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Problem of conflicting roles goes on

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How sad it was to read Paul Hyett's column on the tensions between the ARB and the RIBA (AJ 5.3.98), but how right he was in his conclusions.

Sad because the difficulties were predictable and were pointed out from the start of the initiatives that led to the reform of registration arrangements. However, that is all in the past and I hope that all concerned will reflect seriously on Hyett's lead in taking a radical look at possible future action.

In doing so, I would not be particularly critical of those now principally responsible for operating the new Registration Board, especially the new Registrar: they did not draft current legislation, leading architects were responsible for that. But it is easy to forget that what now holds sway is a government-sponsored statute (ARCUK-originated with a private member's bill sponsored by the RIBA) which must be strictly interpreted and adhered to; consumer and other interests would be rightly critical of any appearance of 'chumminess' with the RIBA or architects in general.

The test question is who benefits from registration as it now is? Certainly not architects, more particularly members of the RIBA or the institute itself, I believe. During the original debates in the late 1920s, one MP in effect advised the institute not to get tangled up with government and statute when its members already had the protected title 'Chartered Architect'; that argument still has force. Protection of function, which would be a worthwhile prize, is unobtainable, so this burdensome apparatus is there to protect one word and can be subverted easily by the use of (possibly better-sounding) synonyms.

The new legislation has clearly not resolved the problems of conflicting roles, as the recent disputes between the two bodies have demonstrated, and now architects alone are to be publicly pilloried for their faults, even where other members of the construction industry may also be culpable. Are there great benefits to the consumer? I think not, because while they may enjoy the negative of public condemnation of an architect, they are no more certain of the positive of direct financial compensation, which is surely what they mostly need.

What is needed is the abolition of ARB and its replacement by an ombudsman role for the whole industry for smaller claims and with compensatory powers. Since its leadership has been so compromised by its leading role in setting up ARB, it will be difficult for the RIBA to pursue such an initiative, so perhaps some architects could band together in this cause. Their slogan could be adapted from our old friend M P Cato: 'Delenda est ARBO'!


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