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Deputy PM Prescott to back architecture centres network

Deputy prime minister John Prescott is to strengthen the network of local architecture centres in the UK and establish regional resource centres to improve urban design skills among architects and planners, the AJ has learnt.

The policies will be set out in the long-awaited Urban White Paper which is due to be published next month.The news will come as a major boost to the cash-strapped centres and only last week Lord Rogers claimed that the Architecture Foundation in London is the only effective centre in the country.

If implemented, the policy will herald a remarkable change of fortune for architecture centres. In July's spending review, the chancellor's decision to withold extra funds for them left improvement plans in tatters.

But now the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment looks set to be given the power to implement the programme with cash backing from Prescott's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the regional development agencies.

There are currently 10 architecture centres in the UK.

Four new centres are being planned in Leeds, Birmingham, Cambridge and Plymouth.

The director of the Architecture Foundation, Lucy Musgrave, welcomed the proposal. 'It has been a fundamental part of our goal to have a regional network of centres, ' she said. 'We are really hopeful that architecture centres get a decent mention in the White Paper.'

The AJ has also learnt that Prescott wants to recruit experienced professionals on secondments to government departments. The initiative aims to improve the benefits of good design in the procurement of government buildings. This follows the appointment in each government department of a minister to champion design earlier this year.

Urban Task Force spokesman Ben Rich welcomed the initiatives and pointed out that both ideas are cheap to implement and so would be popular with the Treasury.

'They accept our view in general, but money is the issue, ' he said. Manchester's architecture centre, CUBE, costs £300,000 a year to run.

Lord Rogers last week launched a new book, Cities for a Small Planet, which attempts to set out task force proposals in a way that the public can readily understand.

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