‘Gagged’ candidate promises to redistribute institute’s wealth to the regions

RIBA's 66 Portland Place headquarters

RIBA’s 66 Portland Place headquarters

Elsie Owusu promised to cap RIBA membership fees for individuals and chartered practices if she becomes the next RIBA president.

She would also move staff back into 66 Portland Place from the new premises at number 76 so income could be focused on the regions which she described as “desperately in need of resources”.

Owusu was speaking last night at number 76, at the final hustings before voting begins for the next RIBA president.

The building, a few doors down from the institute’s HQ, was converted by Theis & Khan for £2.89m after a high-profile competition three years ago. But Owusu said this and other properties have cost the RIBA £21.6m and she favoured moving everyone back under one roof.

“We should focus on coming home to 66 so we can focus our energies outwards,” she said.

“The money coming in should go to the regions which are desperately in need of resources.”

Capping subs would also help at a time when “architects are really struggling”, she said.

She also described the RIBA as like a “Ferrari your parents keep in the garage and polish on a Sunday but never take out”.

“That’s my view of the potential of the RIBA,” she added, arguing that people didn’t engage with the institute because they “don’t understand what it’s for and what it can do”.

But her tone was more conciliatory in the wake of the Leeds husting where she got into hot water for remarking that chief executive Alan Vallance earnt more than the prime minister. She was sent a “cease and desist” letter by the RIBA’s honorary secretary.

 Last night she said: “It’s right the chief executive should be fairly rewarded but this should be in line with a fair pay policy which addresses the gender gap.”

She also praised last month’s deal to sell a significant stake in RIBA Enterprises to Lloyds Bank as a coup.

But she said: “I don’t agree with the proposal that the president should be an ambasador or a champion working on the five-year plan at the beck and call of a new unelected board of trustees. I believe if that happens the golden thread connecting members to the RIBA vision will be lost.”

The other candidates are Alan Jones from Northern Ireland and Phil Allsopp, who flew in from Phoenix, Arizona to take part in the week of hustings.

Jones promised a referendum on the future of the RIBA and said he would set up a working party to look at procurement reform and seek best practice from other countries.

He said: “There’s a window of opportunity between Carillion, the Scottish schools construction failures and the very unfortunate Grenfell to reposition our practice and what we do. We have to move on that quickly because others are looking at that ground.”

Allsopp said the first thing he would do if he became president would be to drive repricocity for British architects trying to work abroad, an issue he said had been “lingering for decades”.

“We have a lot of members in Europe. Who know what’s going to happen after Brexit,” he said. “It’s quite clear that British-educated architects are the gold standard world-wide yet they can’t practise world-wide.”

He also said he would tackle the marginalisation of the profession by knocking on the door of Number 10 and saying: “You need to know much more about us; we’re not just a draughting service at the end of a developer.”