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Scots: 'now sort out planning'

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The RIAS has called for the planning system in Scotland to be overhauled and markedly improved by involving more architects in the development control process.

But president Gordon Davies believes a Scottish landscape increasingly degenerated by 'really poor tin shed' retail parks and business parks on the peripheries of towns and cities will be largely rectified inside of five years - thanks to a first ever policy for Scottish architecture published last week.

Davies, a qualified town planner and architect, said architecture north of the border will be immeasurably improved in the light of the new policy, which aims to 'foster excellence' and is backed with a series of pledges. It has been so warmly received that all ministers in Scotland have signed up to it, and RIBA president Paul Hyett is to press their counterparts to come up with a similar 'overarching' policy for England and Wales.

Areas covered in the Scots policy include getting architecture into schools and lifting quality, but the Executive ignored 'much adverse' criticism of the PFI process expressed during consultation and claims that building regulations hindered 'a more sustainable approach to construction'.

Davies said the Scottish Executive should now press ahead with making changes to get more quality out of the planning process. 'In Scotland it's only the structure plan process that is under review - in England it is all of it. But I'm quite confident that they'll look at the remainder.' The RIAS failed to get the Scottish Executive to 'depoliticise' the planning process but drew satisfaction from a pledge to see the quality of Scotland's building stock improved by getting design quality 'accorded greater significance as a material consideration in the determination of planning applications'.

Consultees to the original framework document had slammed the 'unacceptably low' standards set by planning authorities and their favouring of 'safe, conventional or pastiche design', while planners retorted that the majority of applications they receive 'have no professional design input, and when they do, are often of poor or mediocre quality.'

Now Davies wants more architects advising on planning decisions within local authorities. 'When I was in development control myself, 50 to 60 per cent in my department in East Kilbride were architects. Now it's almost minimal around the country. We need architects to speak to architects about the design of buildings.'

Davies also revealed as a 'flier' his notion of a system of protection of function in order to reverse the 75-80 per cent of applications in Scotland made by 'non-professionals'.

Davies was speaking after returning from Richard Murphy's Contemporary Arts Centre in Dundee, where Scotland's deputy culture minister Allan Wilson launched the new policy, saying it will make a 'vital' contribution to improving people's lives socially, economically, culturally and environmentally: 'This policy sets out an agenda for action which underlines our commitment to Scotland's architecture. Each one of us living and working in Scotland is affected every day by our built environment and this policy recognises the value our surroundings can have. Improved design and higher quality development are not just ends in themselves. They will support other key objectives of the Executive such as sustainable development, social justice and economic competitiveness.'

Davies gave the document - which features the Scottish Parliament building as an exemplar - 'an A plus', and was cheered by its broad base, inclusivity and the way the policy is 'not just about signature buildings'.

The national policy, which will be reviewed 'periodically', is available at HMSO Bookshops or can be downloaded in its entirety at ajplus. co. uk.

Scottish Executive pledges include:

The Executive will develop initiatives 'to encourage children to look and understand how the built environment relates to much of what they are learning as well as supporting a broader range of educational objectives'. It will invest £144,000 for the development of teaching resource materials on the built environment which will form part of the National Grid for Learning. The Lighthouse is celebrating its three-year programme with talks by Kathryn Findlay and Rab Bennetts tonight.

A £300,000 annual grant over three years to The Lighthouse in Glasgow to support a national architecture programme.

To develop an online architecture centre, a programme of exhibitions to tour Scotland, events to encourage local communities to participate in the built environment and a partnership fund offering grants to local communities wishing to develop their own projects, events, publications or exhibitions.

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