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Relaxed planning rules, wrapped around a planning fee hike of 15 per cent

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The government has served up another excrement sandwich to the profession, writes Christine Murray

It is notable how this government says one thing and does the opposite with remarkable consistency. This week, the DCLG served up a fresh excrement sandwich to the profession with the announcement of relaxed planning rules, wrapped around a planning fee hike of 15 per cent. Ian Martin makes inept policy-making funny, but I can’t help but sigh at having to write another bad news column, of which there have been far too many of late.

The NPPF was supposed to stimulate growth by streamlining the system while assuring design quality, but has since bogged down planning with its emphasis on community consultation. Now, proposed changes to outline planning applications look to further undermine the profession: according to National Planning Forum chair Brian Waters, ‘it certainly means you don’t need an architect to make an outline planning application.’ Where was the RIBA to defend the profession when these changes were being conceived?

The procurement overhaul was supposed to tackle the incredible bureaucracy that has mired capital projects and resulted in an excessive cost. Instead, we have a proposed system that squeezes design fees and design time, without harnessing the whole-life value that good design can bring, or tackling the OJEU and PQQ system, which is strangling competition and stymieing young talent.

Government sources have intimated to the AJ that architects were not consulted during the procurement overhaul, although they did speak to the RIBA. However, at the launch of the RIBA procurement white paper, Sally Collier, executive director of government procurement policy in the Cabinet Office, admitted she had only skimmed the RIBA’s recommendations on the train to the event.

Evidence is also building that Michael Gove’s flagship free school drive is turning out to be a money-wasting fiasco – ironic given his outrageous attack on ‘profligate’ BSF architects. The Suffolk free school scandal featured in the Guardian this week, where millions of pounds are to be spent on unneeded and unwanted free schools in an area that already has 10,600 empty places. According to Jeremy Rowe, head of Sir John Leman High School, the government is giving £2 million to a free school that has been opposed by 3,000 residents and currently has an enrolment of 37 students – all of whom will receive free uniforms and an iPod Touch upon enrolment. Shockingly, the paper’s Freedom of Information requests regarding free school approvals and consultations have been refused on the grounds that they are not in the public interest.

The brightest laser-lit point in all this gloom is the inauguration of Renzo Piano’s Shard. Even if its light show was a brutal disappointment – spectator Alex Wilson (@adjwilson) on Twitter said, ‘Frankly, I could’ve seen a better laser show if I’d smashed up a Sainsbury’s self-service check-out’ – it was heartening to stand among thousands of people gathered on London Bridge to celebrate the arrival of a building. With its plethora of national coverage, the Shard has promoted architecture to the public. Can we expect as much from the RIBA Stirling Prize’s previously hour-long, now six-minute segment, as yet unconfirmed, on the BBC Culture Show?


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