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'Hospital tsar' Prince pledges to avoid prescribing on style

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Prince Charles has reassured the profession that he will not attempt to promote his preference for Classical architecture in his role as hospital design champion, writes Zoë Blackler.

The Prince's Foundation will be advising on five pilot projects around the country that will serve as hospital design exemplars. But while the Prince's involvement raises the profile of the project, his personal role will be very limited.

The Prince launched the initiative on Friday at a conference of senior NHS Trust executives. In his speech to delegates, he reiterated his opinions of 20th century architecture, but made it clear they would not inform his role as champion.

'A belief in harmony and proportion doesn't mean architecture has to speak Greek and Latin.

Nor does it mean I want to see Doric operating theatres, Corinthian-columned hospital wards or Ionic intensive care departments.'

The Prince's interest, and the prominence that comes with it, has been greeted with enthusiasm.

CABE's commissioner with special responsibility for health buildings, Sunand Prasad, was reassured:

'He made it clear it is not a question of style. It's not going to lead to pediments in hospitals.'

His thoughts were echoed by the RIBA's head of government relations, Jonathan Labrey: 'Its terrific - he was saying all the right things.'

But fellow conference delegate Elsie Owusu said the Prince lacked a positive overarching vision, focusing rather on the negatives of what should not be done and what he would not be saying: 'If you're a design champion, that requires a certain amount of exposure and exposure to criticism. There should be a risk involved in putting yourself forward as a champion. He needs to provide a positive leadership and he didn't.'

The initiative comes as the NHS gears up for a second tranche of building work with £4 billion due to be spent on an additional 29 hospital buildings - part of the largest building programme in NHS history. The foundation will focus on five pilot projects at Central Middlesex Hospital, Hope Hospital in Salford, Pinderfields and Pontefract in Wakefield, Cherry Knowle in Sunderland and University Hospital, Lewisham.

The foundation's Dr Ghazwa Alwani-Starr will head the team of advisors with external experts brought in to work on particular areas. Initial work will include the development of the design brief.

But while CABE is welcoming the Prince's Foundation's input - and the foundation's director of regeneration and policy, Jon Bootland, stressed that it was 'not competing' with the commission - details of how the two organisations will cooperate have not been fully worked through.

Prasad said that the foundation's experience of urban regeneration put it in an excellent position to provide a complementary role to CABE's work.

And health secretary Alan Milburn announced on Friday that the Prince's Foundation will be joining CABE and NHS Estates to form a panel to review all hospital design proposals at the earliest stage of the procurement process, before a preferred bidder is chosen.

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