Government to review CABE procedures

DCMS puts rules for dealing with potential conflicts of interest at property quango under the spotlight
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The Independent Online

The Government has launched an independent review into procedures for handling potential conflicts of interest at the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (CABE).

The Government has launched an independent review into procedures for handling potential conflicts of interest at the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (CABE).

CABE is a powerful quango funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. It reviews planning applications for large commercial property developments and its opinions carry weight with local planning authorities considering whether to grant permission for new developments.

The exercise has been instigated by the DCMS, which is bringing in outside auditors to carry out the review. It will look in particular at whether CABE is fully compliant with the Nolan Committee's rules on standards in public life.

A spokesman for CABE confirmed an independent review of its procedures had been agreed with the DCMS last week. He emphasised that no areas or subjects would be off limits during the course of the review and that it was being carried out with the full support of CABE. The spokesman said: "People listen to CABE because they trust and value its judgements. We want to be extremely robust in terms of procedures for measuring potential conflicts of interest. We have instigated an independent audit of our current procedures with the DCMS. It is just plain sensible. If there is a problem, that will unpick it. There have been issues raised and we treat them very seriously."

CABE is chaired by Sir Stuart Lipton, who is also the majority shareholder and chairman of Stanhope, one of the country's leading property developers. Stanhope schemes that have been considered by CABE include Croydon Gateway, South Kensington Underground station and Paternoster Square in the City of London.

In December, CABE issued a press statement on the South Kensington development. Referring to the roles of Sir Stuart Lipton at Stanhope and CABE, it said: "...we are scrupulously careful to ensure there is no conflict of interest in any project or debate."

Sir Stuart plays no part in CABE's influential Design Review Committee process, according to CABE, and Stanhope's connection with the South Kensington scheme was declared when the proposed development was under consideration by CABE.

Procedures at CABE have been discussed at recent internal meetings. Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate and also the chairman of the CABE audit committee, raised the issue of the use of Herbert Smith, the City law firm, by both Stanhope and CABE and suggested Stanhope should "act in the public interest" and cease using Herbert Smith.

In addition, according to CABE's records, 8 out of 15 CABE commissioners have relationships and connections of various kinds with Stanhope. Commissioners are appointed by the DCMS to oversee CABE's work.

Paul Morrell, who is a CABE commissioner and chairs its operations committee, is also the senior partner in Davis Langdon & Everest (DLE), a firm of quantity surveyors. Stanhope is a regular client of DLE, according to CABE.

Brian Boylan, another CABE commissioner, is also chairman of Wolff Olins, the design agency. It is engaged with Stanhope on the redevelopment of Bracknell. It also acts as adviser to Stanhope on brand and marketing.

The CABE spokesman said that appointing commissioners who were leading individuals in their areas of expertise meant it was inevitable some would share commercial relationships outside CABE. "It is because of the insight they bring that we can give advice," he said.