Headlines: May 22nd, 2007



Local councillors and designers need to be more confident and less afraid of risk to save street and public spaces across the country from being bland. The call comes today from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, which says over-sensitivity to risk, arising from a misplaced perception of a rampant compensation culture and restrictive interpretations of health and safety regulations are leading to standardisation in designs.

In today’s report – ‘Living with risk: promoting better public space design’ – CABE looks in depth at 10 public space projects across England. It has also studied 16 key organisations from local councils and insurers to the Health and Safety Executive. The report finds that what it calls ‘intelligent and creative designs’ that would have a number of benefits can face a frustrating battle to be accepted, but in contrast ‘over-cautious’ designs, which CABE believes have limited uses and opportunities are less likely to be challenged.

The report’s aim is to give designers and local authorities the confidence to challenge risk-averse decisions because, it says, over-sensitivity to risk can have a profound effect on the quality of public space, restricting innovation. Good design, the report adds, can help to manage risk, rather than being compelled to eliminate it and can make people risk aware rather than risk averse.

The study concentrates on three key issues, firstly what pressures are driving the emphasis on minimising risk in public space design; how risk impacts on the different stages of the design process and how professional, clients and others respond to it and what the implications are for the quality of public space in the future. The report also challenges the view that we live in a ‘compensation culture’ and say it is a powerful idea reinforced through the media by ‘no win, no fee’ practices by legal firms. The reality, though, is harder to establish, it says, but adds that local councils and other public authorities are more aware of the problem of claims for negligence and are introducing policies to reduce the number of claims, including design guides for public spaces.