The Architects Registration Board is a sorry mess and needs to be put out of its misery, says Paul Finch
In the early 1990s when I was editing a certain weekly tabloid architectural newspaper, we ran a front-page editorial, a rare occurrence. We called for deregulation of the profession and the winding-up of the Architects Registration Board.
My views haven’t changed. Protection of title is a snare and delusion. If it meant anything, then architects would be much better rewarded than they are currently. In reality, they earn less on average than surveyors, who do not enjoy that title protection. Moreover, there is a form of protection via the Fraud Act, which veteran campaigner (if I may call him that) George Oldham has been reminding us about for years. I have yet to hear any rebuttal of his case.
Nevertheless, self-important posturing by the ARB continues apace, with its pin-prick legal actions costing the best part of a million pounds in the last recorded year. This has prompted the Department for Communities and Local Government to call for change but, alas, not to put the sick dog in Hallam Street out of its misery, nor to further reform the means by which architectural qualification might take place.
The latter point is on the back-burner, according to minister-for-everything Gavin Barwell, because of Brexit negotiations. We can add this to the preposterous list of things that aren’t happening because of last year’s referendum: a wonderful new excuse for indolence.
But wait: despite the referendum’s assertion of democratic sovereignty, the government report on the future of ARB says that council members, who are currently elected, should be appointed! Since the only elected members are elected by architects themselves (who pay for ARB’s nonsense via a compulsory levy each year), Barwell is establishing a novel principle: taxation need not be accompanied by representation.
This impertinent reversal of the one saving grace about ARB, ie the sharp sting of election campaigns, is all the more shabby since the council members currently appointed are there at the behest of the Privy Council. This noxious hybrid is now going from bad to worse.
What is generally wheeled out in ARB’s defence is the notion that it ‘protects the public interest’ by prosecuting non-architects who use the title, and strikes off miscreants like the recent professional who, having committed murder, argued that he should remain on the register because his conviction had nothing to do with his professional qualification.
The ARB has been getting away with murder for many years
The fact is that the ARB has been getting away with murder itself for many years. At every opportunity it tries to fill a vacuum, real or perceived. It tries to undermine the RIBA by increasing its compulsory levy and hurting the institute’s membership prospects. It perpetually stresses its authority in matters of architectural education, even though in reality it has no knowledge or expertise in this matter, merely interfering with, or replicating what the RIBA is already doing.
What it never does is come clean about the single thing which would be truly useful to clients who have been badly served by their architect: compensation. I explain to Part 3 students, in my annual talk at The Bartlett, that the ARB cannot offer a single penny in compensation as a result of incompetent professional advice, nor can it seek damages from the architect involved. To get compensation, the client has to go to court.
Meanwhile, the incompetent architect, or the non-architect masquerading as a qualified professional, has little to fear from the registration board. Call yourself an architectural designer or an interior designer and you will be free and clear.
Why don’t we sort out this sorry mess once and for all?