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RIBA puts pressure on Blair for new architecture policy

The RIBA has pressed government to get 'design champions' installed in all regional development agencies and local authorities; come up with a substantial policy for architecture; and commission an independent report to prove once and for all that good design can add value and save money.

President Marco Goldschmied said that the initiatives, contained in a new policy recommendation document prepared with government relations head Jonathan Labrey following advice from CABE, will form the true 'rebranding of the institute'.

The RIBA feels there is still an absence of 'joined-up thinking' inside Whitehall and wants to move onto the pre- and post-election agenda, especially with cash on the table for a new spate of hospitals, schools and other public buildings.

'Architects are as responsible as doctors and teachers for delivering social and economic value to our society, ' said Goldschmied. 'Architecture is an outward-looking activity which has slipped into a degree of introspection. This document is offering the services and skills and knowledge base of the profession, which is huge. It's a sleeping giant and a great asset, not a profession of narrow self-interest. Architects are more socially aware than most other professions.'

Goldschmied handed the 'outward-looking', 15-point plan to arts minister Alan Howarth last week in advance of prime minister Tony Blair's decision to delay announcing an election date.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) - which could now be replaced by a 'communications' wing after the election with architecture going back across the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department for Education and Employment - has given initial support to the measure to install 'design champions' into RDAs and local authorities to ensure that ministerial support for architecture is replicated at grass roots level. Howarth branded it 'very important' in mirroring the government's 'champions'. Goldschmied added that the RIBA's 'strong and well established' regional network can help. But he attacked the DCMS' 'patchy' record with the British Council and DTI in promoting the export of design.

Labrey said the policy for architecture should build on the 'aspirational policy' prepared by the Scottish, while the call for an independent report into design's effectiveness will add to CABE's oftquoted message that well-designed hospitals impact upon recovery rates and well-designed schools on standards. RIBA now wants the Treasury to take notice of a report it wants from the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee on the public procurement process.

Other policies it wants to see include VAT on design elements of design and build contracts;

VAT relief for owners or maintainers of listed buildings; city architects; and design emphasised in PFI projects. See ajplus for full document.

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