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Architects must look to provide quality for all

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The article 'GLA's Gavron fires broadside at 'dangerously elitist architects'' (AJ 12.6.03) takes my remarks out of context.

I was asked to comment on the removal of the policy to build large houses of architectural quality in the Green Belt (PPG 7). My response was that I was in favour of removal of the policy and wanted those same architects to focus their attention not on one-off 'signature buildings' but on mass housing for the majority of people and the wider cross-section.

I said that I failed to see leadership from the profession, either from the institutions, or from the majority of house builders. I also said housing in the 21st century needs to be ecoefficient (Paul Hyett's work on the Global Alliance of Building Sustainability is very encouraging), which is why I singled out BedZed and the Sky House.

It is interesting that your piece prompted a postbag of letters to me, broadly supporting my thesis. These included comments challenging the assumption that affordable housing cannot be designed to provide a high-quality modern environment and well-designed individual homes.

One correspondent pointed out this can be achieved even in a design and build scheme. An emerging theme is the need for all key players to pull together - local councillors, developers, home providers in the market and social sectors as well as the professions - planners, architects and engineers.

It is primarily because of my experience of local authority planning, my work as chair of the LPAC and now as the mayor's strategic planning advisor, that I can say that the vast majority of current housing schemes are of very low design quality and show scant attention to issues of sustainability.

As usual, a few schemes are grabbing the headlines while most - often by the same companies who produce the best - are mediocre schemes repeating the mantra of having to water down design to achieve affordable rents, or market values.

We need a broader debate and we need the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) to engage with the housebuilders to address the combined issues of sustainability and affordability. I care passionately about these issues and am prepared to do all I can to give a lead and to work with the mayor to make the planning system in London more sensitive to their achievement. But, in the end, the architectural profession must take the leading role.

Nicky Gavron, Mayor's Cabinet Adviser for Strategic Planning, Assembly Member for Enfield and Haringey

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