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Dobson backs racism inquiry

London MP Frank Dobson has backed black architect Elsie Owusu in her campaign against the capital's planning authorities, which she claims have demonstrated 'institutional racism'.

Dobson is helping Owusu launch an investigation into the controversial planning decision which saw a proposal for a £120 million black and ethnic minority arts centre in Tottenham scuppered in July (AJ 3.8.00).

Dobson has asked the independent parliamentary ombudsman to investigate. In particular, the spotlight will fall on the Government Office for London, which Owusu claims acted 'improperly to prevent the granting of planning permission'.

Dobson's backing for the campaign came as Prince Charles prepared to deliver the first Stephen Lawrence Memorial Lecture today, highlighting the lack of ethnic minority involvement in architecture (AJ 17.8.00).

'I am delighted Frank has decided to take my complaint on, ' Owusu said. 'Stephen Lawrence's legacy has proved to have been pretty radical because to get the Prince talking about racism in the profession is amazing.'

Angela Brady, a member of the RIBA's Architects for Change group, also welcomed the Prince's decision to speak out. 'The Prince talks very well to the lay person and the debate about minority involvement in architecture needs to go beyond architects talking to architects, ' she said. 'It starts in education unless architecture is pushed as a profession for all communities there won't be change.'

Through the ombudsman, Owusu is demanding financial compensation and planning permission to build the International Centre for the Performing Arts.

She estimates that the value of architectural fees, if the performing arts centre had reached completion, would have been £6 million. Owusu claims her practice is already about £840,000 out of pocket as a result of failing to win planning permission.

The ombudsman may now publish a report into the planning process. However, Owusu's campaign does not look likely to win the support of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

'The planning ruling related to the construction of a multiplex cinema and that is what this issue is about. I do not believe the planning rules are institutionally racist, ' said CRE chairman, Gurbux Singh (see profile pages 2627).

The original site has already been sold to Middlesex University and an alternative and smaller arts centre has been drawn up by Rivington Street Studios on a separate site. The investigation is expected to take approximately 12 months.

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