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Devolution revolution

Ben Derbyshire

Localism’s slow but inexorable expansion needs

Devolution now appears to be an irresistible force in UK politics. RIBA’s report with IPPR North, ‘Closer to Home’, argued last year that England is not one housing market but many. It suggested that significant powers over planning and housing should be handed to the new mayors, who are best placed to tackle affordability and supply, if the government is to meet its housebuilding target.

One of the reasons for my profound satisfaction in the award of this year’s RIBA Royal Gold Medal to Neave Brown is that his oeuvre, and the output of Sydney Cook’s Camden Architects Department, in which he worked, (I recommend Cook’s Camden by Mark Swenarton, just published), reminds us of the possibilities that localism can bring. He shows with flair how architects can be inspired by their local context to build innovative, relevant and beautifully designed housing that delivers wellbeing and resilience in local communities. It is particularly striking that among his nominees were many of the residents of Alexandra Road. A lesson for our time, surely?

It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that the future of the planet relies on the success of sustainable, resilient urbanisation, and that central government policy and actions should be (and increasingly are) complemented by governance at the level of cities and city regions. But what does that mean for the RIBA – and you, our members?

I believe that celebrating and promoting the work of architects, wherever and however they practise, is one of the best ways of achieving the RIBA’s charitable objective of advancing civil architecture. While the ­RIBA’s policy team in London concentrates on engaging at national scale, at regional level it’s much more realistic for the profession to reach, mingle with and influence politicians, policy makers and other environmental stakeholders. This can be extremely rewarding for local practitioners, a proposition borne out by RIBA branches and local societies such as Manchester Architects. But the phenomenon is patchy and not everywhere enjoys this kind of energy. I’d like to hear your views on what I and the RIBA can do to further support such local engagement.

Celebrating and promoting the work of architects is one of the best ways of achieving the RIBA’s charitable objective of advancing civil architecture

Many London practices are building up staff teams outside the capital, seeing opportunities from broadening and diversifying. Regional devolution creates a huge opportunity for architects to be part of the beauty, celebration, growth and leadership of places across the UK while sustaining London’s role as the global hub for expertise and talent.

The RIBA has done a superb job of ensuring that ministers understand and appreciate the importance of mutual recognition of qualification between the UK and EU and the opportunities to expand arrangements between the UK and other key markets for architecture. Last month the RIBA hosted two secretaries of state at the launch of Sir Peter Bazalgette’s review of the creative sector. A big focus of that review is the support needed for SMEs, a huge part of our sector, who wish to export. I’m also very excited by the proposal for ‘creative clusters’ supported by funding, where localities would pitch for government and industry support to direct growth and policy development in their area. I hope these ideas will be taken forward by the government as part of the ‘creative sector deal’ it has committed to. And as Brexit negotiations continue, I will be doing my part as your president to ensure the experiences of architects and practices up and down the country are heard and listened to. To help me in that role I’d encourage you to let me know your views on how, if at all, Brexit is affecting your decisions and planning for the future.

Do let me know your thoughts.


On the party conference circuit

In September and October RIBA president Ben Derbyshire spoke at the Labour and Conservative party conferences, at receptions held jointly with CIOB, RTPI and RICS. He emphasised the importance of working collaboratively to ensure that built environment professions have a strong voice. See a full report and find out more about the RIBA’s work to represent you at