CABE’s design review process faced fresh criticism this week when a firm of architects fought back after a poor CABE report by saying its scheme had not been properly reviewed

Architect Chetwood Associates was left fuming after the design watchdog slated its mixed-use regeneration scheme in St Austell, Cornwall, for not being sufficiently adventurous when the design had been endorsed by every other stakeholder.

Chetwood’s 15,300 m2 mixed-use scheme was criticised by CABE because it tried to disguise the buildings’ retail use with a “phoney wrapping”. But English Heritage, the South West of England Regional Development Agency and the local council had welcomed the approach.

CABE said: “The desire to mimic and mirror the grain of the historic centre has … been at the expense of achieving an architectural response of sufficient quality.”

But Chetwood claims that CABE’s comments were only based on a “pinning up” of the scheme at which the architect was not present, and that CABE made unfair comparisons.

Chris Slamon, the director of Chetwood Associates responsible for the scheme, said: “CABE were unable to find space in their schedule for a full presentation by the design team, due to constraints imposed on them by the progress of the scheme through planning.

“To refer to the Eden Project (which lies in a quarry) in the same breath as our St Austell Town Centre scheme, as CABE has done, greatly oversimplifies the nature of a scheme that will impact on a modest and characterful market town.”

He added that iconic architecture was not the only criterion, and said he was disappointed that widespread public support for the scheme could be compromised by CABE’s actions.

CABE greatly oversimplifies the nature of the scheme

Chris Slamon, director, Chetwood Associates

The £36m project won planning permission last week from the local authority, following three years of public consultation and design development in which architectural practices Feilden Clegg Bradley and Edward Cullinan Architects were also involved.

The architects and the client, David McLean Developments and SWRDA, had also set up an Urban Design panel with English Heritage, local interest groups and CABE. The panel responded positively to the scheme. When the planners consulted CABE, they were told that there would not be time for a full design review.

CABE said it had had a “full meeting” with the architects and then conducted a separate design review without Chetwood.

The controversy follows an ODPM report on CABE last month, which recommended that its design review process be made more accountable.

  • CABE has expressed concerns over a residential scheme in Durham, Walkergate, designed by Howarth Litchfield Partnership, which it described as “less convincing” than similar proposals a year ago. It said the designs would date very quickly.

By contrast, CABE strongly supported Andrew Wright Associates’ £450m masterplan for Clapham Park in London, despite having some reservations about the central open space.