Housing secretary offers olive branch to sacked former chair

Roger Scruton

Wrongly sacked: Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton could return to the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission more than three months after he was sacked as its chair by housing secretary James Brokenshire.

Scruton’s was rapidly removed from the body – tasked with finding ways to improve the quality of, and public support for, new development – following a magazine interview that portrayed him as having made controversial comments about Islamophobia and antisemitism.

James Brokenshire

Olive branch: James Brokenshire

It subsequently emerged that the New Statesman had misrepresented some of Scruton’s responses and Brokenshire admitted that he had regrets about the way the situation was handled.

Excerpts from a formal letter of apology from Brokenshire, sent earlier this month – around the time the commission published its interim findings – and released with Scruton’s blessing, reveal the door is open for the academic’s return, should he want to.

Brokenshire said: “As you know, I regret that the decision to remove you from your leadership role within the commission was taken in the way that it was.

“I am sorry – especially as it was based on a clearly partial report of your thoughts.”

“If you would be willing, I would like to invite you to meet to discuss this work and what part you might be prepared to play in advancing this important agenda which we both care about so much”.

Brokenshire did not speak to Scruton about the interview before sacking him on April 10, and less then three weeks after removing him from his unpaid position told radio station LBC he regretted the way things were handled.

The secretary of state said he had a “huge amount of respect” for Scruton’s work on aesthetics which he had hoped he would bring to bear at the commission.

“In hindsight I look back on the handling of this and, yes, we could have done things differently,” he said.

“That’s something I do acknowledge. It is difficult. I am very saddened by the whole situation as to how this has occurred and I very firmly thank and recognise all the work Sir Roger has done on this.”

The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is currently being chaired by Nicholas Boys Smith on an interim basis and is due to issue its final report by the end of the year.

The excerpts of Brokenshire’s letter released by Scruton did not specify whether he was being invited to return to his former role. Even if the offer was there, Scruton may not believe returning to the chair position after more than three months away was the right move.

Nicholas Boys Smith

Interim chair: Nicholas Boys Smith

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson told BD it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the potential outcome of a meeting between Brokenshire and Scruton that had yet to take place.

While the creation of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission – and Scruton’s role in it – attracted scorn from much of the architecture sector, the commission’s interim report was better received than many anticipated.

Both RIBA president Ben Derbyshire and Design Council chief executive Sarah Weir applauded many of the report’s 30 “policy propositions”.

Nevertheless, Derbyshire pointed out that many of the ideas were contingent on local authority planning departments being properly resourced.