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How did we become such a nation of nimbys? We can’t always have been so hostile to new development otherwise we wouldn’t have become one of the most urbanised countries in the world. There must have been a time when our default assumption was that new development would improve our lives, even if we do now seem to assume the opposite. 

Somewhere along the line something went terribly wrong and it’s not difficult to see what: decades of experience have taught us that new buildings are ugly or, at the very least, out of keeping with the places where they’re built.

It was good to see Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, acknowledge this problem in a speech to the Town and Country Planning Association late last year:

  • “People look at the new housing estates that have been bolted on to their towns and villages in recent decades and observe that few of them are beautiful.
  • “Indeed, not to put too fine a point on it, many of them are pig-ugly.”

But why should local residents trust the Government to enforce acceptable design standards, when it continues to approve the most monstrous developments on its own doorstep? Simon Jenkins makes the  point powerfully in a column for the Guardian:

There is a place for high-rise development, but it needs to be the right place:

It’s not surprising that the money talks when opportunities for new development are so limited. When a site becomes free in central London, the price is so astronomical that the only commercial option is to build upwards (and, indeed, downwards too). If redevelopment could take place over wider areas, then other options would become available:

When he says it “just needs planning” what Simon Jenkins actually means is that it needs plenty of government intervention and civic leadership to assemble the finance and the land packages required for wide-area regeneration – which, needless to say, won’t appeal to those who believe that the purpose of the planning system is not, in fact, to plan, but simply to say yes or no to whatever the developers propose.

Everyone is entitled to their ideological positions, but the pro-development purists might want to consider whether the despoliation of London’ skyline is going to win people over to new development in the rest of the country.

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