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.”
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.”