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Design champions 'failing to make a difference', says MP

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Debra Shipley MP, Parliament's self-appointed architectural representative, has condemned the government's 'Design Champion' initiative, claiming the policy has 'failed to make any substantive difference'. Shipley said the much-heralded scheme - to ensure that construction carried out by government departments is of a high design standard - should be abandoned in its current form and reinvented at a local level.

Shipley told the AJ that many departmental champions have done 'absolutely nothing'. And those that have, 'have only focused on one or two landmark schemes'.

'I have written to all the departments to find out the progress that has been made, ' she said. 'It is very sad but there are very few positives. With the best will in the world, most of the champions are out of their depth. They have no idea about the positive impact design can have.'

She also maintained that progress such as that made by Lord Hunt in the Department of Health was only superficial. And that other champions, such as Baroness Ashton in the Department for Education and Skills, had made no progress at all.

Shipley asserted that 'major changes' are needed if 'any results are to be seen', including the introduction of design champions at the local level since ministers have failed. 'I want to see local education authorities, NHS trusts and local government all with their own champions. And rather than have it suggested that they consult CABE over big projects, it should be compulsory, ' Shipley added.

However, both the RIBA and CABE dismissed the criticism, admitting that while the scheme had been far from perfect it had had a largely positive impact. The RIBA's head of government affairs, Jonathan Labrey, said: 'It would be unrealistic to expect good design to be at the top of every agenda.

The last thing we should do is criticise them when we are really beginning to influence many of the departments.'

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