Colin Harding CABE acts for an architectural elite and against the interests of the construction industry in general. The result is an approach to building that you might call Blairist …

The RIBA must be by far the most successful organisation associated with construction when it comes to lobbying. Their professional spin over the past 10 years, promoting the case for a design-led approach to construction, has regained much of the ground they lost through the Latham and Egan reviews.

Although their president, Jack Pringle, has failed to persuade the Treasury to appoint designers on major PFI projects before “a consortium being run by some builders” (Building, 7 October 2005) they have secured prime ministerial patronage of their profession. While the construction industry in general struggles to attract a fraction of our minister Alun Michael’s time, an elitist group of architects enjoy the benefits of free promotion by CABE, almost their own personal non-government agency.

The question is: should taxpayers be paying for what in effect is a posh architects’ marketing board, set up to create a style that posterity might call Blairist. From what I can see, in CABE we are paying for a quango that is acting against the interests of the construction industry in general, its clients and our economy, in three ways:

  • By exaggerating the importance of design and the need for architects to remain outside an integrated industry, they are sabotaging the modernisation of the construction process. In doing so, they are depriving everyone involved of the improvements to quality, reliability, economy and profitability that only integrated design and construction can provide.
  • By puffing up the need for everyone to commission extravagantly designed monuments, they are encouraging government departments to pay far more than they can afford or really need. The reason for the long delays in starting the Building Schools for the Future programme is that their splendid exemplar designs cannot be constructed within reasonably affordable budgets.
  • The third aim of CABE, with strong support last week from the urban taskforce, is the most pernicious. That is to drive up the cost of construction by design not just in the public and commercial sectors, but now in highly competitive private housing.

They are interfering in the housebuilding market by rubbishing the design of value-for-money schemes without thought for the affordability of new homes. The result will be to price private housing out of the range of the average housebuyer. They are forcing their own expensive design ideas onto a homebuying public that is very happy and comfortable with the current well-established product.

In all other industries, the best designers can create good design within the tightest of budgets without design-police regulation. Free from interference by external busybodies the cheapest modern cars aren’t badly designed or poor quality; they are brilliantly designed down to a basic specification.

Should taxpayers be paying for what in effect is a posh architects’ marketing board?

The integrated volume housebuilders have proved that they can produce affordable homes across the whole price range with architectural designs that suit and please their customers. The design snobs of CABE and the urban taskforce have taken it on themselves to sneer at those very successful designs and replace them with their own elitist extravagances.

There is an enormous resource of innovative professional architects in the UK who are successfully working within integrated design and construction teams through various forms of design. These teams are providing value for money through design excellence to their satisfied clients.

We know that integration is an anathema to the architectural establishment but all the quangos and demonstration projects of the past 15 years have proved that we can achieve radical improvements to our industry, services and products, provided we can escape from the old adversarial architect-led culture.

Lucian Freud doesn’t insist that Boots and WHSmith only sell expensive reproductions of his paintings. Why should our successful world-class architects force their expensive values on to the majority of construction’s clients, just in the name of Blairism?