An overview of CABE

CABE was created to help decision-makers and professionals to create great buildings, places and spaces, and inspire public demand for good design.

Liverpool One

Liverpool One
Photo by David Millington Photography Ltd.

For over 80 years, UK governments of all persuasions have believed that it is essential to get independent advice on proposals for significant new buildings and spaces. The Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC), established in 1924, influenced the quality of much of the architecture of the 20th century. Many weak designs stayed on the drawing board as a result of its reviews, and what has been built is better than it would otherwise have been.

CABE replaced the RFAC in 1999, and we continued to provide that independent design advice. Since then, we have reviewed more than 3,000 proposals for major developments. Seventy per cent of local authorities have subsequently taken planning decisions in line with our advice.

A new approach

The set-up of CABE also marked a change in approach about how to improve the quality of what gets built. Reviewing projects which have already been designed limits opportunities to influence the final outcome. So CABE’s enabling service was devised to influence projects at an earlier stage, before design, helping often-inexperienced clients to negotiate their way through complex projects.

CABE’s technical expertise, advising before and during design, has helped people in local communities to choose good design for new homes, schools, parks and streets.  We have helped public bodies to commission better design – design that is functional and sustainable and which delights people.

Nearly all of our advice has been offered at the local level. We have supported local government in particular, offering expert advice, community engagement and strategic thinking. Read what CABE has done for local government.

Independent and impartial

All of CABE’s advice has been independent and impartial. The partners we have worked with have trusted us because of this. Most developers, for instance, respect the opinion of people who bring relevant experience but have no stake in the project.

It’s not just the professionals that we’ve worked with. CABE has also played a key role in inspiring public demand for good design, helping people to shape the look and feel of places where they live and learn. We have challenged the way that people think and work to give them the confidence to stand up for quality. We have done this through an education programme working in thousands of schools, an awards scheme recognising the best in new public building, and major events such as the UK’s first-ever climate change festival.

One of the ways CABE has been able to be effective is that it has been able to call on its ‘family’ for expert support. This network of around 400 people – design review panel members, enablers and regional representatives – has provided a unique resource of experienced professionals we can call on when needed. It is an approach that has served our customers well for 11 years.

The effectiveness of CABE’s work has translated into financial value. Research in 2009/10 found that this advice could be worth £84 million per year for schools, and £850 million per year for housing.

CABE, the government and funding

CABE was established in 1999 as an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Communities and Local Government (CLG) has also been a principal funder. We have received funding from other government departments and public agencies to run specific programmes.

In October 2010, DCMS confirmed that it was withdrawing funding for CABE from 31 March 2011, following the new government’s public bodies review and the comprehensive spending review. Read more about the DCMS decision to withdraw funding from CABE and about the future of CABE.

More about CABE's work

What CABE has achieved

Positive change to thousands of design proposals, design advice that sets standards, unforgettable lessons and better schools, the creation of better public spaces and inspiring public campaigns.

CABE 1999-2011

A timeline of CABE's activity from its foundation in 1999 to 2011.

What we do for local government

CABE has worked with almost every council in the country, helping them to seize the creative and economic opportunities of a specific project or a long-term programme of work.

CABE Space

CABE Space has worked to bring excellence to the design and management of parks and public space in our towns and cities.

Enabling programme

Our enabling service provides free advice and support to public sector clients commissioning new buildings, masterplans, urban frameworks, open space strategies and other public realm projects.

Design review service

CABE's design review service has provided free expert advice on the design quality of schemes in England that have a significant impact on their environment.


CABE’s education work has involved inspiring young people to get more out of the buildings and spaces around them.


CABE’s work has involved a significant publishing programme in print and online.

What we have funded

CABE has used public money to fund initiatives that promote the best in architecture, urban design and public space across England.