Let’s be sensible about housing

Michele Hanson’s latest ‘A certain age‘ column  in today’s Guardian is a corker. After telling us about her friend Clayden being attacked by cows on Hackney Marshes, she says she thinks she is trying to make herself think of urban life as rustic to compensate for the fact that planning minister Nick Boles wants to concrete over most of the countryside.

‘How I wish I was planning, and housing, minister instead of Bolesy,’ she writes. ‘My plans are more sensible: use all brown-fill sites [I think you mean brown-field Michelle], fill all couuncil voids, cap rents, sto VAT on renovation of existing dwellings, and decriminalise squatting. That should help.’

It certainly should. And seems like plain common sense. Someone else who is advocating common sense is Piers Taylor in The Architects’ Journal last week touched a nerve when he wrote a column ‘An architecture of circumstance would help local character evolve‘. OK, the title isn’t all that catchy but he was arguing for planners to stop ‘meddling and micro-managing’ the appearance of housing. Britain should be more like Almere in The Netherlands, he argues, where builders have certain restrictions on volumes, space between buildings etc and then can build what they like.

The interesting thing is that the illustration he shows from Almere is of houses that all look like a family – as did streets of Victorian houses built in pairs by speculative builders. There might be an argument for more restrictions if the result, over the last few decades, had been lots of lovely houses. But it hasn’t. Most houses have been ugly, shoddy, small and inflexible. Looser planning restrictions wouldn’t necessarily put an end to that. But if they allowed us to build more houses, the market might kick in and people would no longer buy the worst. So here’s to more freedom – but not to build over all our green land.







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