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Smith wants new body to promote good architecture

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Culture secretary Chris Smith has called for a new, nationally recognised body to be created to raise standards in architecture and replace some of the functions of the Arts Council, the Royal Fine Art Commission and the dcms itself. And he wants it funded 'with support from private and commercial enthusiasts for good architecture'.

Smith gave details of the moves in a press conference at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. They form part of Labour's 'New Approach to Investment in Culture' following the comprehensive spending review.

Alongside the £290 million Smith is pumping into free access for museums and galleries, a section of the consultative document dealing with architecture asks to see a department better able to give a 'strategic lead' to each of the sectors that it sponsors. The dcms is concerned that the numerous organisations have a lack of 'coherence', suggesting the need for a new focal point for the encouragement of good architecture. It wants a 'champion of architecture' - although it is not clear whether this is meant to be the new body or a person - and it wants the new body to continue the design review role of the rfac and provide 'modest financial support for educational initiatives'. As it develops, the London-based body with 'strong regional elements' is intended to be a source of advice to the government, developers, local authorities, housing associations and lottery projects.

The options are:

Retain existing bodies with improved liaison - leaving the rfac to review design, the Arts Council to promoting education and public involvement and the dcms to strategy. This it feels may be 'confusing', particularly at a regional level.

Create an Advisory Council served by a secretariat in the dcms - this council would have a membership structure like the rfac, and carry out its design reviews, while the secretariat would be a unit of the core department servicing the council and promotion and grants work done by the Arts Council. The secretariat would need to develop relations with the Regional Architecture Centres. The dcms sees the strengths of this option as close ministerial influence and economies, but warns the council would need to be - and be seen to be - independent.

Create a closer relationship with the Arts Council - strengthening and probably renaming the architecture advisory panel as 'a standing committee on architecture' with its chairman as the national champion for 'architectural quality'. The dcms feels this may mean architecture is seen as peripheral to the core interests of the Arts Council.

Create a strengthened independent body - resolving the 'weaknesses' of the rfac being a London body by making it develop a 'stronger regional dimension' by close association with the Regional Architecture Centres. The dcms would also want another name change here, preferring the emphasis to be on architecture rather than fine art. But, it says, 'this option would not achieve a reduction in the number of quangoes'.

In a separate section on the built heritage, again the dcms wants a new public body, bringing together the functions of English Heritage and the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, able for the first time to offer its expertise abroad. The dcms will still have the final word on listings.

Comments must be sent by 2 October to the Strategy Unit of the dcms, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1P 5DH, or e-mailed to csrconsult@culture.gov.uk

David Taylor

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