Economies by Designers 'Could Lead to Lowest Common Denominator Culture' COST VERSUS QUALITY FEAR AS SPENDING CUTS LOOM
Byline: GRAHAM HENRY
SPENDING cuts in public buildings like hospitals and schools could result in a "downward spiral" in building quality in Wales, the head of the Design Commission has warned.
Chairman of the Design Commission for Wales, Alan Francis, told the Western Mail that he feared that a culture of the "lowest common denominator" would take over the design of public buildings as public bodies prioritised price over design.
Mr Francis also called on the Government to "stick to its standards" and not to compromise on design quality of buildings, rather than descend into an "any development is better than no development" mentality.
"My concern is that WAG is moving towards a model where quality is overridden by cost concerns. I am not convinced that Government puts quality above price when it judges a scheme, as it is far harder to judge it in terms of quality rather than price," Mr Francis said.
"You must judge a project on whether it creates safe neighbourhoods and can be easily maintained.
"If you end up doing that [judging on price] you can end up with buildings that are not safe to work in, can't be easily maintained or aren't even safe to be around."
Mr Francis - who is partner at Gaunt Francis Architects in Cardiff - also expressed concern at a number of large-scale regeneration projects that have sprung up on the edges of towns across South Wales.
Mr Francis said that largescale projects such as the pounds 90m regeneration of Ebbw Vale steelworks and the pounds 1bn "urban community" in Llanwern, near Newport, failed to address the decline in town centres.
He said: "I have always been nervous at the degree of regeneration and what is happening to the town centres. With Ebbw Vale, it's all taking place outside the town, but at the end of the day the town centre is the town centre and needs good quality buildings.
"That applies to Newport as well - they have a masterplan to create an entirely new place on the outside - and look what's happening to the town centre - while they work on the outskirts, the worse the centre becomes.
"What would be preferable in projects like Ebbw Vale, Llanwern and Coed Darcy in Swansea is that rather than taking on wide, large-scale projects there was a bigger number of smaller projects, taking in a wider spread of firms. …