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Architects ready to mobilise on Kosovo rebuilding

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Architects may be drafted into the 'lean and mean' Kosovo Regeneration Taskforce when the full scale of the devastation hits home.

The eight-strong taskforce set up by the Government flew out to the danger zone this week to scout out the worst of the damage. The group is chaired by Ove Arup & Partners' deputy chairman Nigel Thompson, with 'lieutenants' from Mott MacDonald, Taylor Woodrow and amec. Though the riba is not in the taskforce it is an associate member of one of the representatives, the British Consultants Bureau (bcb).

bcb director Colin Adams said 90 member firms were keen to become involved and these included several architecture practices such as Levitt Bernstein Associates, gmw Partnership and Norman & Dawbarn. Around £30 billion of rebuilding is needed for the entire Balkans war zone and the taskforce aims to advance into Macedonia, Albania and Serbia after Kosovo.

'We need a contingency plan so British firms don't lose out like they did in Kuwait, even though there is no bag of gold like then,' he said. The Americans, who were first into liberated Kuwait, had a strong foothold for engineering projects that were subcontracted to other us firms, he said.

'There is no doubt other specialists will be involved later on, but at present the taskforce is lean and mean until we have a better idea of what's needed. If the riba asks, we will keep a watching brief.'

However, Adams was keen firms did not 'push each other off projects' in the fight to win contracts. He was keen to see consortium bids. He also called for 'seedcorn funding' from the Government. 'It's all very well saying we can do the job, but if we don't have the money it's no good. We need the cash to get projects off the ground.'

Taskforce chairman Nigel Thompson stressed the aim was not to make a quick and dirty profit. They echoed industry minister John Battle, who said: 'The human tragedy must be addressed, the refugees need homes and a living infrastructure to return to.'

riba's director of membership and international affairs, Ian Pritchard, said it was too early to asses the damage and the appropriate response. An estimated 20 per cent of the nation were refugees and therefore highly mobile which added to confusion. He said the Serbian equivalent of riba had written to the institute making representations over the bombardment which was threatening the country's architectural heritage.

Lyn Edwards, senior partner at gmw Partnership, expected a long 'gestation period' between peace and architectural work. 'In Kuwait the sabotaged oil wells had to be extinguished and infrastructure repaired before architecture was commissioned.' His firm is still waiting on possible commissions and is registered with Kuwait's ministries of public works and planning.

The rics however has launched Project Kosovo to tackle immediate housing needs and reconstruction. President-elect Simon Kolesar said: 'The most important thing is to get people back to their villages and towns and make sure they are looked after. We can offer skills on issues like locations, ownership, construction, procurement. We hope to meet the un rep for the Balkans and the World Bank's head of reconstruction in the area.'

The eu is to launch its own 200-strong taskforce for letting out the projects which will be advertised in ojec notices.

Architect George Baxter and builder Richard Knight are to tough out the Lake District's Saunders-Lakeland Mountain Marathon to raise money for the Kosovar Crisis Appeal, which is sending 38-tonne trucks and supplies to the area. The appeal can be contacted on 01903 529333.

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