HC Deb 06 November 2000 vol 356 cc11-3
8. Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

What steps he is taking to improve the architectural quality of public buildings. [135343]

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth)

We have established the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment—CABE—to promote good architecture and design. We have published a statement of our commitment in a document entitled "Better Public Buildings", copies of which have been placed in the Library. It has been wholeheartedly endorsed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his foreword to the document.

Mr. Hope

In a recent debate that the early years network hosted in the House, the motion that public architecture is failing children was carried overwhelmingly. That is a great worry. In Corby, there is an early years excellence centre which is an example of excellent design for children in my constituency. Through sure start and the early years excellence programme, we are spending approximately £350 million on public buildings for children in the next few years. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the excellence that we have seen in Corby will encourage the rapid growth in, and injection of, capital into public architecture, to benefit children throughout the country?

Mr. Howarth

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am glad that the people of Penn Green in his constituency like the sure start building that has been built there. Large and increasing amounts of capital are spent on public buildings, but for decades, far too many were mediocre—if not downright ugly—in design, depressing for those who visited and worked in them, and unnecessarily expensive to operate and maintain.

The Government take it as axiomatic that we should design our public buildings well as a statement of civic values and our commitment to best value in every sense. My hon. Friend spoke about the importance of good quality in public buildings to which children have access. Peckham library, which won the Stirling prize at the weekend, is an example of the wonderful public design of a building that children use. I have asked CABE to work with the sure start unit to ensure that the new wave of sure start buildings enhances the quality of the environment, and lifts the spirit as well as providing first rate public services.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I recognise that the quality of architectural design is a subjective issue, and I say that with some feeling. Does the Minister agree that the lottery funding of many buildings has aroused much greater public interest in the need for quality of design? I say this diplomatically: will the hon. Gentleman put his money where his mouth is and require that when Government Departments become clients they insist on good-quality buildings—even if that means more expensive buildings? Even if they are more expensive, good-quality buildings are a much better financial, as well as environmental, investment.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman has certainly carried the flag for high-quality public architecture for many years, as I well know, and I pay tribute to him for that. From the beginning, the lottery distributors—this has been a commitment shared by Governments of both parties—have been insistent that the buildings funded from that remarkable source of capital funding should be of high quality. The Arts Council and the heritage lottery fund have done excellently in that regard.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has appointed Ministers in a range of Departments to be champions of high quality and high standards of architecture and design in and for the public sector buildings for which their Departments have responsibility. We are determined to push forward that crusade.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

May I inform the Minister that I have a rather commodious office in Portcullis House, which regrettably rather resembles a Novotel? However, the architecture of the atrium of Portcullis House is stunning and wonderful. What will my hon. Friend do to encourage greater public access to that atrium, so that people can enjoy the architecture for which their tax has paid?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend also has long been committed to high-quality architecture. Of course, he is always a lucky fellow. I am glad that he has a commodious office. Responsibility for the construction project—that is, Portcullis House—has been a matter for the House and not for the Government. All parties have been involved in the oversight of the project. I am sure that the House authorities will wish members of the public to have the best opportunity to see the remarkable piece of architecture by Michael Hopkins and Partners, which is also a remarkable piece of structural engineering. I do not doubt that my hon. Friend, who is always the most assiduous and conscientious of parliamentarians, will be receiving many delegations who will come to wait upon him in his office.