The RIBA has submitted evidence to the Farrell Review, a review of architecture and the built environment being led by Sir Terry Farrell and commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

In its response, the RIBA called for the introduction of a Built Environment Design policy and the appointment of a Chief Built Environment Design Adviser within government in order to embed a more ambitious approach to design in the built environment. The RIBA also called for government to show greater leadership as a client, recommending a series of reforms to public procurement and the use of public land designed to put greater emphasis on design quality.

The RIBA recommended that the government should establish a Design Quality Task Force to review whether its policies and programmes on the built environment were set up to deliver long-term value. In addition, the RIBA called for a Design Quality audit to assess the market conditions in different areas of the development industry (e.g. housing), to better understand where the market is failing to deliver good quality development and to guide future government intervention.

RIBA response to Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment: Executive Summary August 2013


In April 2013 Sir Terry Farrell was appointed by Architecture Minister Ed Vaizey to conduct a Review into architecture and the built environment and advise the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on its future approach. The Review aims to examine the following four key themes:

  • Understanding the role for Government in promoting design quality in architecture and the built environment
  • The economic benefits of architecture and design, and maximising the UK’s growth potential
  • Cultural heritage and the built environment
  • Promoting education, outreach and skills

The below is a summary of the key points from the RIBA’s response to Terry Farrell and our recommendations for the Review. To read the RIBA’s full submission to the Call for Evidence please click here.

Key issues and recommendations

A coordinated approach to the built environment across Government

Currently there is a lack of a strategic vision in the approach of Government to the built environment and the creation of great places. A stronger, more coordinated approach needs to be embedded at the heart of Government which will drive decision-making in favour of better quality outcomes.

The RIBA recommends that: The Government should produce a cross-cutting Built Environment Design

Policy which sets out a long-term vision for great places and drives and informs its approach to the built environment at every level of Government.

  • Responsibility for architecture should be removed from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. A Minister with a cross-cutting role to promote quality in the built environment and implement the Built Environment Design Policy across Government should sit within the Cabinet Office.
  • All Ministers with responsibility for overseeing policy for the built environment (e.g. Planning and Housing Ministers) or delivering public building projects (such as the Schools Minster), should have specific responsibility for promoting design quality
  • A Chief Government Built Environment Design Adviser should be appointed to support the Minister for the Built Environment and drive forward the Government’s policy on design quality
  • Government should establish a Design Quality Task Force to review its policies and programmes to ensure short-term costs are not being prioritised to the detriment of long-term social value. Policies and programmes should be adapted where necessary in order to ensure compliance with the Built Environment Design Policy.

Creating the conditions for a better market

In many areas of the development industry, the market doesn’t currently value the importance of design quality. Through targeted interventions, Government can help create the conditions in which good quality buildings and places can begin to emerge. These interventions should use both the ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’, should be evidenced- based and grounded in an understanding of how the market currently operates.

The RIBA recommends that: The Government should conduct a Design Quality Audit to better understand

how the different sectors of the industry are performing and identify areas of market failure. Where the market fails to provide choice, innovation or basic levels of quality, the Government should take steps to help the industry overcome the barriers to design quality and where necessary, regulate in order to insist upon it for the public good.

Standards and regulation

  • To ensure new homes provide the types of environments people want to live in, the Government should introduce national minimum space and light standards into Building Regulations for new homes, regardless of tenure or location.

Incentivising sustainability and design quality

  • In order to incentivise sustainable refurbishment, there should be a reduction in the 20% VAT rate to 5% on repair and improvement work.
  • In order to incentivise better quality and more sustainable new build property, the existing 0% VAT rate on New Build Residential dwellings should be applied only where it can be demonstrated that works meet or exceed standards set by Government above the Building Regulations. Where this cannot be demonstrated, a standard 5% VAT rate should be applied

Government leadership as a client

The powers and assets that Government (both central and local) has at its disposal should be used more intelligently in order to bring about a shift in within the development industry. Government needs to show leadership as a client by favouring long-term value ahead of short-term cost considerations in its approach to the built environment.

The RIBA recommends that:

Procurement of public buildings

  • Government should review the weighting given to design quality in its procurement models and consider setting a minimum weighting for built environment and construction projects.
  • Government should amend the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 to extend the duty on public authorities to consider the social, environmental and economic value of procurement to include public works and the disposal of public land.
  • In order to ensure value for public money, the Government should build a requirement into all major public sector building projects and programmes to present schemes to a design review panel operated in conformity with the Design Review: Principles and Practice guidance produced by Design Council, Landscape Institute, RIBA and RTPI.
  • Government should conduct Building Performance Evaluations on all public buildings and sharing these details as widely as possible through its open data agenda.

