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Lords voice support for ‘greater architecture training’

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Terry Farrell’s proposals to boost the appreciation of architecture among planners, highways engineers and councillors – as well as boosting education for children and adults – have won cross-party support in the House of Lords

Earlier this week, peers took part in a debate on Farrell’s Review of Architecture and the Built Environment, with almost all speakers supporting the report’s emphasis on broadening the nation’s awareness of good design.

Labour peer Baroness Janet Whitaker, who called the debate, applauded Farrell’s proposals to provide design-literacy training to planning committee members, highway engineers and others.

The honorary RIBA fellow said the March report had arrived at a time of ‘crisis’ when the nation’s ‘undoubted national talent’ for architecture was ‘rarely matched by equal calibre in planning’.

‘I was particularly taken by the idea that planning committee members and highway engineers, among others, should be trained in design literacy, with the dedicated commitment of the professionals concerned,’ she said.

‘For too long we have suffered cities and housing estates made fit for the motor car and thereby also made polluted, dangerous and ugly for people to walk in and children to play in.’

Crossbench peer Nicholas Trench, the Earl of Clancarty  agreed that greater training in good design would be helpful for councillors.

He said: ‘At a time when the public have less and less faith that the right planning decisions are being made, this can only be a good thing, although it would mean public money being spent.’

Labour’s Lord Alan Howarth agreed additional training for councillors should, and could, be proided.

He also backed Farrell’s call for a ‘multidisciplinary common foundation year’ for student planners, architects, landscapers, conservationists, developers, surveyors, engineers and builders.

‘That is surely an idea whose time has come: ministers should endorse it and professional and academic leaders should get on with it,’ he said.

‘[Farrell] wants the public to be better educated – of course, they will need to be if they are to rise to the challenge and opportunity of forming neighbourhood plans.’

One voice of dissent on the issue of greater education was Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paul Tyler.

While he ‘warmly’ endorsed the review, Lord Tyler said its proposals for training in design literacy left him ‘filled with alarm’.

‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,’ he said.

‘It is an oddity that councillors, faced with the subjective advice of a fire safety officer or a highway engineer, will invariably bow to the superior judgment?

‘I simply do not understand how this recommendation can be made to work to the benefit of the environment and the wider community.

‘What quality of training can we expect and what notice will the trainees take of it anyway?

‘Since the 1980s, the proportion of architects in the public sector has dropped from 63 per cent to 11 per cent.

‘I am glad to say that unitary authorities have managed to reintegrate some of the skills that are necessary, but all too often, where there are two tiers, the planning profession is split and there are no architect-planners left.’

Lord Wilfrid Stevenson of Balmacara ageed that design literacy was ‘no substitute’ for professional skills and training.

At the end of the debate, government spokesman Lord Michael Bates revealed that culture minister Ed Vaizey is set to meet new housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis to progress a range of Farrell Review proposals, including the appointment of a national chief architect.

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