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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A confusion over status?

Liberal England comments on the continuing row over Prince Charles' role in scuttling Richard Rogers' plans for the Chelsea Barracks site by pointing out that in many instances the Princes' criticism of architectural schemes very much reflects a long-standing rift between public taste and expert opinion.

That though does not answer the wider questions about Charles' influence (and nor has Jonathan Calder attempted to) and how it is exercised nor does it offer any understanding of how accountable the Prince is for using his position in this way.

Judging by this article in The Times the chances of greater transparency on the way the heir to the throne operates are remote. They report that the Government plans to change the Freedom of Information Act to grant the Royal Family exemption from scrutiny.

One example that campaigners say will now become obscrured from the public gaze is the way the Prince of Wales exercises his role as President of the National Trust. On taking over from the Queen Mother they say he sought the power of approval over architectural projects:

'He also requested that his advisers be allowed to examine plans for a £14.5 million headquarters in Swindon. After one adviser told the project team that he did not like the triangular design proposed for the site of a former Victorian engineering foundry, a senior royal aide allegedly warned that the National Trust should change it or risk losing the Prince’s patronage.'

They report that the Prince also attempted to have the French architect Jean Nouvel removed from a £500 million project beside St Paul’s Cathedral. The Royal Family is currently excluded from the Freedom of Information Act, but some documents can be released on the ground of public interest. This will no longer be possible under the new rules. The Ministry of Justice say that the change is to “ensure the constitutional position and political impartiality of the monarchy is not undermined”.

However, if the Prince is using his position to lobby Ministers or to influence development then surely any correspondence and documentation should be disclosable in the public interest. As a member of an unelected unaccountable monarchy Charles has to have regard to his constitutional position and we need to be able to scrutinise whether he steps outside acceptable boundaries or not.
Surely in order to “ensure the constitutional position and political impartiality of the monarchy is not undermined”, it would be in the monarchy's best interest to be completely transparent as opposed to less.

I hate it when such contradictory statements are made to try and bulls**t us.
Well, I hope the House of Windsor enjoy their sunset; because I don't think it's going to be around all that long with Charles III at the helm.

The boy is worse than his old man for putting his foot in it, and let's face facts his sense of taste isn't all that good, look who he married!
There is ultimately nothing in the least bit "undemocratic" about the Earl of Chester providing his advice to whomsoever he chooses. He is doing nothing any other thoughtful, well-connected upper class man couldn't do. There is, for instance, a long history of rich men with peculiar ideas building model communities. And even if we were to abolish the monarchy, he would still have substantial estates to finance his behaviour.

What is undemocratic is the planning system. Democratically-elected councillors do not have the last say, and they are not allowed to make decisions based on any meaningfully democratic or public-spatial criteria. The quasi-judicial nature of the planning system ensures that trivial, formulaic adversarial nimbyism is given validity without allowing meaningful arguments to be made.

The quality of public discourse in Planning and Architecture is therefore unsurprisingly poor by international standards. Any meaningful discussion *has* to take place informally, and the Earl of Chester has taken the only reasonable course of action in having such an informal discussion.

The Earl of Chester's sole error is to have differing views from the majority of upper-class interested parties.

I would of course far rather that such discussions were not restricted to mandarins and upper-class landowners. To do this we need to abolish the process-based planning system, and substitute one based on democracy and design.
A propos of James' comment, I was rather hoping that when we get rid of the monarchy we nationalise the land and thus rid ourselves of the whole superstructure of privilege enjoyed by the landed aristocracy. Bring on the tumbrils.
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