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New Labour makes triple commitment to architecture

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The government has kicked off Architecture Week by launching an Architecture Centres Network, dropping a heavy hint that it will hand a lifeline to the Royal Fine Art Commission and ensuring the continuation of the Arts Council architecture unit.

Arts minister Alan Howarth is set to launch the Arts Council-supported network today at one of its 12 sites, the North Kent Architecture Centre. 'Achieving a high standard of architecture is a shared responsibility for the whole community,' he is expected to say. 'Architecture centres provide a venue for a constructive dialogue, where people can have the opportunity to question and to discuss planning proposals before decisions are taken.'

The architecture centres in the network will comprise: Bristol; Northern; North Kent; Hackney Building Exploratory; the Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust; Plymouth Architectural Trust, riba Architecture Centre; riba Eastern Region Architecture Centre; the Architecture Foundation; the Lighthouse Glasgow, which opens next May; affiliated member London Open House; and cube in Manchester, a lottery-backed Victorian warehouse conversion by Hodder Associates, which opens on 17 November.

Howarth added that more centres outside London are needed and 'hoped' that the new Regional Development Agencies would support them. He also said that, after assessing responses to its July consultation paper, the culture department now fully accepts the need to read 'architecture' in a wide sense, including urban design; work more closely with the detr on planning and regeneration; and look at historic and modern architecture as a continuum, not two separate subjects.

As for the rfac, which many felt would be a casualty of New Labour, Howarth said national standards had been raised by the commission and its work. 'Our challenge is to encourage the best - to create new arrangements which will retain that expert and respected leadership, but without being remote or overbearing.' Howarth wants a new body to widely promote good architecture by calling on local knowledge and enthusiasm.

And Arts Council leader Gerry Robinson, with culture secretary Chris Smith at the Architecture Week launch at Avery Associates' imax cinema in Waterloo, quashed 'speculation' that the council is to pull out of any involvement with architecture. 'No, we don't wish to have a regulatory role but we do want to strengthen our clear remit within education and advocacy for architecture.'

The Arts Council is running an on-line forum for public discussion. It is at www.archweek.co.uk

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