Public land

  • Government should review the rules set out in relation to the disposal of public sector land. Government should look to incentivise local authorities to bring forward proposals for development of the land that they own, by offering the support and appropriate expertise they need in order to develop proactive, robust and workable proposals for development that demonstrates high quality design in place-making.
  • A detailed design brief should accompany all strategic public sector land disposal and set out the standards expected for any development. Bids should be appraised on the quality of scheme submitted rather than up-front cost. Ownership of the land should only be fully transferred once the development is delivered to the quality demanded by the local authority.
  • Local authorities should set out a percentage of public land disposals which should be allocated custom build, self-build and smaller developers in the form of serviced plots, in order to encourage a more diverse and competitive local housing market.

Building capacity and enabling design quality

Although powers have been devolved from central to local government, the structures of design support for local authorities and communities(e.g. RDAs, Cabe, Architecture Centres) have been dismantled. Councils and communities need access to appropriate skills and expertise in order to be able to deliver better quality outcomes and central government can play an important role in helping bolster existing support structures.

The RIBA recommends that:

Knowledge, expertise and capacity

  • The Local Government Association should work with local authorities to identify the skills they need and set up a peer review service to share expertise in design, place-making and conservation.
  • In order to ensure that policy on design is translated locally, the Government should provide seed funding to the Design Network and other local enablers, to help facilitate an established, localised network of design support and enabling services for local government
  • Government should support a forum to develop original research and deliver training across the construction sector in line with the aspirations set out within the Built Environment Design Policy and guidance concerning delivery of the NPPF.

Neighbourhood planning

  • The Government should make a requirement that all neighbourhood plans over a defined threshold should be assessed by a design review panel at an appropriate point in their development. The panel should be established in accordance with Design Review: Principles and Practice and could operate as a hybrid panel, involving representatives from the community.
  • The Government must increase long-term support for Locality, or other appropriate vehicles such as the Design Network, to deliver an adequate programme of design enabling and expertise alongside the practicalities of ensuring Neighbourhood Plans come to fruition and are adopted.
  • Guidance should be provided to Local Authorities on how to embed neighbourhood planning as part of the Local Planning process and training in how to enable the right engagement process between communities and design professionals.

Protecting and enhancing our built heritage

Britain’s built heritage is a precious asset, helping attract tourism and investment and making our cities, towns and villages great places to live. Government needs to take a holistic and strategic approach to our built heritage and help ensure that adequate skills and resources are embedded in the system, so that our heritage assets can be protected and enhanced for future generations.

The RIBA recommends that: Government should set out a national approach to built heritage and conservation within a Built Environment Design Policy, linking it to long term sustainability in place-making.

  • Built environment heritage should be embedded within DCLG and adequately supported by Government planning guidance.

Measuring and embedding value

Whilst there is a general acceptance that good design makes good sense, there is currently very little decisive evidence in relation to the economic benefits of good design in the built environment. Given the data it collects, Government could play a crucial role in helping facilitate the collation of this evidence base, which would enable both the public and private sectors to make more informed and intelligent decisions in the long-term when commissioning construction projects.

The RIBA recommends that:

  • Government should co-fund the RIBA’s research programme into the economic value of good design and support the creation and analysis of a national evidence base.

Fostering innovation, encouraging export

Britain is a world leader in architecture and design. But the Government can do more to help the industry remain at the forefront through innovation and have even greater impact when selling its services overseas. Selling British architecture abroad will depend on supporting the sector at home.

The RIBA recommends that: Government should support architectural innovation by broadening the definition of research which allows architectural practices to claim tax credits for the research and innovation they are already carrying out.

  • Government should encourage the use of architectural competitions for public construction projects in order to encourage innovation and greater access for small firms.
  • UK Trade and Investment should establish a Built Environment Forum through which all those with an interest in this sector can more effectively coordinate their efforts. The forum should include representatives from professional institutes.

Stimulating demand for a better built environment

A demand for and expectation of good quality places does not exist in the UK in the same way as it does in other countries. Government can help ensure that an understanding of and appreciation for the importance of our built environment becomes an essential part of our cultural education as a nation.

The RIBA would recommend that: Government should work with RIBA and other providers to develop national curriculum materials that use the built environment and its design to enable teachers to teach core subjects in a way which engages students with their local buildings and communities.

  • Government should work with the RIBA and other organisations to support a national Cultural Professions Partnership Programme. This programme should bring creative practitioners and representatives of key cultural institutions into schools to work with teaching staff in supporting delivery of education relating to built environment design.

For further information on, please contact the RIBA Public Affairs team at [email protected]