Any councillor that starts talking about beauty at a planning meeting can expect to encounter much disapproval and sucking of teeth from planning officers who consider themselves to be on an ideological mission to defeat the concept.
But a research paper from Respublica reflects on the class divide regarding beauty. It is not that rich and poor disagree about what is beautiful. It is that the rich can afford it:
“Our own polling, conducted in conjunction with Ipsos MORI, found that those most able access beautiful places, spaces and buildings in their local area was highest for households earning more than £45,000 a year. Especially striking is the finding that only 45% of people in social rented property feel they have such access, as opposed to 57% among homeowners.”
The paper adds that “many contemporary buildings were described as ‘flat-packed’ and ‘identikit’.” While “most people did not value beauty more highly than sustainability, functionality or affordability, 28 per cent thought that it should be on par with all three.”
Not that there necessarily needs to be a conflict between beauty and utility regarding architecture. Modernism is a disaster on both counts – yet it remains the dominant orthodoxy in just about every local authority Planning Department in the country.
Respublica reminds us of some the indirect costs. Tower blocks are bad for your health – both mental and physical.
We have to take into the equation the appalling culpability of modernist architects for increasing crime and vandalism.
The Government proclaims its belief in One Nation. But architecture represents a divide:
“Our poll for instance finds both social and geographic splits in access to beauty. Among respondents with household income between £15,000 and £20,000, satisfaction with the beauty of the local area was over 13 percentage points lower than among respondents of household income over £100,000. Geographically, satisfaction with the beauty of the local area was almost 30 percentage points higher in the South West than in the Midlands.
“Why has planning and development policy failed us so markedly?”
The situation appears to be accepted due to a pessimistic notion that beauty is unaffordable. But so far as architecture is concerned the ugly stuff costs just as much – even before the indirect costs are taken into account.
The report proposes a right to beauty:
“We believe that a new Community Right to Beauty should be granted to Neighbourhood Forums or the appropriate devolved authority
where a Neighbourhood Forum does not exist – namely Town and Parish Councils. As such, we recommend that the new Community Right – along with its connected powers and incentives outlined in detail below – be seriously considered as an addition to the anticipated amendments to the Localism Act 2011.”
An interesting idea. But it is unnecessary. Councillors have the power to determine planning policies that are pro-development but also pro-beauty. Overwhelmingly they fail to do so. The brutalist unelected planners are allowed to ensure that new means ugly and that each year we need to be a bit richer to seek refuge in those districts that have yet to be spoiled.
It is a terrible betrayal and it is not inevitable.