The Victorian government has cut funds to the state Government Architect. This comes at a time when the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) has called for a national government architect to promote high-quality sustainable design.
The cuts of $600,000 for the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OGVA) slashes nearly 50 per cent from the office’s budget of $1.3 million a year.
The move was “incomprehensible” and came without warning – risking leaving many state government projects and key planning initiatives without advice, according to the Victorian chapter of the AIA.
It follows the outright rejection of the Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy that the NSW Government Architect worked on for more than two and a half years, alongside significant contributions from planning and design professionals and other stakeholders.
Meanwhile, a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry is underway investigating how the planning system should be improved.
Nationally the AIA and its 13,000 members on Wednesday made calls for the creation of an Office of the Australian Government Architect to lead a cohesive national design framework for Australia’s built environment.
An allocation of $14 million over the next four years could establish the Office, which would be able to advise government and statutory agencies on design excellence for government-owned or government-funded buildings. Government leadership in greener and better quality buildings is already a well known driver of better quality, greener buildings.
“Most of Australia’s states and territories recognise the value of having a government architect to promote high-quality design for our public buildings,” Victorian chapter president Bill Krotiris said.
“It is high time the Australian government saw the value in this role at a national level. Government architects can provide an independent voice to guide the development of public buildings and create a national legacy.”
The policy is one of six proposals in the Institute’s Federal Election Policy Statement A Time For Action.
The statement also includes a call for all political parties to commit to greater investment in carbon-reduction initiatives as a national priority.
“We know people want well-designed, sustainable buildings,” AIA national president Tony Giannone stated.
“Most of Australia’s states and territories recognise the value of having a government architect to promote high-quality design for our public buildings… Governments play a critical role in delivering on community expectations for our built environment.”
Cuts to the OGVA throw the delivery of this “critical role” into doubt, with Mr Krotiris slamming the cuts as “incomprehensible”.
“This move will serve to damage its reputation and the delivery of key outcomes of great design including liveability, health and sustainability.”
The Victorian state has saved more than $20 million of actual construction project risk savings through the advice of the OVGA
“The OVGA have delivered critical advice to the Victorian government and taxpayers for 16 years.”
The institute said that the government’s own indicators and independent economist reports show that the office is producing great value for the state, including 187 Victorian projects in the past three years worth more than $25 billion. According to the institute, the state has also saved more than $20 million of actual construction project risk savings through the advice of the OVGA.
“The government should be increasing the funding of the OVGA to ensure taxpayers’ money is used appropriately and for our collective benefit, not slash the already low base of funding by over 40 per cent,” the AIA said in a statement.
“The government should be increasing the funding of the OVGA to ensure taxpayers’ money is used appropriately and for our collective benefit”
Funding cuts will mean losses to OVGA’s internal advisory team’s services, the Victorian Design Review Panel (responsible for upwards of 300 projects including the Melbourne and Olympic Parks projects), and regional projects like the Sale Cultural Hub and Bendigo Hospital.
AIA Victorian state manager Tim Leslie said the “small” funding cut “will make a huge impact” on the capacity of the OVGA.
“There was no forewarning… we don’t believe there was any reason for the cut, except that the government is looking for savings. We want to raise awareness of how critical the service is.
“The incredible amount of investment the government is making in infrastructure in healthcare, hospitals and affordable housing – then in the same breath to reduce capacity to make the return on investment the best it possibly can.
“We’re hoping it’s been an oversight.”
Samantha Ratnam, leader of the Victorian Greens commented: “It is very troubling to hear about this substantial funding cut to the OVGA who provide a vital service to improve planning outcomes in Victoria.
“There is currently a Victorian parliamentary inquiry investigating how the planning system can be fixed given the deep problems with how it has been operating for years.
“Cuts to services like the OVGA will only take us backwards – when the community is asking for urgent improvements in our planning system.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Premier and Cabinet told The Fifth Estate in a written statement:
“The Office of the Victorian Government Architect operates a fee-for-service model.
“The Victorian Budget 2022/23 provides $747,000 in funding in 2022/23.”