The only risk for CABE now is that it becomes a victim of its own success. Rouse, in particular, has been a formidable public evangelist for good design. But that's a lot easier with a nimble team of 10 than it is with a multilayered organisation of 100. And do his bright, enthusiastic disciples have the experience and know-how to proselytise others to follow their ideas? It's not just CABE's coffers that are swelling; its agenda is, too. Amid the fierce battle over the design of PFI schools and hospitals, CABE has lined up fresh targets in public spaces and privately built housing. Rouse is right to say CABE's work has really only just begun, and that it will take 10 years to fulfil his goal of changing public consciousness. But, when the bandwagon's rolling, it won't be easy to avoid moving too far, too fast – as dotcom entrepreneurs will attest.
One senses that CABE's biggest test is yet to come. It may be on the side of the angels – who actually opposes good design? – but, at some point, it will have to face down powerful opponents. Housebuilders, perhaps. Although they may sympathise with CABE's aesthetic views, they are unlikely to refashion their products while customers keep buying them. Public tastes may change in surprising ways – just ask McDonald's – but not imminently. Equally, CABE might find itself at loggerheads with its own Whitehall backers if its stance on PFI is seen to stymie Labour's public spending drive.
Mercifully, it hasn't come to that yet. Observers say the success of CABE's relationship with the government is largely a result of the shrewd personalities involved. But they are hardly helped by the political framework in which they operate. Lipton and Rouse may report to Tessa Jowell's culture ministry, but on construction issues, they must deal with the DTI. For housing, it's John Prescott's lot; for transport, see Alistair Darling; and for PFI schools and hospitals, well, that's education and health, of course. Hardly joined-up government. If everyone from Blair down is so serious about CABE's agenda, why not appoint a minister for the built environment, based at the Treasury (along with the power and the money), but with a roving, pan-Whitehall brief? Who, though? Well, Lord Lipton of Broadgate wouldn't be a bad choice.
Adrian Barrick, editor