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Owzat! Fears for quality as Miller stumps HOK to take on Oval stand

HOK has lost its project for a new stand at the Oval cricket ground in London to the Miller Partnership, reigniting fears of 'dumbing down'.

The substitution is at least the fourth occasion that Miller, Scotland's biggest practice, has sparked controversy by moving in to see through another architect's design. Last November it took over RHWL Partnership's stadium for Coventry City Football Club (AJ 14.11.02); before that it secured the job to see through Snell Associates' new Craven Cottage stadium for Fulham Football Club; and in 2001 it took over Hull Municipal Stadium by Arup Associates.

HOK secured planning permission for its £20-25 million Oval scheme from Lambeth council on 24 June, before being told it had lost out to rival Miller Partnership Surrey County Cricket Club this week blamed the requirements for Lottery grants for the switch. In a statement it said: 'Lottery rules required us to go to tender for the detailed design phase and Miller put forward the best all-round proposal.'

In a diplomatic response, HOK told the AJ: 'We are very happy to get through what we think is a great building. But we are saddened that we will not be involved.'

However, Lambeth council has warned that if the quality of the scheme is substantially reduced, the Miller Partnership will be required to re-apply for planning permission. Ed Watson, head of development control at Lambeth, said the merit of the scheme had been a key issue in making the decision to grant consent. 'We would expect no diminution in the quality of the scheme, ' he added.

And the chair of CABE's design review, Peter Stewart, although refusing to comment on the Oval case, told the AJ the commission was deeply concerned about the issue of 'dumbing down.' CABE is looking at what can be done to prevent trophy architects being sacked after they have secured planning permission, Stewart said. 'The big question is whether the planning system as it stands has what it needs to deal with this, or whether there need to be changes in legislation.'

'As a rule, the highest quality schemes are seen through by one design team from start to finish, ' he added.

The project - which has won the support of CABE, the Greater London Authority and the Oval's landowner, the Duchy of Cornwall - will create a new stand covered by a 'sweeping crescent-shaped roof ' that will increase capacity at the ground from 18,500 to 23,000.

Miller Partnership director Brian Johnson refused to comment.

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