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DCMS men attend council to forge links for commission

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Two key officials from the Department of Culture Media and Sport were in riba Council last week to forge closer links with the institute and hear its concerns about how the new Architecture Commission is shaping up. The good news is that the commission's paltry £1.3 million budget is not 'written in stone' and that ministers will listen to reasoned arguments for extra cash.

Head of dcms architecture branch Mike Keatinge and Nigel Pittman, head of the buildings, monuments and sites division and chairman of the architecture implentation group, attended, at the invitation of riba president David Rock (left), to gather views on the new body.

Pittman said the department wanted the Architecture Commission to take a much stronger role in the regions than the rfac had done, and that the commission idea had resulted from a departmental spending review. The rfac had done 'very good work', which was broadly acknowledged for the last 75 years, but had been 'limited in its scope' only 'dabbling' in advice on architecture generally. 'Inevitably it was concerned with larger projects and a very large proportion of them are in London,' he said. 'Ministers thought it would be much better to make a fresh start with new body.'

The dcms wants an increased focus on work in the regions and a link with the emerging group of architecture centres, as well as a greater emphasis on education in its broadest sense by trying to raise public awareness of architecture and the built environment and of those who sit on planning committees. Lastly, it wants a greater influence on the government's own building projects. Pittman said the department was looking at prospective chairs for the group, while hoping that the new commission will be up and running in summer, with the rfac wound up in July.

On the vexed question of funding, however, Pittman said the body's paltry £1.33-£1.53 million budget (as opposed to the Design Council's £3-4 million) was 'by no means fixed for all time'. He also said that the timing of Richard Rogers' Urban Task Force report, due finally in June, is propitious, as the commission will have a role in taking forward the utf's agenda.

Concerns from council members included the body being seen as simply an extension of the arts rather than an 'everyday activity', and hopes that it would link with Regional Development Agencies and local government. Members felt that it was important for architecture to once again be a part of local authorities; that the commission should look to the spaces between buildings a la Barcelona; and that it should aim to untangle mixed messages about procurement methods damaging to architecture such as pfi. Another point was that the government needed to be told that to invest so much in architectural education and not use architects was 'a huge waste of resources'.

President-in-waiting Marco Goldschmied said the key choice was that of chair of the body, and if it was necessary in order to get the right person, some of the budget should be used to supplement the £30,000 pa salary. The real malaise, he said, was this county's planning system 'trading off aesthetics for square footage'.

President David Rock said he was encouraged by government policy being discussed in council, and that the design-review role should be the first to be ditched if the government were looking for savings. The implementation group on which he sits is meeting for the third time on 30 March to discuss the next draft of the commission's proposed make-up.

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