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Human Rights Act raises spectre of delayed projects

Every architect is haunted by a ghost project: a commission which once seemed to be a certainty, and which becomes increasingly elusive without quite having the decency to disappear. A project which seemed to be going well but which, somewhere along the line, became bogged down by a client who lost enthusiasm, by cash which never materialised, by endless revisions and cost cuts which eventually changed it beyond recognition. The profitability of any architectural practice is dependent on the rate at which it converts effort into chargeable work. And while it can make an informed decision as to the amount of resources to devote to, say, a competition entry which may not be successful, the resources expended on a lingering project are virtually impossible to control.

Paperwork needs to be kept up to date. Underemployed staff are kept on hold. The economic implications are compounded by the crippling effects on staff morale.

Now it seems as if the new Human Rights Act could mean that architects have to factor in yet another imponderable.Whereas once the confirmation of planning permission brought a degree of certainty, it now appears that third parties can raise objections after the event. Architects may feel an obligation to advise clients to postpone construction for three months or so to allow the dust to settle. If somebody does put forward an objection the three months could extend indefinitely. Cost information becomes out of date, client needs change, funding trickles away.

Or maybe not. The impact of the new legislation is dependent on the extent to which people are prepared to test it out. The worst case scenario is that every officious busybody with too much time on their hands will now revel in their new-found power. But the chances are it will not occur to them that their rights might have changed. The best hope for the profession is that awareness of the legislation does not filter down to the population at large. Burn this editorial (along with the practice article in this issue which deals with the matter in more detail). And don't tell your friends.

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