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Hyett: 'Copy French planning model'

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RIBA president Paul Hyett is to press the government to copy the French practice of forcing clients to use architects to draw up planning applications.

Hyett's move comes as the French Ministry of Culture is pressing to drastically empower French architects by making it harder for other professions to get a slice of the action in new buildings, by proposing tough new regulations.

French officials want to make it a legal requirement for clients to commission an architect for planning and listed building consent on almost all construction jobs, in a bid to raise quality and reduce the cost of sub-standard work. They want all jobs with a gross surface area of over 20m 2to be drawn up by architects, as opposed to the old threshold of 170m 2of net surface area - a move which will provide a near monopoly of such work.

Under the rules, planning applications would be refused unless the architect has been entrusted with a mandatorily complete mission.

Hyett said the idea is one he will propose to the UK government, using the same thresholds. 'This effectively extends the protection of function, ' he said. 'The feeling is that it would probably be of benefit and there would be some sympathy for it.'

Hyett also supported the French drive to empower architects in terms of demolition applications. If the French rules go through, applications would be subject to a study of the architecture and heritage of the buildings. Full planning consent would come in two stages, while a new 'transformation consent' would be needed for rehabilitation work. This would have to be accompanied by a study on interior and exterior architecture, and on insertion. This is being seen as a move which expresses a new concern for interiors, and the potential to increase areas of work for architects, while simultaneously regulating interior designers.

The reforms, which will also let architects act as contractors, estate agents and management agents, concern the 'Loi de l'architecture 1977', and have been under review since January 1999. Now, however, the ministry has submitted the proposals to the professional organisations concerned, and will consult with them about the measures over the coming weeks. The ministry of culture says the measures will provide a beneficial economic impact concentrated around their extension to the housebuilding sector, to agricultural buildings, and to rehabilitation generally, sectors in which French architects have seldom practiced to date. It estimates that the cost of sub-standard work is five billion francs per annum in housing and agricultural buildings, and 10 million m 2of such buildings are constructed every year.

But Provence-based surveyor Alexander Cunynghame-Roberston warned that the moves might spell 'extinction' for his fellow professionals, including chartered surveyors, engineers, civil engineers and quantity surveyors. He added that the French government would be accused of favouring architects who become entitled to act as 'commercial jacks of all trades in grey and unverifiable situations which are fraught with potential conflicts of interest. It's very short-sighted, and there'll be a tremendous backlash about this, ' he told AJ.

'Do architects want to be seen as an imposed tax? They will end up being despised by the public.

The government must free the architects, not put them in an increasingly vulnerable position, where they'll be hoisted above the parapet so that the public can amuse themselves by throwing balls at them.'

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