Political intervention

As the general election moves into the public consciousness, it is time to start lobbying

With the local and European elections providing heat for the political parties, it is clear we have entered the countdown for the 2015 general election. Our discussions with politicians already show a notable change of tone, with a more highly charged focus and a greater interest in manifesto-friendly policies. 

While times remain firmly austere, it does feel like green shoots are appearing – showing a fledgling recovery in our own RIBA Future Trends Survey. Because of this, we should look to the future with a level of ambition. I’m in no doubt that the country will be counting the pennies for years to come but now is the time to think four and five years ahead and set out a vision for the next government which challenges and supports its core objectives – fostering growth, increasing the number of homes, addressing changes in the UK’s rapidly shifting demographics, creating a healthier nation, adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change and thinking about how to deliver the best schools. This is where we come in.

Last month, following a Council debate in March, the RIBA launched its built environment report, Building a Better Britain; a vision for the next government’. This underlines how architecture affects all our lives and sets out how practical policy changes can have wider and positive impacts on our health, wealth and general wellbeing. 

We’ve identified key areas of policy that need greater investment and intervention to deliver economically, socially and environmentally sustainable homes and communities

We’ve identified key areas of policy – planning, housing, flooding, school provision, health and ageing, and retrofitting – that need greater investment and intervention to deliver economically, socially and ­environmentally sustainable homes and communities to meet the needs and aspirations of the British public. And with this, we offer a number of recommendations to both local and national government. 

In our planning section, Shaping Places, we look at meeting national ambitions steered at a local level, and call for the next government to set out a long-term vision for places linked to wider economic strategies and priorities. To meet burgeoning housing demand, we propose empowering local authorities to start building again and identify finance mechanisms and investment in alternative housing models such as self and custom build to achieve this. Similarly, we look at how we need to further develop retrofitting of our existing housing stock to reduce carbon emissions and energy bills.

Importantly, the report builds on our work on changing demographics and creating healthier communities. Focusing on the role of central government and local ­authorities, we call for the creation of healthy infrastructure action plans and good design principles for new developments to encourage healthy lifestyles. We also look at how the government should consider its approach to schools design and the impact this has on our children’s educational attainment.  

The Farrell review made a good start on illustrating the need for a joined-up approach to shaping policies to better focus on architecture and built environment. It is right that the RIBA, with its partners, demonstrates to political parties of all colour that this is important. The party conferences in the autumn will provide the perfect platform for the RIBA to push this report and communicate how architecture is not a fringe issue but central to many of the next government’s core objectives. 

I believe this paper shows that architecture continues to be visionary and we, as practitioners, have the will and determination to make a difference.