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RIBA wants slice of housing action

The RIBA is pushing for a new role in the delivery of the government's massive house-building plans, which came under heavy criticism this week.

The institute has been lobbying government to allow it to act as advisor to local authorities on best practice in building the sustainable communities envisaged in its Communities Plan.

A cross-party committee of MPs said the plan - which sets out a major house-building programme designed to ease the housing crisis in the South East - threatened to create unsustainable 'characterless urban sprawl'. The committee, which released a damning report on Tuesday, concluded that the environmental impact had not been considered and that the cost of providing the necessary infrastructure could top £20 billion. The plans, announced last June (AJ 6.2.02), identify four key areas for 200,000 homes: Ashford in Kent;

Milton Keynes; the Thames Gateway east of London; and the Stansted/Cambridge M11 corridor.

But the RIBA's head of government relations, Jonathan Labrey, said problems identified by the committee were surmountable. 'The significance of this report is to tell the deputy prime minister that we've got to raise standards and awareness with local authorities to achieve this plan.'

The RIBA could play a vital role in advising them about schemes such as BedZed, he said.

In its report, the Parliamentary committee questions whether the building programme will achieve its aim of reducing house prices in the South East. It is particularly scathing of the Millenium Communities programme, which it says has 'failed to achieve significant results'. It calls on the government to ensure that all new housing is designed to the highest environmental standards, proposing a kitemarking scheme.

Labrey agreed that the plans should place a greater emphasis on sustainable design and that a key issue will be to maximise the use of brownfield land, which lends itself to higher densities.

Gideon Amos, director of public affairs at the Town and Country Planning Association, though welcoming the MPs' 'cautious response', said that 'having a strategy to accommodate the thousands of homes we need has got to be better than not having one at all'.

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