Architecture will move from culture department to communities after election

Government oversight of architecture is to move from the ministry of culture to the far more powerful communities department, BD has learnt.

The switch, which will place architecture alongside the crucial planning and housing portfolios, is one of the most significant outcomes of the Farrell Review process begun by culture minister Ed Vaizey two years ago.

The decision is expected to be announced next week and implemented after the general election, BD understands.

“This is a really significant change. It moves architecture from the relative backwater of design and the creative industries to a department with real clout,” said a source close to the decision.

“It’s essential that design leads planning, yet that’s been impossible while the two functions have been split across departments. In the past architecture has always been one interest among many in a junior minister’s portfolio.”

Vaizey, who has been the architecture minister most highly rated by the profession in years, is believed to have been closely involved in the decision. He has spoken in the past about his desire to make his colleagues across government more design literate.

While architects will be sad in the short term to lose him as an advocate of good design, the move will place architecture in a far more strategic location, making its long-term influence stronger.

Vaizey is expected to retain his role deciding listing applications since this falls within his heritage brief. The Architects’ Act and Arb already sit in the communities department.

Architecture’s shift from Sajid Javid’s DCMS to Eric Pickles’ DCLG comes against a backdrop of recent pro-design initiatives by the government, which are also being seen as a result of lobbying by Vaizey and champions of the Farrell Review.

In December the prime minister established an inter-disciplinary housing design panel led by Terry Farrell, Quinlan Terry and the philosopher Roger Scruton with a brief to “set the bar” on housing design across the country. This will be much easier to achieve with architecture and planning sitting under the same secretary of state.

And earlier this month the government announced that a bid to create the first-ever select committee to scrutinise built environment policy had been approved.

Baroness Janet Whitaker, who was behind the application, said it succeeded against 40 other bids.

“Not since the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act has the built environment been looked at properly,” she said. “I think that convinced the Lords liaison committee [which made the decision]. I said, ‘70 years ago health became a national topic; 50 years ago education moved up the agenda. It’s therefore time for the built environment which is just as important but hasn’t been regarded in quite that way’. This is a chance to get a national policy.”

She said the committee’s agenda would not be decided until a chair had been appointed after the election, but that her priorities would include improving the prestige of careers in planning.

She also wanted to look at the various bodies lobbying on the built environment such as transport organisations.