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Principles mean nothing unless you fight for them

Editorial

It must have been an awful decision to make: you are an architect working on a competition-winning housing development intended to set a pattern for urban use into the next century. The idea has won plaudits from the judges and the government alike. The innovative approaches to social mix, construction methods and design have been spelled out to a largely admiring peer group. Then things begin to go wrong. The suspicions of the cynics - that whatever the housebuilders said they would do, when it comes to it, they will revert to type - appear to be coming true. The architects draw a line in the sand, and warn that unless there is an improvement in ambition, they will be leaving the project. In a pre- emptive strike, the contractor makes the decision for them by dismissing them. We are talking about the Greenwich Millennium Village.

Were this a case of ingenue architects foisting pie-in-the-sky ideas onto an unwilling partner, then there would be a case for the housebuilder to take his ball away. The reality is that the contractors entered into the competition, and into a process with major implications for their normal way of working, with their eyes open. As for the architect, Hunt Thompson is a highly experienced and reputable practice, whose senior partner is chairman of the riba Housing Group. Alan Cherry, from the housebuilding consortium (and, coincidentally, a member of the Urban Task Force which is encouraging schemes of the Greenwich sort), might care to comment on how it is that what should have been an Eganesque display of partnering has ended in such a shambles, affecting not merely the architects but other consultants too.

The government has been ill-served, and it is no secret that Messrs Prescott and Raynsford were spitting blood last week, not least because news of the debacle came as a complete surprise. It would also be surprising if the contractors were not told, in the clearest terms, that their responsibility is to complete the project they bid for in the spirit in which it began. If not (and if it is not too late), public funding should be withdrawn.

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