Tuesday 9 June 2009

Government slims down policy on architecture

The Government has adopted a slimmed-down new policy on architecture - with the number of proposed actions reduced from more than 60 to 45 - in deference to concerns in the Department of Finance that the policy would cost too much.

The draft policy, drawn up by a steering committee, chaired by former UCD professor of architecture Loughlin Kealy, was also amended by the Department of the Environment to take account of Finance’s views on public procurement, value for money and cost-benefit analysis. It notes that the policy is 'being brought forward during a challenging period in the public finances'.

As a result, implementation would take place within the context of Government policy on public expenditure and staff numbers as directed by the Department of Finance.

The cost of implementing the policy - entitled Towards a Sustainable Future: Delivering Quality within the Built Environment - over a six-year period has been estimated at €3.25 million - indicating that some of the more expensive actions originally proposed have been dropped.

For example, although it says that in-house expertise is essential, the Department of the Environment will now merely 'consider' the benefits of each county or city council submitting plans for the provision of in-house architectural services, headed by a city or county architect.

Under the heading 'Leading by Example', the policy highlights the role of the State in promoting architectural quality by developing procurement and contracting policies for State-funded projects.

It also proposes that the title of principal architect in the Office of Public Works (OPW) should be changed to State architect and the role be strengthened 'to underline the importance of architectural quality as a cornerstone of national policy'.

In order to develop an 'evidence-based policy' on architecture, the Department of the Environment will convene a built environment research committee that would examine such issues as building energy performance and 'life-cycle costing'.

It also envisages establishing a built-environment forum to heighten awareness of measures that could be taken to 'drive a quality agenda for urban design, architecture and architectural conservation, building control and landscape design and conservation'.

Along with the OPW, the department will investigate appropriate incentives for best practice for 'future-proofing' of buildings - taking account of climate change as well as ensuring that buildings procured in public contracts are designed for ease of maintenance and upgrade.

The department will consider creating a publicly-accessible database of protected structures throughout the State, as well as issuing guidelines on how the re-use of historic buildings could help reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions.

The department will also consider extending eligibility for grant aid for conservation and repair works within architectural conservation areas 'subject to approval by the Department of Finance'.

The policy also aims to promote public awareness of architecture in primary and secondary schools and third-level institutions, as well as engaging the public through cultural institutions such as the Irish Architecture Foundation.

Responsibility for co-ordinating implementation of the new policy over its lifespan to 2015 is assigned to the Department of the Environment, with annual progress reports to be submitted to the Minister.

Irish Times


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