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Save our ARB: an open letter to Ian Salisbury

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Ian, I have to say I'm baffled by the ferocity of your anti-ARB campaign, and by the reactions to it by our colleagues. You clearly have gathered a substantial following, but at present this actually arouses some anxieties in me. I worry that the profession is yet again in danger of shooting itself in the foot.

I once made a very comfortable living as a property developer, but felt I would have a more rewarding life as a 'professional'; a member of a highly trained, highly qualified, disinterested body of like-minded people, out to improve the world rather than merely exploit it.And I saw this profession as one motivated by excellence, and governed by statute in a way that would minimise charlatanism.

Well, we were all young once - nevertheless I retain some elements of that early idealism. Thus I helped fight tooth and nail in resisting Thatcher's civil servants' attempt to de-professionalise architecture, all of which effort had to be put down to Thatcher and her government's lack of understanding of what 'disinterestedness' or 'regulated excellence' actually meant. It seemed to me then that a clear separation of 'regulatory' and 'advancing architecture' (or professional club) roles was vitally necessary in the public interest. Arcuk seemed to do that in some measure.

Eventually 'we won', and seeing a clarified act and ARB come into being gave me great hope that there would be in place our equivalent of the General Medical Council, which would gather public confidence in its purpose and effect. The RIBA would thus be relieved of its absurd conflict of interest in being, in the public eye at least, both supporter and disciplinarian of its membership.

Not so long ago, Alex Reid suggested the RIBA could no longer afford to discipline members, who might bring in barristers to defend their right to continue membership even if found guilty of gross misconduct or incompetence. I think Alex then suggested that, as the statute-founded regulatory body could not be sued, it alone should deal with public complaints. For once, I agreed.

My recent run-in with two buck-passing solicitors, over a simple transfer of a lease that took two years to finalise along with a year's lost rent, led me to the arms of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, a branch of the Law Society. Their complacent denial that there was anything worth disciplining or pursuing these incompetents for, raised me to levels of fury that I do not wish to repeat.

I even considered a public campaign to have the Law Society barred from having anything to do with regulating its members, and for them to establish the equivalent of the ARB. Do you really think the RIBA could do any better, or that the public would have any higher respect for the RIBA than it does for the Law Society in this area, with such a clear conflict of interest? Self-regulation just doesn't work - and we see the effect of that everywhere from pension providers to the BBC.

On another issue, the vast majority of complaints to ARB from aggrieved clients are, as I understand it, about the performance of inexperienced sole practitioners making a mess of domestic extensions. Shouldn't the ARB use this experience to inform the profession where it is going wrong in education/training? It does the rest of us no good to pretend these issues are beneath our Olympian gaze over our Essential Art, where RIBA visiting boards are annually seduced by great visions and novelty, and cowed into assuming the schools are doing a comprehensive job for the majority of students who will never become 'stars'.

I have recently withdrawn from examining Part 3 students - partly because of pressure of time, partly because external examiners are being inexorably squeezed out of a serious role in testing students' capacity to practice. More and more of the content and testing of Part 3 is retained in-house by the universities, some of whom seem (though not Portsmouth, where I latterly examined) to hold contempt for practice as a lower life form than academia.

My plea, therefore, Ian is for you to temper the rhetoric and explain more clearly how you would improve, rather than destroy, the very institution that, with good governance, should be the most positive force in all that we as a profession believe in.

Bob Franklin, Oxford

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