In the run-up to the election Andrew Forth, RIBA’s head of policy and public affairs, explains how the RIBA’s manifesto lobbies politicians to create a built environment that is ‘safer, better and more sustainable’
Why did the RIBA feel it was necessary to bring out a manifesto of its own?
This election is significant in its potential for there to be a ground shift in the make-up of Parliament and the changes that might bring about. A lot of MPs are standing down and there will be new and inexperienced MPs coming in without any formed view of the value of architecture and its benefits for society. And it’s likely only one key issue will have defined their campaigns.
So with Brexit topping the agenda, how will you make sure architects’ interests are represented?
The manifesto is just a part of it – we are talking to built environment organisations and professional bodies like the CIOB and RICS to develop common policies to help mitigate the effects of Brexit. Whichever party comes to power, the Brexit issue needs to be sorted. A No Deal Brexit will be disruptive to professional qualifications, product standards, migrations and visa policies. It would dismantle overnight a structure built up over 40 years, without an idea of what would replace it.
The RIBA has already declared a climate emergency – how does the manifesto expand on this?
It points out that a ‘business as usual approach’ from government will not wash; we need a sustainable methodology to procure buildings on a mass scale. It’s about zero embodied carbon as well as operational, and constructing at lowest cost works directly against sustainability. The issue has to be looked at in the round as part of the government’s industrial strategy – not just new construction but also retrofitting existing building.
Post-Grenfell, and after the Hackitt review, what more can government do to ensure a tragedy on that scale is never repeated?
We need strong, clear guidance on fire safety. Banning use of combustible materials on high-rise buildings has been a challenge – but we seem to be winning the argument. We still need a wholescale and urgent revamp of the system with consistently-applied improvements on key elements of fire and public safety including means of warning and escape, as well as mandatory sprinklers. Our overriding aim is that buildings need to be safer by design.
The manifesto states that housing should be greener, safer and better designed. How can the planning system better facilitate this?
There’s a few things. We need a greater number of players in housing – not just volume house builders but greater input from social landlords, community housing trusts and self-build. And the planning system needs investment, and central government must stop undermining the process by overturning locally-made decisions. Heavy restrictions on Right to Buy receipts also mean councils get only about half the revenue the policy generates. Whatever the merits of the policy, the sale of one house does not mean the creation of another.
See more in the RIBA’s manifesto ‘People, Places and the Planet: RIBA’s Manifesto for Change'