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Sunday20 August 2017

Public urged to ‘kick out ugliness’

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Planning minister wants the market to decide on good housing design

Planning minister Nick Boles has waded back into the debate about what makes good design by urging the public to “kick out ugliness”.

In a statement many have interpreted as a criticism of top-down diktats, he insisted the government must allow the market to decide what is beautiful and to engage with neighbourhood plans.

Architects and developers welcomed his aspirations but said the government needed to work to make them a reality, and argued the public had little choice thanks to the way housing is financed.

“One of the primary reasons people are Nimbys is because of the awful quality of the housing that volume housebuilders present them with,” said Chris Brown, chief executive of developer Igloo.

“The question is, what do you do about it? — and that’s a question for the minister too.

“He can’t abdicate his responsibility. It’s not enough to say, ‘This is what should happen’. He has to help it happen.”

Nick Boles

Nick Boles

The minister was speaking at a parliamentary ceremony to honour the first five housing schemes to receive the latest Building for Life accreditation, including projects by Stride Treglown and Formation Architects.

In a reference to the government’s localism agenda, he added: “It can’t be a political authority deciding [what is beautiful]. What it can be is people deciding — and people have been deciding for decades. They find lots of modern housebuilding ugly.”

Boles’s comments came ahead of next week’s high-profile RCA debate on architecture and beauty, which will see Will Alsop go head to head with Stephen Bayley, author of Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything.

Bayley said Boles was right to avoid offering a government definition of beauty or ugliness.

“It’s like trying to embrace fog,” he said. “There is not one type of beauty, there are many. Kant and Plato, even I, have struggled with it. What chance does a planning minister have?

“The nearest I think we can get sounds very like a description of thoughtful building design.”

MJ Long, former Cabe commissioner and chairman of Design Review, added: “Beauty is not about the look of a place but how it works and how it sits in its environment.

“It’s housing that doesn’t work that’s in the long run the ugliest, because it is neglected and unpopular.”

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Readers' comments (21)

  • james francis

    I made a presentation to a group of estate agents this week to give them some more knowledge and a feel for "green architecture" (as a broad-brush introduction) and make them fully aware of the significance of the push to zero carbon houses. They also gave me a lot of feedback on how they felt the market would respond. The question of the aesthetics and public reaction to some of the examples of exemplar house design was well discussed. It is about time that building designers engaged with the public in the widest sense. This should be both to educate and to listen.

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  • The majority of people can't even be bothered to vote, what are the chances of them getting involved in this?

    Again, just another way for politicians and planners to avoid responsibility.

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  • Public Taste is how you end up with horse burgers and bland coalition Governments. Design and build superb houses. Sell them at reasonable market prices and then you will change public house buying tastes. Do not ever expect the average buyer to pay a premium for vanity projects. We should be building low cost in price and environment , energy efficient, quick to erect homes that are also superbly designed.

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  • Ending the hegemony of spec builders, planners and government deciding what shall be built and restricting supply might help. Open the market up with 30% self-build, let committed people show us what they like.

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  • casual observer

    There is hardly anything in the world that someone can't make a little worse and sell a little cheaper - and people who consider the price alone are this man's lawful prey."
    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)

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  • The market has already been allowed to decide, that's why we get the housing we do now.

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  • Too true, the mass market has decided, as dictated by the major housebuilders. Plastic boxville rules, the majority of buyers have never seen/taken the trouble to look at or for alternatives. As a result they actually aspire to own one of these ghastly boxes.....as princess Blair said "education. education, education" but how many generations would that take???? 'Design panels' are awaited with some trepidation, if [as I fear] that turns out to mean a regurgitated form of the old back stabbing/bigoted 'architects panel' system we might as well put up with the one dimensional "I don't like so no" planners/planning committee system? What chance some revolutionary three dimensional thinking!?

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  • If the Planning Minister would ensure that it's not nearly impossible to get planning for residential development and that there was at minimum an adequate supply of developable land, then design would improve. Developers would be willing to take more risks on design if planners didn't always use the fact that a design looks out of the ordinary as a reason for refusal, it wouldn't be such a financial gamble then to spend a little more time and budget on design, and the volume housebuilders might finally have to compete based upon quality and design rather than dealing with a captive market where selling houses is not dissimilar from 'shooting fish in a barrel'. It's so blatantly simple a concept that it's nauseating the way it's overlooked...

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  • If planners don't decide within the eight weeks they just refuse out of hand. If they do look at it it has to look as ugly as the existing irrespective, and then when the committee get involved well watch BBC2 planners programme and go back to
    whatever or whoever is likley to pay your fees. Cynical, you bet
    just like the system wants us to be.

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  • Daniel Hewitt

    Glad to see Stephen Bayley in the company of Plato and Kant.

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