Jones welcomes praise for UK’s design expertise – but questions safety stance 

Alan Jones

RIBA president Alan Jones

Conservative Party praise for the UK’s design expertise has been welcomed by Alan Jones, but the RIBA president warned that the party needs to be judged by its actions rather than its words.

Prime minister Boris Johnson launched his party’s general election manifesto at the weekend and saluted the sectors in which the UK is a “world leader” – architecture and design among them.

Johnson’s manifesto says his party is sticking to predecessor Theresa May’s target of ramping up housebuilding to the 300,000-units-a-year level by the mid-2020s. It also suggests a new Conservative government would “encourage innovative design and technology to make housing more affordable, accessible and suitable for disabled people and an ageing population”.

But after criticising the Labour Party’s manifesto last week for its failure to promote good design, Jones effectively warned the Conservatives that Brexit would damage UK architecture’s global status and berated the party for the impact of its permitted-development-rights reforms.

boris johnson

Prime minister Boris Johnson

“The Conservative Manifesto highlights that the UK’s architecture sector is ‘world-leading’, but this status can only be maintained if the profession can access the right talent, and trade smoothly in the UK, and with Europe and the rest of the world,” he said.

“I welcome the recognition of the need for more high-quality, environmentally friendly homes across the country – but the Conservative Party’s continued commitment to permitted development rights is inconsistent with this.

“Councils and local communities are currently powerless to stop the conversion of office blocks into poor-quality housing that sidesteps vital quality and sustainability standards.

“The creation of high-quality and well-designed homes and the spaces around them relies on resourced and skilled local authorities, and professional expertise from project inception to finish.”

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Right noises on building safety: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Jones said it was “encouraging” to see the Conservatives “recognise the need to create more affordable, accessible homes for disabled people and the aging population”.

He said RIBA research underscored that the lack of appropriate housing options for older people was driving a “hidden housing crisis”.

But the president delivered a swipe at the Conservatives on fire safety – arguing that a range of measures absent from the Conservative manifesto, but present in its Labour counterpart, were vital steps.

“The next government must prioritise a commitment to fire safety, mandating sprinklers in all new and converted residential buildings, enforcing the removal of dangerous Grenfell-style cladding and urgently committing to a comprehensive review of building safety regulations,” he said.

“England’s rules lag shamefully behind those in other countries such as Wales and the USA, putting the public at risk.”

Jo Swinson

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson

The Liberal Democrats published their manifesto on Wednesday last week. The document includes a commitment to scrap office-to-residential conversions under permitted development rights and a requirement for all new homes to be built to Passivhaus standards by 2025.

“It’s positive to see the Liberal Democrats recognise the role of the built environment in tackling climate change – calling for all new homes and non-domestic buildings to meet a zero-carbon standard by 2021 and providing free retrofits for residents on low incomes,” Jones said.

“We also strongly welcome their plans to scrap the ‘office-to-residential loophole’ – protecting high streets and preventing the creation of poor-quality and potentially dangerous housing.

“The RIBA has been clear that the solution to the housing crisis does not lie in permitted development, which gives developers the green light to cut corners and sidestep vital quality and environmental standards.”