Architects working with listed buildings will soon be forced to seek accreditation in a new scheme that critics warn will lead to chaos.
From May, both English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund will only grant funding for conservation schemes employing architects included on a little-known register. Critics fear the Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation (AABC) - which has just 97 members and costs £150 to join - is too small and unknown.
Leading conservation architect Robert Adam said the accreditation test - which checks successfully completed projects - will exclude younger architects. 'EH will only allow you to do work if you are experienced, but how do you become experienced if you can't get any work?' he asked.
Adam, who is not registered, said there was a dearth of working architects on the accredited list.
And he warned that it will lead to a 'clique' securing all the conservation work and an 'unhealthy rule of experts'.
Peter Melvin of Tring-based Atelier Architecture and Design agreed that EH's new policy would be a 'real problem'. He warned that many small practices will simply ignore the policy and look for work elsewhere. Tring said he had considered boycotting the scheme because 'I don't see why we should have to pay money to join an organisation that has no standing. As architects with experience we should not have to.'
And RIBA president-elect George Ferguson, who backs accreditation in theory, admitted that the policy's implementation will prove difficult.
'We are concerned that architects with good track records will choose not to join the scheme and be excluded. And there is also the question of how we get younger architects involved, ' he said.
However, Ferguson said the RIBA is now in talks with the AABC about taking over the register. 'We realise we need to find a way of getting more architects to join the scheme and we believe that making it part of the institute would work, ' he said.
EH's chief conservation architect, David Heath, admitted that concerns about a drought of accredited architects are 'very valid', saying that 'the shortage could turn into a vicious circle'. But he said EH is committed to the policy. 'We are determined to enforce the rule and architects are made to use the accreditation scheme, ' he said.