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Scottish Office freezes Charles out of 'undemocratic' process

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The Scottish Office has delivered a right royal snub to Prince Charles by denying him the opportunity of anything more than consultation 'as a neighbour' who will be 'kept informed of progress' on the design of the new £50 million Scottish Parliament building. It has also put the rias's nose out of joint by ignoring its pleas for an open competition and opting for a faster Europe-wide competitive interview process which it will administer itself.

Following Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar's launch of the contest to find a designer for the Edinburgh building this week, the Scottish Office said it 'doubted very much' whether the prince would be invited by Dewar to join a panel of up to seven, who will be asked to slim a shortlist of 12 architects down to four and ultimately decide upon a winner in July. Instead, the panel will have three elements: one of architectural expertise, one of lay representation and the third of Scottish Office officials.

Front-runners among those who have put themselves forward as prospective judges so far are believed to include Terry Farrell, Sir Norman Foster and Lord Rogers of Riverside. Frank Gehry and I M Pei are others in the frame from overseas, but anyone on the panel will of course be ineligible to enter.

Meanwhile the rias, which was hoping to be asked to run an open competition, warned that the criteria employed in the Scottish Office contest will exclude all but the very largest practices with sizeable insurance policies, that the public will be given little chance to comment on plans, and that there was a general feeling that the process was undemocratic and was being rushed simply to get the building built.

On Monday Dewar said: 'The process will give architects throughout Scotland, Britain and indeed Europe the opportunity to bid for the chance to design the parliament. We will be looking, in the first instance, for architects with a proven ability in producing buildings of the quality, complexity and sensitivity we are looking for on the Holyrood site.'

The 12 shortlisted teams will be invited to interview, where they will answer questions on their track records and present their ideas. By the end of April the best three or four will be selected and asked to produce designs. Only then, in June, will the public be 'given the chance to see these alternatives' before a final decision is made the following month.

An 'inevitably disappointed' rias competitions manager Graham Dickson said that Dewar had bypassed the rias primarily because of time - the Scots want to be in the 17,000m2 new building in the second half of 2001. The rias has pressed for an architect on the advisory panel of the standing of Sir Philip Dowson, who advised on the two-stage National Museum of Scotland competition - which, ironically, Prince Charles, in his position of trustee, wanted to scupper at the time. The building completes later this year.

Potential parliament designers must have £5 million of pii and relevant experience in conversion and refurbishment of listed buildings, and provide numbers of suitably qualified staff. The site includes a listed building - the Palace of Holyroodhouse - and is within the unesco World Heritage Site boundary in Edinburgh.

As for funding, the Scottish Office has looked at - but ruled out as 'unrealistic' - using the Private Finance Initiative as a financing option.

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