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RIBA targets political parties in preelection manifesto push

The RIBA is to publish a 'Manifesto for Architects' in an attempt to raise its political profile before the general election. The policy will focus on sustainability, architects' involvement in the planning process, the importance of design-led development and urban regeneration. The ideas will be lobbied for inclusion in the parties' election manifestos, and will form the basis for demands for a full UKarchitecture policy from the next government as a published white paper, said RIBA's parliamentary liaison officer, Jonathan Labrey.

The plans come as urban regeneration and the built environment move further up the political agenda. Tory leader William Hague grabbed the headlines at the Conservative Party conference on Monday with the announcement of its policy on urban regeneration, which some experts suggest has 'stolen a march' on the government. Labour is expected to publish its Urban White Paper in around six weeks time.

The Tory proposals include setting up local regeneration companies backed by private finance, and the demolition of high-rise council estates and replacement with low-rise housing built by private sector consortia.

Hague also outlined plans for a fast-track planning process to develop derelict inner city sites quickly, and the appointment of a dedicated regeneration minister.

Shadow regeneration spokesman Tim Laughton admitted that 'a lot of what we are saying is just echoing some of the very sensible things in Lord Rogers'Urban Task Force report.'

The Urban Task Force is understood to be 'extremely happy' that the opposition is making political capital from the issue because it increases pressure on the government to take on its recommendations. Other campaigners applauded the Tories for outlining policy before the government.

Cities expert and director of the Greater London Group at the LSE, Tony Travers said: 'Despite the fact that the Conservatives are associated with rural England, they have managed to publish an urban policy rather more rapidly than the government. However, there is not an enormous ideological divide here and you could barely pass a bus ticket between the policies of the two parties.'

Task force spokesman Ben Rich, said: 'The test for the Conservatives is the same as for the government, which includes taking the lead at the forefront of the debate, which the Tories have done, ' he said. 'But they do need to put their money where their mouth is.'

However, the RIBA warned that the Tory reliance on private sector funding amounts to 'privatising cities'.

'If the private sector is left to develop our inner cities at the lowest possible cost, without reference to the quality of design, then it will mark a disaster for the quality of our urban environment, ' said Labrey said. But the lack of a policy to cut VAT on refurbishment was attacked as a 'blatant omission'.The Tories are understood to be struggling to secure agreement to the tax cut from shadow chancellor, Michael Portillo. Despite the criticisms, RIBA President Marco Goldschmied met senior Tories last month to discuss urban policy in what Labrey described as a 'very positive'meeting.

The RIBAmanifesto is due to be published in the wake of the Urban White Paper later this year.

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