The ARB is a useless organisation which should be axed, says Paul Finch
The ARB’s latest initiative, spending vast sums on deciding what ‘competencies’ architects need for the 21st century, raises a thumping additional issue: why does this self-important body, funded by a compulsory tithe on the architectural profession, think it is in any way qualified to investigate or determine this issue?
If it was competent, it would have undertaken this work on an ongoing basis, rather than treating it as a crisis.
In truth the ARB is a useless organisation which should be axed. If we want to get a hold on the delivery of better built environments, we need a Construction Registration Board, which would put out of business small-time cowboys at the arse-end of the industry, and incompetents at its upper levels (eg Carillion).
Why are architects whipping-boys, and these days, girls? The ARB no longer has elected architects as a significant part of its administration. Why should architects put up with taxation but no representation?
Remote operation could make decisions quicker and cheaper
The realisation that Parliament and its committees could function using technology, enabling remote voting, brings into question the assumptions behind the grotesquely expensive retrofit of the Palace of Westminster, especially when public finances will be under increasing pressure once the coronavirus crisis is behind us.
Why exactly are we wedded to the idea of creating a simulacrum of the existing chamber and its archaic voting procedures in the 21st century?
At a more prosaic level, the consequences of social distancing and remote working are raising questions about whether we might take the current opportunity to revolutionise the way we run local authority planning systems.
We now hear of planning consultants donating laptops to planning authorities so their staff can work remotely. We wonder why drone technology cannot inform the planning process in terms of site surveys. We wonder why the systems like VU.CITY cannot be deployed to keep the planning process in operation, especially since the simulation of future environments has been with us since the dawn of SimCity in the 1990s.
In short, can we use the current health crisis and its concomitant effects on public administration to advantage, rather than wailing about how impossible everything is, and how life as we know it is doomed.
As far as planning is concerned, there is no good reason why committees or subcommittees should not sit as normal, social distancing assumed, with officers’ reports delivered remotely. Meetings can be made public via social media, and who knows, perhaps applicants and their architects might be allowed to say something about what it is they want to do.
Certainly there is an economic and social imperative to encourage the planning system to support a rapid pick-up in activity once we return to the ‘new normal’, without the nutty virtue-signalling beloved of hopeless local authorities who, along with mayors like Sadiq Khan, would rather miss their housing target by a mile rather than relax their affordable housing tax on the companies who actually build homes.
Suspend affordable percentages for any housing development below 100 units for the next three year
A modest proposal for London and other areas in acute need of housing provision: suspend affordable percentages for any housing development below 100 units for the next three years.
This should be accompanied by a dirigiste public sector-led housing construction programme, an idea which may have increased traction given the new-found faith in public-sector delivery.
After three years, either the policy will have worked or not. If the latter, it will not have made much difference to the level of affordable targets missed by all three London mayors.
On the other hand, it may have had a beneficial effect on total numbers delivered. Why not give it a go, in a spirit of bipartisan politics where production for people is more important than ideological justifications for pragmatic strategies?
Why can’t we have both public and private delivery systems working side by side, as we did in the 1950s and 60s, when they matched supply to demand?