Commission for Architecture and Built Environment in talks with Treasury to revise guidelines.
The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is working with the Treasury to revise the guidelines for private finance initiative projects to give greater priority to design.

The move comes after criticism by the CABE of plans for a police headquarters in Sutton, south London, that one commission source called “a dog’s dinner”.

The CABE believes that current guidelines make it difficult for clients to justify the commissioning of good design. One CABE source said: “They cannot choose their favourite design but must opt for one that fits best with present Treasury guidelines, perhaps because it is cheaper.” Another CABE source said the Sutton project had provided the impetus for a revision to the guidelines.

The commission also wants to see designs earlier to avoid expensive changes. A CABE source said: “If we can see plans earlier we can comment on strategic issues rather than detailed ones. It will make it less likely that the sort of thing that is happening at Sutton will be repeated.”

The preferred-bidder plan for the Sutton project was designed by Clifford Tee and Gale with Raymond Smith Partnership. This came under fire at a recent CABE meeting.

The meeting report said: “This scheme is completely unacceptable. The PFI process is not an excuse or an occasion for second-rate architecture on key town-centre sites.”

English Heritage has also raised concern about the plan, pointing to the sheer bulk of the building.

One CABE commissioner who sat in judgement on the Sutton plans described the PFI process as wasteful but that he hoped that it was not too late for the project to be changed. Clifford Tee declined to comment, although it is understood to be making changes.

In a separate move, the CABE has held talks with the DETR about switching its jurisdiction from the Department of Culture. This follows calls to give the commission more cross-departmental clout.

RIBA president Marco Goldschmied said he believed that the CABE would function better and have more influence with other departments under the aegis of the DETR.

This view was supported by a CABE insider, who said the commission wanted to punch its weight across all government departments.