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CABE, RIBA and Westminster attack 'trophy architecture'

RIBA president Marco Goldschmied has joined forces with Lord Rogers, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment chief Sir Stuart Lipton and Westminster City Council's planning supremo Carl Powell to press for a change in planning law. The quartet want to see an end to the problem of so-called 'trophy architects' being employed to steamroller past planning committees, only for developers to drop them and use other architects - often with very different results.

'We've been saying for quite a while that we want planning permissions linked to design and not land, ' said Goldschmied. 'Planning law is drawn up by lawyers and therefore is in favour of the landowners rather than the designers.

We have to seriously look at how we can link designers with permissions. The big planning permissions are worth huge amounts of money and we give them in the most casual manner.We need radical reform.'

The institute has the issue enshrined as a policy, and Goldschmied believes design should be recognised as it is in other European countries - in Spain architects have to show they have been paid before a permission is given. In Manchester, by contrast, four out of five planning permissions last year were not by trained architects.

Last week the subject was aired after a CABE seminar on protecting design quality in a slot on BBC Radio 4's To d a y programme, when Sir Stuart and Powell were detailing what they regard as a growing problem. CABE is looking at preparing a report on best practice for councils, but will not highlight examples.

Powell said architects of a 'lesser ability' were being employed who 'systematically downgrade the quality of a project' after planning permission had been secured by others.

'At the moment there is very little we can do about it, ' he said. 'Quality architectural firms come in all shapes and sizes and are not limited to the big names. However, trophy architecture, and the enlisting of a trophy architect, are tactics Westminster, working with other agencies such as CABE, wants to stamp out.'

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