Traditionalist body will offer design review services “notwithstanding the opinions of a London architectural elite”

The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment is to press ahead with plans to offer design review services, formerly carried out by Cabe, despite an outcry from the architecture profession.

The foundation, which was set up by Prince Charles to promote traditional forms of urban development, this week said it was starting to contact developers and local authorities to gain interest for the plan.

Hank Dittmar, Prince’s Foundation chief executive, said the body would not be deterred from pushing ahead with the scheme “notwithstanding the opinions of a London
architectural elite”.

The body is deeply controversial with architects because of its connection to the Prince of Wales.

Dittmar believes that there is “no reason” that the foundation’s detractors - which include the RIBA - would be able to stop the organisation launching a service in a competitive environment.

He said a panel would be appointed by the foundation of “people committed to urbanism”, representing a range of architectural styles, as well as members of other professions and interested lay people.

The decisions of this panel, which would not be appointed by Prince Charles, would be final, with schemes not subject to approval by the prince.

Dittmar sees the foundation as being one of a number of providers working in the design review market, with developers or councils being able to choose different bodies to review their schemes.

He said: “The foundation would be open about its starting point: it supports design in service of walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods, linked by streets and squares and landscape.

“In a market for providers, if it was apparent we were biased in terms of style, then people would just stop using us. A lot of the reaction has been about the profession trying to close off the debate to non-architects.”

Ruth Reed, the RIBA president, has said the Prince’s Foundation was an “entirely inappropriate” body to perform a role that demanded “total impartiality.” The foundation’s plans have also been criticised by architects Will Alsop and Jim Eyre.

The Prince’s Foundation’s plans

  • Charge £1,000-2,000 per review, depending on whether a site visit is needed. This charge would be paid for by councils out of planning contributions or government design review “pot”
  • Panel to include planners, engineers and lay persons
  • Decisions independent of the Prince of Wales
  • Design review criteria to be published, with process set up to “demonstrate the existence of timeless principles of designing and building in the public interest”
  • In place by April 2011