Localism minister Greg Clark says architects are ‘crucial’ for Britain’s sustainable future, and explains Gove’s ‘anti-architect’ BSF remarks
Architects are ‘crucial’ to Britain’s sustainable future, according to the minister for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, who oversees the Localism Bill.
In an exclusive interview with the AJ, Clark said ‘good design’ was at the heart of the Localism agenda and that architects were ‘among the principle losers’ of the current planning system. He denied claims that the government fails to understand design.
He said: ‘Everything about the Bill and everything we’re doing with the national planning framework is there to the advantage of proper good design.
‘Architects have been among the principle losers in a system that was very numbers driven, very top-down and crude.
‘[That system] didn’t involve the kind of consultation and local inquiry and, indeed, the opportunity for innovative practice, that this [planning] reform is designed to achieve.’
Clark’s positive comments come just a month after former RIBA president Jack Pringle claimed relations between the profession and government had sunk to their ‘lowest ebb in a generation’ pointing to ‘anti-architect’ education secretary Michael Gove, and his comments that implied school-building architects were profiteering
However the assumption that government turned its back on architects is a ‘misreading’ claimed Clark, adding that Gove’s comments were specific to BSF where many projects were ‘humongously expensive’.
He explained: ‘The point [Gove] was making is that in an education budget, yes you want to have good design, but not every building being made was good in terms of value for money.’
Clark says his bill, which has now passed committee stage in the House of Commons, was created to simplify the planning system and make it more accessible to the public.
‘That people are increasingly wary that every new planning proposal is going to damage the quality of their life is a desperately sad situation,’ said Clark.
A new national planning policy framework will streamline existing planning rules into one ‘clearer, shorter and accessible’ document, while an overriding presumption in favour of sustainable development will ‘state clearly’ the government’s positive approach to approving new buildings.
Architects have a ‘hugely important role to play’ in meeting this new criteria for planning consents said Clark.
‘It’s impossible to think of sustainable buildings without the experience and knowledge that the architectural profession brings to that [which is] absolutely crucial’. Full details of the plan will be unveiled in July.
He added: ‘There couldn’t be a more important profession to realise the fundamental aspirations of our country.’
Alex Ely, partner at mæ:
‘This is the first evidence that government recognises the value of good design and I look forward to seeing
a requirement for design quality being embedded in the National Planning Framework and Emerging Local Standards Framework. But I’m cautious about Localism being able to tackle our chronic housing shortage.’
Angela Brady, RIBA president elect:
‘Let’s hope these positive comments about the need for us to have a crucial role in society can have as wide publicity as possible to help repair the damage caused by Michael Gove. I am pleased that Greg Clark highlights the role for architects in a newly localised world and the part architects play in helping communities define and shape their area.’
Nick Lee, planner and partner at NJL Consulting:
‘Most planning committees outside key major cities simply don’t understand good design, or indeed the constraints that may exist,
let alone then trying to devolve decisions down to neighbourhood levels. To even suggest that the Localism Bill will somehow enable good design to come through is idealistic. Community engagement will be complicated in winning hearts and minds over to a development project.’