Shadow minister speaks out as coalition accused of double standards on design.
The shadow schools minister is leading a call for the government to think again about using standardised design for its new school building programme.
Following the long-awaited publication of the James Review, Labour’s Kevin Brennan voiced fears that schools would not be fit for purpose.
“The building environment of a school is important for learning,” he told BD. “Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s about innovation and creativity. Michael Gove seems happy for children to learn in completely unsuitable buildings.”
Brennan’s intervention was backed by the RIBA, Design Council Cabe and former architecture minister Alan Howarth, who all called on education secretary Michael Gove to allow bespoke design rather than imposing standardisation.
Critics of last week’s James Review, which came out as schools broke up for Easter, immediately pointed to apparent discrepancies in government thinking on building design following recent comments on the issue by housing minister Grant Shapps.
Last month he complained that “too often new [housing] developments are dominated by the same, identikit designs”, while this week, launching the Housing Design Awards, he again slapped down “Legoland homes” in favour of design-led developments which make “homes more environmentally friendly, [bring] disused buildings back to life or [reflect] the character of the local area”.
Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s about innovation and creativity
RIBA president Ruth Reed said: “There are a great deal of mixed messages coming out from government. The housing Shapps is talking about is developed using private money but when public money is being used on schools, they’re not applying the same standards of design.”
She also suggested a conflict with the government’s localism agenda following the recommendation by the James Review that a central delivery body be set up to manage major projects at a national level.
Design Council Cabe director Di Haigh argued standardised designs would not make the process simpler as intended.
“What’s needed is a system of flexible design and local feedback to meet the specific needs of the children and community in which schools are built,” she said.
AHMM director Paul Monaghan, who was vice chair of the school design panel, agreed design under BSF had been improving but admitted the process as a whole had been “a horror story”.
“The James Review’s descriptions of the problems with BSF are very well described,” he added.
The government is due to respond to the recommendations by the middle of next month.