Don’t wallow in despair over the election; seize the opportunity to make a difference, says Richard Waite
Architects’ reaction to the Tories’ election victory has largely been one of disappointment. An angry Gavin Elliot of BDP summed it up for many, tweeting: ‘Cuts to welfare spending and local government. Shafting the poor. Withdrawal from the EU. Why did anyone vote for this?’
All the polls were wrong. The AJ’s own survey last month, which showed architects throwing their weight behind Labour, proved unrepresentative of the national vote.
But whatever the profession’s frustrations, it needs to get to grips with the new reality: an unfettered, post-coalition government freed up to push through a radical agenda.
Potentially the most significant switch is the promotion of Greg Clark to communities and local government secretary, replacing Eric Pickles. Encouragingly, Clark knows architecture. In 2011 he told the AJ: ‘There couldn’t be a more important profession to realise the fundamental aspirations of our country.’ He is also big on cities, having been minister for cities in his previous role, where he worked side-by-side with veteran regeneration pioneer Michael Heseltine on the decentralisation agenda.
All in all, he is a massive champion of localism – he drove through the Localism Bill in 2011. It is at this local level where architects could find the biggest opportunities under the new regime – particularly if they grasp the opportunity to lead Neighbourhood Plans, a role the profession has, frankly, so far neglected.
With further devolution on the way, architects need to become involved at grassroots level. If, as Tony Fretton fears, the government is set on ‘shrinking the social state’, architects can use their skills within their own communities to redress this imbalance and work with them to create something better than what may otherwise be forced on them.
For the next five years the big picture cannot be changed. The many smaller pictures can. Whatever their ideological differences, architects need to stop seeing themselves as frustrated bystanders and grasp this chance presented by the new government.