‘We need to ensure housing and planning policy are more closely aligned with good architecture,’ says planning minister.

News that the government is moving architecture into the communities secretary’s dominion has been broadly welcomed by the profession, though some have warned it could be overwhelmed in such a big department.

“Aligning the profession with planning, housing and sustainability is progress”, said Stephen Hodder, president of the RIBA which has long campaigned for greater influence for architecture in Whitehall.

But he cautioned: “There is still more to be done to have a truly joined-up government approach and emphasis on architecture policy where it touches upon schools, health, environment.”

BD broke the news <http://www.bdonline.co.uk/news/government-to-elevate-architecture-into-ministry-with-clout/5074460.article> yesterday that government is about to announce architecture’s move from the relative backwater of culture to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

It follows the creation of both the first-ever built environment select committee and David Cameron’s housing design panel, which is due to report next week.

Planning and housing minister Brandon Lewis said: “It’s important we not just build more homes, but that we build high-quality properties.”

“Good design is integral to that, which is why we need to ensure housing and planning policy are more closely aligned with good architecture. “

“DCLG has already announced a series of world-renowned architects lending their expertise to our Design Panel. This will ensure that as we work with industry leaders to build more homes, they meet the best possible design standards.”

But BD columnist and urbanist Hank Dittmar warned that, while built environment policy could be better coordinated in one department, “the worry is quality and beauty may be more subordinate to the growth and development imperative”.

And Sunand Prasad, senior partner at Penoyre & Prasad and a former RIBA president, said: “Much will depend on what importance and status it is given in a very large department with powerful established interests.”

He added: “Architecture should be the direct responsibility of a minister of state in the department as Ed Vaizey is. Maintaining strong connections with cultural industries (DCMS) and construction (BIS) is also vital, through the kind of mechanisms suggested in the Farrell Review.”

Architect-turned-planner Finn Williams, one of the Farrell Review champions, said the move was good news for architects who want to influence ordinary places – not just extraordinary buildings.

“If the move is supported with the right resources it could help make planning more spatial, architecture more strategic, and the planning process as a whole less about them and us,” he said.

“Forty years ago half of all architects worked for the public. Now it’s less than 5% – and falling. I hope this move is a prompt for putting architecture back into public service. DCLG employ a chief planner. Could this move see the appointment of a chief architect? Or better still, a team of talented architects working within the civil service and across councils?”

 “The return of the architecture to local government could be one of the shifts we need to build our way out of the housing crisis.”

Robin Nicholson, from Cullinan Studio, urged government to go further and bring the rest of the construction industry into DCLG as well. “Architecture has been marginalised in a weak department while we deluded ourselves it was in a special place,” he said.

“It’s great to be back with planning, housing and building regs because we have a big job to do, helping sort out the performance gap and planning where all this housing should go.

“We really need the rest of the construction industry to move from BIS, where they are almost invisible alongside aerospace and automotive, to the Department of the Environment.”

Architecture sat in the DoE until the 1990s when it was moved into John Major’s “ministry of fun” along with heritage, media, sport and culture. Conservationists questioned the decision to split architecture and heritage.

Christopher Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society, said: “This restructure risks robbing Peter to pay Paul. Given that a high proportion of architectural work involves making alterations to existing buildings, divorcing the voice of architecture in government from the voice of heritage is a worrying move.”

‘Minister’s first move should be to abolish Arb’

Jack Pringle, London principal of Pringle Brandon Perkins & Will and a former RIBA president, said: “It’s really good news. It’s better to be in a department which has those other responsibilities rather than being seen as a precious arty thing in a box.”

Ben Derbyshire, managing partner of HTA Design, said: “It’s clearly a very good move. DCLG is an important department with a serious budget and with all due respect to culture and the rest I think architecture was probably in the wrong place.

“The first move the new minister should make after the election is to abolish Arb and move the regulation of the profession to the RIBA.”

Crispin Kelly of Baylight, the architect-turned property developer, said: “The process of architecture is much better suited to being in a place that’s more about making than embroidery. “

“But ultimately it’s not about where architecture resides in government – it’s about education in the widest sense so we can have better-quality conversations at planning, for instance. There’s already a lot of talk about design being at the heart of the system but the reality is so different.”

Richard Harrison, ACA President adds : “This is a good start. Architects generally have an idea what “good Architecture” is, although even we have a health debate on this. However, Design Panels with a majority of Architects and Urban Designers must be a government requirement, to advise all planning committees for every planning application in the UK. “

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