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Forging a new climate for 'joinedup thinking'


So we have a 'new' government and a rather confusing list of changes to take on board - new departments and personalities; old faces making a comeback. First, the departments.Construction has gone to the DTI under Patricia Hewitt, who will also take on the Regional Development Agencies. John Prescott has been relieved of environment, which goes to the new concoction of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under Margaret Beckett, while transport gets local government and planning. At first sight it looks almost arbitrary, and as if architectural issues will get further divorced from environment and planning, remaining in the culture department now under well-thought-of Tessa Jowell.

Labour will continue to insist that 'joined-up government' will bring matters architectural across departments.

And yet already we have the Met Office rejecting the advice of another governmental advisory body, CABE, in selecting Broadway Malyan's design for a new headquarters in Exeter over Will Alsop's more expensive, but stronger design. A 'disappointed'CABE chief Jon Rouse says the weaker design is not compatible with the standards articulated by the prime minister himself in Better Public Buildings , and that it is unfortunate that it coincides with the MoD's publication of Better Defence Buildings . Joined up? Not really.

We must hope for better from government via the joint consultation document on tall buildings published by CABE and English Heritage this week.As for personalities, it is disappointing that Alan Howarth, highly regarded by the RIBA for driving the concept of 'design champions' in departments, is rewarded with the back benches.

Similarly, Chris Smith will be missed for his work in setting up CABE. Smith also helped set up the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, a model which former arts council architecture supremo Rory Coonan wants Newest Labour to resurrect to pump money into architecture, ideas and exhibitions (see page 4). So, despite the Met Office, and with the stunning architectural exhibits at this year's Royal Academy Summer Show to look forward to (pages 20-23), perhaps it is not such a gloomy forecast for design, after all.

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