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Foster lobbies MPs for Rogers'Terminal Five plans

Lord Foster of Thames Bank struck a political blow for his rival and former colleague Lord Rogers last week by slamming the UK's planning system for dragging its feet over Heathrow's £1.8 billion Terminal Five project.

Lord Foster told ministers at a meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Group on Architecture and Planning at the House of Commons last week that the group's chairman, Lord Rogers, had won the competition to design the extra terminal at Heathrow before Foster won a competition for Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport.But while the Richard Rogers Partnership scheme is still the subject of an expensive 525-day planning inquiry some 11 years later, Chek Lap Kok is built and has been open for nearly two and a half years - despite requiring land to be reclaimed before it could start.

'It's more about bureaucracy than democracy and the money for the public inquiry could have paid for Terminal Five, ' Lord Foster told the group, 'and I don't think that's an exaggeration.'

In fact it is something of an exaggeration, since the BAA said it has spent £220 million so far in relation to Terminal Five. Its planning inquiry has so far cost £80 million - less that 5 per cent of the total Terminal Five cost.The planning inspector will complete his report for ministers later this year, and the government is expected to rule on the project in the spring.

As part of the rest of his 45-minute presentation, Lord Foster showed ministers how the 516,000m Chek Lap Kok Airport - constructed in just five years and requiring 30,000 drawings - was a 'compact' building in comparison to the site used for Heathrow's four terminals.The retail facilities at the new airport alone were larger than the old Hong Kong airport in its entirety.

And in a whirlwind tour around his more 'political' projects, Lord Foster showed the energy-efficient Reichstag, an inspiration for London's Greater London Authority building; the Commerzbank and the now-approved Swiss Re tower in the City of London, and his designs for superefficient wind turbines,50 of which have been sold to South America and India with others finding a market in Europe - including one in Swaffham, Norfolk.

Lord Foster also showed new images of the Great Court at the British Museum, perhaps to counter the ongoing criticism of the treatment of the building's portico, and emphasised the need for quality and highdensity housing with regard to his massive Elephant and Castle masterplan.

But Lord Foster returned to the subject of a general misapplication of funds for major transportation projects when he responded to an observation by former defence secretary Tom King.King suggested that one of the keys to regeneration in London was to better utilise the Thames. Lord Foster said that the use of riverboats on the Thames had 'hung in the balance'for the sake of just £10 million and added that ministers had responded that if it 'did not sustain itself in the market place then a riverboat service did not deserve to succeed'.The sadness was that government had refused to entertain the notion of subsidy - the riverboat service had 'always been seen in isolation'.

The event, organised by the RIBA, attracted about 40 people including Zaha Hadid, Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, former planning minister David Curry and Labour MPs Debra Shripley and Christine Russell, along with representatives from the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

The RIBA's government liaison officer, Jonathan Labrey, who set up the meeting, said he hoped that Lord Foster might become a more important figurehead in political circles on architectural matters. 'In a way it would be good if he got more involved politically, 'he said.'He's a good ally and has a voice in parliament.'

The next all-party meeting is at the House of Commons on 23 January 2001 and will feature Jonathon Porritt speaking on the sustainability agenda.

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