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Cautious welcome for Blair's public-spending design lead

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Architects have warned that Tony Blair's latest commitment to put design at the centre of new spending on schools and hospitals could be wrecked by poorly educated government clients.

Last week's Treasury White Paper, Investing in the Future, spelt out a three-year spending strategy which called for the use of more modern buildings. Launching the document, Blair demanded better design in schools and hospitals and designs which encourage more community use of these buildings. An extra £1.4 billion a year is to be spent on improving hospitals and doctors'surgeries, and an extra £1.6 billion is to be spent on schools.

The RIBA welcomed the pronouncement from the prime minister, but architects such as healthcare specialist Anshen Dyer are afraid that decision makers further down in the government chain will not follow his lead.

'In our experience there is a policy of improving the quality of design at a senior level, ' said partner Ken Schwarz.'But the ultimate decisions are still being taken by NHS Trusts and their advisers who are often not design-oriented people.' He warned that the NHS Trusts have failed to learn from the mistakes made by commissioning poor designs in the early phases of PFI procurement.

More than a third of all NHS buildings pre-date the formation of the NHS itself in 1948, and there is currently a £3.1 billion maintenance backlog.

The new investment plan for the education ministry states: 'Modern buildings can accommodate pressure, have a longer design life, and are more energy efficient and environment friendly.'

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