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No special treatment for trophy architects

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Should planning permission be conditional on the original design - and designer - being used? Lord Rogers thinks so. So does Sir Stuart Lipton. But there are dissenting voices: British Property Federation director Will McKee claims that schemes which obtain planning permission are often 'unbuildable' and therefore have to be changed. And there is an assumption that the practice of switching architects is tacitly approved by the anonymous 'commercial giants' happy to offer a cut-price scheme in pursuit of higher profits.

Arguments for and against are set out by Brian Waters in this week's practice section, alongside an article by David Zinar who turns the argument on its head, suggesting that it is in fact the 'trophy architects' themselves who benefit most from the current system.

As Zinar sees it, the vast majority of architects would love the chance of submitting a planning application on a major commission and not having to follow up the costly business of running a scheme on site.

The obvious counter-argument is that trophy architects are not concerned with profit margins so much as with professional pride. They object to seeing an outstanding project dumbed down or shoddily built, which they see as a loss to the public as much as to the architect. They may even mutter among themselves that it is precisely this concern for quality which elevated them to 'trophy' status in the first place.

But Zinar's argument underlines an important point: obtaining planning permission is relatively profitable, and numerous small practices are grateful for - if not dependent on - the work. If retaining the architect becomes a precondition of planning permission, these practices may find that clients are less keen to employ 'any old architect' to secure a speedy planning permission.

On the other hand, they may find themselves involved in an increasing amount of construction work.

Architects need to be able to protect their own designs, and Lord Rogers' proposed change to the planning process seems like an obvious way to do it. But will it seem like such a good idea when a client has gained permission for a mediocre scheme by a run-of-the-mill architect, and is unable to upgrade?

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