Build to last

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

IT is uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged that Bri­tain needs more houses—the gov­ern­ment has pledged to build a mil­lion by 2020. Solv­ing this prob­lem prop­erly con­sti­tutes one of the great­est po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges of the mo­ment. In this new-build is­sue, we sug­gest six prac­ti­cal changes that would help de­liver the devel­op­ment we need: ● Change the ex­ist­ing VAT sys­tem. As it stands, VAT fi­nan­cially pe­nalises the re­pair or adap­ta­tion of ex­ist­ing build­ings. By any as­sess­ment, this is a scan­dal. New-builds alone can’t sup­ply our hous­ing needs. More­over, it should be a par­tic­u­lar in­cen­tive that re­de­vel­op­ing the mil­lion empty prop­er­ties over shops could both ease the hous­ing short­age and help trans­form our fail­ing high streets. ● We need to strengthen our plan­ning sys­tem so that it can de­velop and im­ple­ment in­te­grated devel­op­ment schemes over decades, backed up by the nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture. At present, too much power rests with com­mer­cial devel­op­ers that, left to their own de­vices, want short-term and un­com­pli­cated com­mit­ments that ben­e­fit share­hold­ers. That usu­ally means green­field sites that re­late poorly to ex­ist­ing pat­terns of devel­op­ment and ex­ert un­sus­tain­able ad­di­tional pres­sure on roads, schools and hos­pi­tals. ● We should as­pire to plan not just 5–10 years in ad­vance—as at present—but 50 years hence (or even a cen­tury). Those with a long-term in­ter­est, no­tably landown­ers, al­ready do this and we should learn from their ex­am­ple rather than bow to short-term com­mer­cial in­ter­ests. ● Build­ing for the fu­ture also means that we need to build well. Too many vol­ume devel­op­ers see in cheap ma­te­ri­als a way of cut­ting costs and boost­ing prof­its. This not only makes a mock­ery of hous­ing as a pub­lic good, but threat­ens to trans­form new de­vel­op­ments over short pe­ri­ods of time into ghet­tos of eco­nomic and so­cial fail­ure. ● We should en­cour­age mixed devel­op­ment rather than pure hous­ing schemes. Suc­cess­ful towns in­te­grate houses, shops, of­fices and recre­ation space. Such mixed use cre­ates places in which peo­ple can walk to buy a pint of milk (or even to work) rather than driv­ing and es­tab­lishes an at­trac­tive am­bi­ence of life. Such ar­range­ments need not be the pre­serve of his­toric town cen­tres. For ex­am­ple, houses could be in­te­grated within shop­ping and busi­ness parks. ● We ur­gently need our ar­chi­tec­tural tal­ent to ad­dress the prob­lem of creat­ing at­trac­tive houses that re­late to ex­ist­ing build­ing stock and make use of local ma­te­ri­als. Too many ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tices fo­cus their en­er­gies on pres­tige—and pre­dom­i­nantly ur­ban—build­ings. Un­til we cre­ate out-oftown de­vel­op­ments of real ar­chi­tec­tural qual­ity, the pub­lic can le­git­i­mately re­main scep­ti­cal about the re­gen­er­a­tive power of new hous­ing.

‘Too many vol­ume devel­op­ers see in cheap ma­te­ri­als a way of cut­ting costs and boost­ing prof­its ’

Pine­hurst II, Pine­hurst Road, Farn­bor­ough Busi­ness Park, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire GU14 7BF Tele­phone 01252 555072 www.coun­trylife.co.uk

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