Ecobuild latest: ‘It could make UK as good as the Netherlands,’ says broadcaster

Jonathan Meades has called for statutory employment of architects on all construction projects.

He also championed the return of aesthetic control which was abolished by Michael Heseltine in 1980.

Together these interventions could put Britain in the same league as the Netherlands, whose contemporary housing he described as the “finest in Europe”.

The broadcaster and architectural historian told the Ecobuild conference at the ExCel this week: “Only a quarter of construction projects in the UK use architects, which is rather shocking. You don’t allow unqualified quacks to perform surgery.

“This is unquestionably the reason why English housing – often in the shape of an executive home with a triple garage and neo-Victorian dormer windows – lags so far behind the Netherlands and Spain.

“Volume housebuilders think British populism shares its banal taste. Creating an appetite for the fresh and unknown needs to be revived.”

He praised self-build pioneer Walter Segal, Rotterdam’s container city and the idea of adding a couple of extra storeys to large parts of London.

Will Gompertz, the BBC arts editor who was interviewing him, said it was a “disgrace that architects aren’t involved in the creation of a lot of buildings” and asked Meades how it had happened.

Meades said: “There’s no statutory protection of architects and no obligation on anyone building anything to use an architect.”

The scrapping of aesthetic control by Thatcher’s first government had also contributed to the problem, he said.

Earlier in the week Charles Holland called for architects to be more involved in designing the built environment.

‘Ethical construction is about more than not building torture chambers’

Meades also told the construction industry it has a duty to question the ethics of what it does.

This means more than refusing to build torture chambers for dictators, he said.

“It means refusing to privatise public land in the name of security,” he said.

“It means opposing gated communities – which are to this century what the enclosures were to the 18th century. We are seeing the rich pushing out the poor in Birmingham and Manchester as well as London.

“It’s neither ethical nor responsible to build buildings which will only last for 30 years.”

He criticised the construction industry as inward-looking and said it should be asking questions about the “validity and purpose of what it builds”.

He added: “The process and results of building touch us all – from workers in those buildings and the people who live in them to the people who pass by them every day.”