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Farrell Review will fall on deaf ears in government, industry figures predict

Central government is unlikely to act on the Farrell Review of architecture and the built environment because of a lack of political will, a former construction minister has said

Nick Raynsford MP, who held responsibility for housing, planning and construction in the Blair government and is honorary vice-chairman of the Construction Industry Council, also questioned some of Farrell’s key recommendations, such as the establishment of a chief government architect.

The Farrell Review, an  independent study led by Terry Farrell and commissioned a year ago by Tory culture minister Ed Vaizey, was launched on Monday and makes 60 recommendations, including making the planning system more proactive and setting up ‘urban rooms’ around the country to improve public engagement in development.

It also calls on government to establish a new leadership council to promote its core concept of ‘PLACE’ (Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering), underpinned by ‘civic champions’ at a local level.

Raynsford told the AJ that he welcomed the review and the ‘refreshing’ interest of Vaizey in the subject.

But he said: ‘Without a government push, CABE would never have got off the ground. The review’s idea of PLACE is a good one but, without significant support from government, I’m not sure it will ever be established. It’s not impossible but there is a tendency for government to focus on what are seen as more politically salient issues, such as education and healthcare.

‘The role of the [existing] chief construction adviser is crucial and the danger of a chief government architect is that you would then need a chief government engineer and it all starts to fragment. The whole point of the chief construction advisor was to pull together what is quite a fragmented sector.’

Chief construction adviser Peter Hansford, who sits on the Construction Leadership Council alongside more than two dozen private sector industry figures, declined to comment.

Chairman of the CIC and former RIBA president Jack Pringle said the Farrell Review successfully covered many areas that ‘need addressing’, but he also questioned its political approach and its explanation of how government would interact with PLACE and the chief architect.

He said: ‘The review envisages four government departments reporting to PLACE and the [existing] Construction Leadership Council, plus various chief government advisers.

‘That would just create an argument between various departments. The mood music in government at the moment is to integrate things, not divide them.’

Pringle, who is the only architect on the 30-strong leadership council chaired by business secretary Vince Cable and HS2 chairman David Higgins, said one answer would be to ‘slightly amend’ the body and increase its architectural representation.

However, the Farrell Review was broadly welcomed by professional bodies and the other main political parties.

Lib Dem MP Annette Brooke, who put forward a motion calling for better recognition of design quality in the planning system at the party’s recent Spring Conference, said: ‘I welcome the Farrell Review promoting national and local leadership and many of the ideas that are put forward in it. We believe that councillors should have the type of training recommended. We also wholeheartedly support the role of a local civic champion.’

Helen Goodman, Labour’s shadow minister for culture, creative industries and communications, said Labour was carefully considering the report but particularly welcomed the idea of improving the teaching of architecture in schools.

She added: ‘The importance of attracting and retaining the best individuals for planning departments would be a good long-term investment and broadening the scope of the design review panels is a step in the right direction.’

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