Cuts spell disaster for design, warns Richard Rogers
Founding head of Design for London voices anger at its likely abolition, and at loss of Cabe
The comprehensive spending review is a “shocking” and ideologically driven folly which could leave the built environment in Britain and its capital utterly neglected, Richard Rogers has claimed.
Rogers, former chief adviser to London mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, raised the prospect of a return to the “bad old days” of 1980s Thatcherism after witnessing the axeing of Cabe and the likely demise of Design for London, the planning unit he previously headed.
Johnson’s office this week confirmed that it would “fight all the way” the Treasury’s decision to pull the entire £480 million budget of the LDA, which includes the 18-strong Design for London team.
Rogers said he feared cuts would end all proper scrutiny of architecture and design.
“The idea that a city the size of London would not have an interest in the civic environment and its design is mind blowing,” Rogers said. “London already has a poor public realm compared to cities such as Paris, Madrid and Copenhagen. As Jan Gehl has said, it is about the worst outside of the former Communist countries.
Architecture has to be judged by those who are qualified to judge it
Richard Rogers speaking to BD this week
“I think the mayor [Johnson] does have sympathy for design but he’s probably in an impossible position.”
Cabe was established on the recommendation of Rogers’ Urban Task Force, and Rogers said that handing back of design control from Design for London and Cabe to local authorities would be a “disgrace” because many of them lacked the necessary resource or expertise now their architects departments are gone.
“A vast number of them don’t have the structure in place,” he said. “They have been ripped to pieces by Thatcher. Dropping Cabe is a wholly bad idea. I’m not saying things couldn’t have been improved but… it was a massive improvement on [its predecessor] the Royal Fine Art Commission.
“Architecture is an art as well as a science and it has to be judged by those who are qualified to judge it just like with music or literature.
“It’s like we’re going back to the terrible days when the mayor of Sheffield said he had to choose between his architecture department and giving milk to school children.”
Rogers, who is also a Labour peer, said he would write to the government and hoped to raise the matter in the House of Lords.