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Pringle in secret talks with minister over the ARB's role

A letter leaked to the AJ has revealed the outgoing president of the RIBA, Jack Pringle, has been engaged in secret talks with the government about 'possible amendments' to the 1997 Architects Act.

In the letter (pictured below), dated 8 June, Pringle thanks Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) minister Angela Smith (pictured above alongside Pringle) for an 'extremely useful and productive meeting' during which 'concerns about the relationship between the RIBA and the Architects Registration Board (ARB)' were discussed.

Pringle added that the RIBA looked 'forward to further productive discussions', which he hoped would 'clarify the respective roles of [the RIBA and the ARB] in relation to architectural education and professional conduct'.

These 'roles', particularly the educational element, have been muddied since the 1997 Act gave the ARB (formerly the Architects' Registration Council UK) the statutory power to prescribe architectural education qualifications, and so muscle in on what was traditionally regarded as territory of the RIBA.

In the letter, which refers to a meeting on 10 May, Pringle wrote: 'My colleagues and I were pleased that you would be prepared to consider such amendments to the Act in the event we can find agreement which not only satisfies the RIBA and the ARB, but also schools of architecture.'

Smith's apparent openness to discourse regarding the future of the 1997 Act will be regarded as a U-turn by ARB hardliners, who had been led to believe that Smith was keen to maintain the uneasy status-quo that exists between the institutes.

This belief stems from an earlier letter from Smith to then ARB chairman Humphrey Lloyd, leaked to the AJ less than six months' ago (ajplus 14.12.06), in which Smith said that architects should not 'disassociate themselves from their chosen model of regulation'.

The RIBA's head of public affairs Steven Harding said the meeting was evidence of a 'change in the weather' between the two bodies. 'The signs that there is a willingness to solve this long-running dispute are more encouraging than for some time,' he added.

Speaking of the RIBA's call to clarify ARB's educational role, Assael Architecture director John Assael was more forthright. He said: 'I am delighted [Smith] is taking this issue seriously. It is about time that the government realises that this is an area of grave concern.

'I value the ARB, but it should deal with clerical and code of conduct issues and keep its nose out of education. It is not qualified to deal with education,' he added.

'But Alison Carr, ARB registrar and chief executive, defended what she described as the ARB's 'narrow remit' and added: 'We deliver on the Act under which we are required by the statute to prescribe qualifications. There is always room to improve, but that is what we deliver.'

by Max Thompson

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