Lord Rogers of Riverside, the architectural peer who hates privilege, has been lecturing the nation on planning reform again. The man who talks lively urban spaces and multicultural living, but designs secure gated One Hyde Park for wealthy émigrés, has suggested (in an interview £ for The Times) that the Coalition government's planning reforms will turn England into a Los Angeles suburb.
Lord Rogers quit as planning adviser to London when his ability to direct a personal staff in the planning department was taken away by Boris Johnson and the late Simon Milton. His urban vision turned out to be one of hyper density, the nation's growth concentrated into a London of towers clustered around public transport. Since quitting London, he has been championing the idea of building skyscrapers in the historic centre of Paris and has found a willing ally in Nicholas Sarkozy.
His urban vision is a world of Rogers and Foster designed airports, tower blocks for poor people, gated towers for the super rich and Georgian houses in which he and his friends live. it ignores the real sustainability challenge for Britain: accommodating a population that wants to live more sustainably, but also wants a garden and a village or neighbourhood feeling. This creates huge pressure in the South and the Southeast, where there is massive demand for new housing in cities, towns and villages.
This demand is not for gated buy to let flats, but for single family houses, and the planning system must accommodate this demand while dealing with very real concerns about sustainability and erosion of quality of life. Lord Rogers can't simply decree that all should live in tower blocks in London, but planning reform can't give carte blanche to the house builders.
Surely it should be possible to build at a scale and a quality equivalent to the best bits of Bath, Bristol, Chelsea or Cambridge, service it with public transport, and integrate the best green building techniques and technologies? If we do this, England need not look like Los Angeles, nor does it have to look like the Singapore so beloved by Lord Rogers of Riverside and the Candy brothers.