The victims of Arb’s harsh tactics deserve to be heard
Star chamber practices are no way to treat an upstanding member of the profession, says Amanda Baillieu
Wherever you stand on Arb, there is no doubt its main interest is self-protection and its default position is silence born out of fear. This applies just as much to the architects who sit on its board as the executive staff who run it.
Many, including its latest victim, should hardly be surprised. Arb has been lording it over the profession like a star chamber on steroids for many years and the case of George Oldham is sadly just another example. But Oldham refuses to be quiet — and who can blame him?
Having used the word “ethnics” in an email to board members, Oldham has narrowly escaped a more serious punishment and been given a “reprimand” that has cost in the region of £50,000 in legal fees and staff time. The charge is patently ridiculous but no one on its board has had the bottle to publicly denounce it.
None of the board members will talk on the record about Oldham’s case. An opportunity to do so was rejected at last week’s board meeting seemingly on the grounds that he’d been handed his punishment and should now be quiet.
Leaving aside that Oldham is the very model of a decent architect, this treatment is not dissimilar to the way the government reacted to claims
that its chief whip Andrew Mitchell called the policeman at Downing Street gates “plebs”. The only difference is Oldham did use the word “ethnics” whereas Mitchell never uttered the word “pleb”. But in both cases the individuals are victims of larger political battles being fought.
Mitchell resigned. Oldham has resigned from Arb and can no longer call himself an architect. There’s often a case for moving on, and other victims of Arb’s high-handedness have done just that, including one architect whose case for incompetence was dropped but is now unable to get PI cover. Oldham, however, continues to protest his innocence.
And there is an important difference between the cases. Mitchell is going to get justice. An investigation is under way that may lead to criminal charges against police and public. In Oldham’s case there is no easy end in sight.