands, although Iagree many of the schemes should not have been given planning permission.

  2. Amanda,
    Thanks for the comment but I have to say I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

    Firstly, HCA and CABE are both “arms of government” (your phrase) and I assume you don’t disagree with that. That they are different organisations is not in contention. I think HCA readers might feel they do a little more than spend CLG cash but I’ll leave them to defend themselves on that.

    Secondly, if you check Bob Kerslake’s press releases on design quality, which I refer to in my original post on this, you will see that he made specific promises about design quality and Kickstart. I think, in the light of these promises, it is surprising (your word) that, having paid for it, HCA have ignored the design advice from CABE .

    Thirdly, HCA published their Kickstart Review before you wrote the leader (obviously, I suppose!). I don’t see what the FoI figures add to the pretty sorry figures on design quality in the review, particularly when read in conjunction with CABE’s press release, which seems to have prompted your article.

    Fourthly your letter to the Guardian states that “… volume housebuilders… are the real villains of the piece”, the very group your leader says architect’s shouldn’t blame!

    The question that your comment here doesn’t address is why did your leader suggest it’s acceptable for HCA to spend tax payers money on poor quality housing? Do you now agree that it probably isn’t?

    By the way, I can agree with you that the designers of the low scoring schemes should be ashamed of themselves. but that’s not quite the same as “let’s give architect’s a kicking”.

  3. Adam,
    First, is Cabe an arm of Gov ? Well, yes, it is a quango like HCA but what I was referring to and I hope BD readers would pick up on is that Cabe used to ( less these days in my view) be campaigning and independant. I have never felt that about HCA. It’s just a big faceless body like EP and HA.
    Second, re Bob’s promises. Well, I think we agree that HCA ignored Cabe’s advice but that’s no surprise. Its job is to deliver homes- that was my point in December.
    Third, the sequence is that there was a Cabe review in December but the scores came out through an FOI made by BD and we got that in Jan. We are now asking for the names of the schemes, the developers, together with the scores, which has been turned down by HCA and now Cabe.
    Fourthly, housebuilders are to blame but the picture is clearly more complex than that and I wouldn’t have got my letter published if I had tried to unpick why housing standards are lower here than anywhere else in Europe. But I don’t think architetcs can be let off the hook either. John Sorrell’s leaving speech when he urged architects to walk away from bad clients may have been wise advice.
    Finally, I never said it was acceptable behaviour by HCA, I said it was understandable. I still think that.

    • Amanda,
      Thanks for coming back. Actually the HCA published the headline figures in this review on 16th December, clearly showing the poor quality of the schemes they were funding through Kickstart. I appreciate your FoI request dug deeper but even I worked out that HCA were funding significantly poorer quality schemes through Kickstart than they usually do (see my original post below).

      Perhaps I am too naive but I don’t agree that the HCA’s behaviour is understandable because they do have certain statutory duties (see here); their role is not just to deliver homes. I would have thought you could be helpfully pointing out in BD that “contribut{ing}… to the achievement of good design” is actually a statutory requirement imposed on HCA under the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.

      That the HCA has overidden CABE’s advice or at least given other advice greater importance is, as you say, clear. I’m not sure they’ve come clean about why, which I suppose leads one to believe that despite their promises and duties, good design is not really as high on their agenda as both you and I think it should be.

      I haven’t signed your petition because it seems to me that it is for the HCA to explain why they have not heeded CABE’s advice on design quality rather than the other way around.

  4. We seem to agree on some things if not the detail. As for the petition, it’s not about getting an explanation from HCA it’s about the public’s right to know how its money is being spent, transparency and the other objectives of FOI. Cabe as well as HCA could have both released this information, but for reasons that seem pretty clear to us, chose not to. You can read Cabe’s letter to us on the bd web site.

  5. I just think you’re shooting at the wrong thing. The FoI request will eventually get an answer but actually the answer will add little to the debate, as Matt Bell’s comment on BDonline points out. We already know which schemes have been funded and we already know more than half of them score less than ten (with two at 1.5). We know the money is being spent on crap housing.

    I would have thought the real questions you should be asking are why is the HCA not meeting its statutory obligation to contribute to good design and what will government do about that to prevent this waste of tax money.

  6. Oh dear me. I don’t mean to sound patronising, but I not sure you quite understand how these thing work. As Matt makes clear we will get an answer, when Cabe is ready. Surely you accept that things are moving a little too fast to wait for the outcome of its ‘comprehensive report’ . And we don’t know which schemes have been funded- we have the scores (thanks to BD) But while I have enjoyed our debate I see you work for Cabe which is perhaps the reason why you have been so keen to defend it.

  7. No really; I think you’re shooting at the wrong thing. You do know, or at least someone at BD does, which schemes have been funded because HCA has published the list here; it’s on their website and as you’ll see was published on 16th December, same date as their review which demonstrated the low quality design. Your FoI will be answered and will add nothing to the debate.

    Amanda, you don’t sound patronising you just sound a bit lost. I am a CABE enabler (well done for checking my ‘About’ page) but I’m not particularly trying to defend CABE here. I’m just asking you to check the facts (CABE and HCA are both arms of government, the list of Kickstart1 funded schemes is in the public domain etc)and dig out the real story.

    I’m not quite sure what you think CABE should have done other than tell you stuff, most of which is already in the public realm, if only you had bothered to look!

    I’m damn sure HCA shouldn’t be spending tax money on poor quality design. You don’t seem very bothered about that, unlike you colleague Ellis.

  8. […] particular interest, in the light of the recent controversy over Building For Life and the Kickstart programme, is the hike in required BFL score and the clear intention in the documentation to get more serious […]

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