Getting to grips with government
No one said it would be easy to draw up a national architecture policy. The document issued by the Department of Culture last week proved it. On these occasions, it is often useful to list what is omitted from a statement on future policy. In this case, it is quite a significant list: there is no mention, for example, of the role of competitions or what part government might take in making them happen (or improving them). There is no reference to a national architecture centre of any description. There is no reference to the riba, which happens to run the biggest architecture centre in Western Europe. There is no reference to the Architecture Foundation, which currently receives the lion's share of Arts Council funding for architecture. There is no reference to the relationship between English Heritage, the detr and the doc.
So what are we left with? Some options for change which look limp, given the commitments made before the last election. Architecture certainly needs a champion at the highest levels of government, but one rather hopes that this is a task for the culture secretary. Without backing from the top, what hope is there for some co-opted semi-member of the administration? The most consistent line in the (short) document is the desperate need to be regional, as though somehow things were different outside the capital. In reality what we need is a strong national policy which applies everywhere - the sort of thing John Prescott has in mind in another context.
If the government wants an example of a strong policy clearly stated, it need look no further than Sir John Egan's strictures regarding the construction industry, which apply whether you are a national giant or a regional builder with three men and a dog. But it should remember that all the advisory committees and all the regional representation in the world will be meaningless if government itself is not persuaded that architecture really matters.