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ARB rushes in new 'legal eagle' chief executive

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The ARB last week attempted to put the shenanigans over its shoddy treatment of Francis Golding behind it by appointing a new chief executive in Robin Vaughan (above). But it now stands accused of 'rushing' the decision through before a new-look board is elected - inside the next 15 days.

The AJ was first told of the appointment of 51-yearold Vaughan - who is currently at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales - on Wednesday morning last week, a day after three new architect members were appointed to serve temporarily on its board (AJ 17.2.00). The ARB said it had wanted to get back to its full complement after the high-profile resignations at Christmas, so it went to also-rans in its 1997 elections to fill the last three gaps. The new look board then voted in Vaughan unanimously.

But angry observers are contesting that the ARB has now tried to hastily make sure a new figure is established in the £70,000-a-year post rather than face more disruption should Marco Goldschmied, Amanda Levete and Frank Duffy be re-elected on 10 March - as is widely expected.

Levete and Duffy this week both attacked the timing of the new appointment. They and 15 others are battling to fill seven places for architects on the ARB's board with ballot papers due in on 1 March and the results announced before 10 March. Levete told the AJ: 'The timing was bizarre and I'm very surprised and disappointed. It does seem as if they've rushed it through.'

Levete added that she was shocked that an organisation in the run up to an election should take the 'improper' step of making a decision with 'such a longlasting impact'.

'I don't think the ARB should hide behind the Act, which is what it is doing.' Although she refused to comment on Vaughan's suitability, Levete also added that it would be difficult for the board to avoid continuing to show 'a legalistic interpretation of the Act', given his background.

Duffy last week told the AJ the way the ARB has handled its new appointment looked to be 'business as usual', with the ARB appearing to 'proceed as if nothing has happened.'

'A more considered approach would have been to step back and think about things for a bit,' he said.

Duffy has fought in vain for an end to 'factionalism' within the board between architects and lay members and wants a collective 'battle' for the ARB to address 'fundamentally important issues' affecting architects instead. 'It's not a power struggle - it's about ideas and the profession,' he said.

Levete, Duffy, Goldschmied and Colin Stansfield Smith resigned from the ARB in protest at the way former Royal Fine Art Commission secretary Golding was first widely trumpeted as the board's preferred candidate and then dropped - on the day he was set to meet the staff.

Vaughan was considered the second-placed candidate for the job, behind Golding. He has been kept waiting in the wings during the fallout of the Golding affair, although he confirmed he has been keeping abreast of developments.

Vaughan said he has always been with professional bodies, having worked as registrar for the 'high-powered' Bar of England and Wales' education and training arm for 18 years before the Institute of Chartered Accountants.'I'm looking forward to it,' he said. 'I'm not anxious.'

Vaughan, who is not a lawyer, describes himself as having had a 'lifelong interest in architecture'. He read politics, philosophy and economics at the University of Kent and says he is 'most interested in buildings', possessing 'a fairly catholic taste'. But he refused to be drawn on the board's current problems - that would step on the toes of current incumbent Jane Rees, who leaves in May.

In a statement about Vaughan's appointment ARB chairwoman Barbara Kelly said: 'The whole board had no doubt that Robin Vaughan could bring considerable strengths and skills in administration, policy development and education to the work of the statutory body.'

Staunch ARB critic Paul Hyett, meanwhile, is considering taking the matter to RIBA Council .

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