RIBA president Marco Goldschmied has called on the government to shun a European ruling which threatens the Urban Task Force's plans on urban regeneration.
Goldschmied's controversial demand co-incides with the first anniversary of the task force's report and follows a European Commission decision that the payment of government subsidies to developers of brownfield land is against strict rules on state aid to business.
The decision on 'gap funding' emerged this month and sounds the death knell for a government subsidy scheme which has been worth £340 million since 1998.
'All good Europeans ignore EU directives, ' Goldschmied said. 'After years of under-investment in our cities the government does have to put some money down to attract private investment. We've got to find ingenious ways of achieving the aims of the task force.'
His comments will increase pressure on the government to both confront Brussels on the ruling and to match its verbal support for the task force report with action. Labour has supported the report in principle, but its author, Lord Rogers, and other regeneration experts have grown frustrated over the lack of implementation.
Last week the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors demanded faster action.'The loss of gap funding and the failure to find a replacement, coupled with the threat to many other similar programmes could spell disaster for the regeneration of our most deprived communities, ' said Chris Brown, chairman of the RICS's re g en e r a t i on policy panel.
A House of Commons committee will next week launch an investigation into the EC ruling and the RIBA is urgently drawing up its submission. It will insist that government finance is essential to meeting the government's own targets on brownfield development.
'It is really quite ridiculous for the EC to say that gap funding is unfair, ' said the RIBA's parliamentary officer, Jonathan Labrey.'We think that designing good places for people to live in the city centre is the issue here. It is not just about the government giving British businesses a competitive advantage.' The RIBA is particularly concerned that the ruling could mean an explosion of building on countryside sites.
The launch of the inquiry by the environment, transport and regional affairs committee marks growing concern that the climate for urban regeneration is getting worse. The committee's chair, Andrew Bennett MP, has said that the ruling could make the report's implementation 'impossible'.
Jim Gill, commercial director of English Partnerships (EP), the official who oversaw the funding scheme, agreed: 'There will be a major hiatus [in regeneration work] if we cannot replace the Partnership Investment Programme. Funding is tighter now than it has been for years.' EP will also be submitting evidence to the committee.
But despite widespread support for subsidies on brownfield sites, the EC is not the only threat to the government's urban regeneration policy. Last week EP came under fire from a government spending watchdog which attacked it for missing key performance targets and failing to measure the success of its subsidy programme properly.