A letter leaked to the AJ has revealed that outgoing RIBA president Jack Pringle has been engaged in secret talks with the government about 'possible amendments' to the 1997 Architects Act.
In the letter, dated 8 June, Pringle thanks Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) minister Angela Smith for an 'extremely useful and productive meeting' during which 'concerns about the relationship between the RIBA and the Architects Registration Board (ARB)' were discussed.
Pringle added that the RIBA looked 'forward to further productive discussions' which he hoped would 'clarify [the RIBA and the ARB's] respective roles in relation to architectural education and professional conduct'.
These 'roles', particularly the education element, have been muddied since the 1997 Act gave the ARB (formerly the Architects' Registration Council UK) the statutory power to prescribe architectural education qualifications, and so muscle in on what was traditionally regarded as RIBA territory.
In the letter, which refers to a forthcoming meeting on 10 June, Pringle wrote: 'My colleagues and I were pleased that you would be prepared to consider such amendments to the Act in the event we can find agreement which not only satisfies the RIBA and the ARB, but also schools of architecture.'
Smith's apparent openness to discourse regarding the future of the 1997 Act will be regarded as a U-turn by ARB hardliners, who had been led to believe that Smith was keen to maintain the uneasy status-quo that exists between the ARB and the RIBA.
This belief stems from an earlier letter from Smith to then ARB chairman Humphrey Lloyd, leaked to the AJ less than six months ago ( ajplus 14.12.06), in which Smith said that architects should not '? disassociate themselves from their chosen model of regulation'.
RIBA head of public affairs Steven Harding said the meeting was evidence of a 'change in the weather' between the two bodies. 'The signs that there is a willingness to solve this long-running dispute are more encouraging than for some time, ' he added.
Speaking of the clandestine meeting and RIBA's call to clarify ARB's educational role, Assael Architecture director John Assael was more forthright.
He said: 'I am delighted [Smith] is taking this issue seriously. It is about time that the government realise that this is an area of grave concern.
'I value the ARB, but it should deal with clerical and code of conduct issues and keep its nose out of education. It is not qualified to deal with education, ' he added.
But Alison Carr, ARB registrar and chief executive, defended what she described as the ARB's 'narrow remit' and added: 'We deliver on the Act under which we are required by the statute to prescribe qualifications. There is always room to improve, but that is what we deliver.'
See the leaked letter at www. ajplus. co. uk