Scottish policy on architecture is an example to us all
Hats off to Scotland. Scottish minister Allan Wilson has launched a coherent national policy on architecture, which only the mean-spirited would attempt to criticise.
The RIBA welcomed the announcement, but was quick to point out that it called for an official architecture policy way back in May. It is easy to see why the RIBA felt obliged to make the point.While undoubtedly excellent, the Scottish policy document reflects issues which have long been on the agenda, both north and south of the border.
The general statement of intent - to encourage excellence in design and to promote understanding of the benefits of high-quality architecture - echoes the ethos behind Better Public Buildings, the government publication launched a year ago, and Valuing Good Design , published by the RIBA in May. Many of the specific action points are far from new. The announcement that the government will work to promote an annual award for the best publicly funded building is a great idea, but not noticeably different from the prime minister's Public Building Award, the winner of which is to be announced at the British Construction Industry Awards next week.
Several other issues which are currently on the agenda in Scotland are strangely familiar. The RIAS' insistence that more architects should be involved with the planning process is reminiscent of Paul Hyett's demand that we should adopt the French system, whereby clients are legally bound to employ architects on all planning applications with a gross surface area of more than 20m 2.Clearly, there is a degree of consensus as to how to move forward. The Scottish policy document prioritises workability over originality, simultaneously adding weight to numerous individual initiatives and delivering a coherent action-plan against which progress can be measured. It is proof of what can be done when organisations resist the pressure to come up with a constant stream of 'new ideas'and concentrate on results.
Hyett has pledged to convince Whitehall ministers of the urgent need for architecture policies for England and Wales. It would be a significant achievement: a means of harnessing the work of past presidencies, and making the crucial transition from good intentions to policy.