It’s inspiring to think of a city planning system that favours beauty, community and sustainability. So why does Britain have with large swathes of ugliness? Soulless, identikit housing estates with acres of tarmac, nowhere near local amenities. Something has to be done as the current system is so bad, the public has lost confidence.
City planning: building better, building beautiful
The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is an independent body. Its purpose was to advise government on how to promote and increase the use of high-quality design for new build homes and neighbourhoods. They recently published their final report, ‘Living with beauty’. In it they identified the main problem: beauty is a dirty word in the planning system. It’s regarded as too subjective for planners to understand. The report recommends:
… planting trees, giving powers to local authorities to set design standards, and tax breaks for retrofitted buildings.
It goes on to suggest new rules. These would promote limiting further development and population growth to within the boundaries of pre existing urban areas. As opposed to expanding outward into suburban areas in Britain’s under-occupied cities. This would include pocket parks and a fruit tree for every home. Indeed, The University of London reported that
… one in five of developments should have been refused planning permission outright as their poor design was contrary to advice given in the National Planning Policy Framework. A further 54% should not have been granted permission without significant improvements to their design having been made first.
Most people are in broad agreement on what kind of buildings are appealing. People hate tower blocks; and we know that anonymous sprawl is no recipe for human happiness. Fundamentally, it’s not about style: it’s about texture, proportion and space.
Encouraging attractive developments
As the commission’s report notes, to address the housing crisis, we need to encourage attractive developments. These should promote human interaction, and that have the potential to be vibrant communities. Only if neighbours feel that a new development has something to offer will they stop campaigning against it. But in making this a reality, there is a major obstacle. The reason is the power of the big volume house builders. These are the eight companies that own the vast majority of building land. And they favour building cheaply and profitably. This is not only because they can but because their shareholders demand it. Their dominance is catastrophic.
But these firms have the resources to fight long legal battles. This makes their will hard to resist. Unless the Government makes higher standards legally enforceable, and gives local authorities the funds to veto poor developments, little will improve.
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