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Scottish architects fear reduced design roles

Architects have attacked the Scottish government’s shake-up of the planning system, claiming it is reducing architects to the role of ‘technical advisers’.

Edinburgh-based Malcolm Fraser, founder of Malcolm Fraser Architects, has written a letter to the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) and Architecture and Design Scotland (A+DS) raising concerns about the issue.

The Scottish government is implementing the biggest modernisation of the planning system for 60 years under the 2006 Planning Act, and has introduced ‘design leadership’ into the planning system through what Fraser calls ‘design planners’, either at outline planning stage or when a full planning application is made.

In the letter, seen by the AJ, Fraser warns that the change to policy ‘is leading to “design planners” demanding effective authorship of proposals (form, windows, colour etc.), thereby removing an architect’s professional creative role and reducing us to technical back-up: interior design, technical support and the provision of Professional Indemnity Insurance'.

Neil Simpson of Edinburgh-based Neil Simpson Architects says he is taking part in a planning course to have a better understanding of what he calls a ‘flawed system’.

He said: ‘The Planning Act means that it really is policy-led design, which is a fundamentally flawed process. It means planners defer to design policy rather than talking about design.

‘I know Edinburgh City Council is beginning to employ architects but it really is a very patchwork strategy. There needs to be more of a dialogue between architects and planners.’

The Scottish Executive’s chief planner Jim Mackinnon defended the changes, saying he wanted to encourage local authorities to take a more ‘proactive approach’, enabling them to play a greater role in ‘informing planning decisions’.

He added: ‘I really do not see that the approach we are encouraging leads to the architectural function diminishing, far less disappearing.’

RIAS secretary Neil Baxter said the body is taking the matter ‘very seriously’, claiming that Fraser’s letter is one of dozens received on the issue.

‘A significant number of qualified architects are advising at a senior level in planning departments, and that has to be
a good thing,’ he said.

‘But if unqualified planners enter the debate then that could become unhealthy,’ Baxter added.

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