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RIBA gives seal of approval to new-look government

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NEWS

The RIBA has welcomed Tony Blair's new-look cabinet, but regretted the loss of culture secretary Chris Smith. The institute also vowed to put pressure on ministers to collaborate and not become entrenched behind strict departmental lines.

Out-going institute president Marco Goldschmied praised Smith, who returns to the backbenches after being sacrificed over the Millennium Dome and Wembley debacles. 'I think he did a great job.He set up CABE and generated support for architecture across all departments. I'm grateful to him for his efforts, ' said Goldschmied.

Smith has been replaced by Tessa Jowell, formerly a minister at the Department for Education and Employment. Jowell has already made friends at the institute, hosting a 'women in architecture' event in March, where schoolgirls were invited in to explore architecture as a career (AJ 8.3.01).

But Goldschmied warned that the reshuffled ministers should refrain from being 'territorial' - including Margaret Beckett, now in charge of environment as part of the reformed agriculture brief, and Stephen Byers at the new Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

Goldschmied was not troubled that environment and planning were not in the same department. 'The problem with all these huge topics - sustainablity, environment, planning, local regeneration - is that if they were put into one mega-ministry it would be incredibly unwieldy.

The knack is getting ministers to work together to cut across departmental boundaries.'

His view was echoed by institute head of government relations Jonathan Labrey, who was sanguine about the move of the environment brief: 'I think the DTLR might become more focused. The DETR was too broadly based.'

This week Labrey will be sending a standard letter to the 200 architects who have volunteered to put pressure on their local MPs. The letters are to be forwarded to targeted members urging them to sign up to RIBA policy recommendations, such as the appointment of city architects.

'With all political parties committed to sizeable increases in expenditure on school and hospital buildings, it is vital that these resources are well spent and that a commitment to design quality is integral to these statements, ' says the letter.

About 60 per cent of the targeted MPs are Labour members, while opposition MPs with a declared interest in architecture will also be approached, including Peter Ainsworth and former environment secretary John Gummer.

Labrey shrugged off criticism that the pairing scheme was late and ought to have got off the ground before the election. 'There were 2,400 candidates in the election and there was no point in sending a copy of our policy document to each of them. It would have been a waste of resources.'

Goldschmied also committed himself to press the government on design quality, especially as ministers will not be shackled to the tight spending limits of 1997. 'The mandate now can get them moving. They've also got time on their side. I will be going in very hard about the need to build good buildings for the 21st century, ' he said.

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