‘Aim for beauty’ and redevelop retail parks, says housing commission

We should be building ‘places not just homes’ a report created specially for the government has concluded (I thought homes were ‘places’ but never mind).

According to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s interim Creating space for beauty report, town halls should be pushing for the ‘redevelopment of retail parks and large supermarkets into communities that include homes, shops and businesses’.

The report also looks at the ‘reasons for ugly developments and public mistrust’ and calls for ‘communities to be given an earlier say in the development process, encouraging greater use of master-planning – rather than communities engaging in town “planning by appeal”’.

What else does it think will be a good idea? Well:

  • Councils should have the confidence to say ‘no to ugliness’ and should celebrate examples of bad schemes they have turned down and used as examples to encourage beautiful design.
  • Any financial support from Homes England and local councils for a development should ‘aim for beauty’ with more work required to understand how this might be achieved and measured.
  • Improved and earlier public and stakeholder engagement in the design standards councils set developers in local plans so they can demand better quality.
  • High streets should be beautiful, walkable, well-connected places for people to live and work with a greater mix of buildings that includes smaller shops, businesses and homes.
  • Urging different layers of local government to come together and set out a vision for development which reflects the local geography, culture and economic priorities.

Nicholas Boys Smith, the commission’s interim chairman in the wake of former chairman Roger Scruton’s inglorious sacking, said: ‘Redeveloping abandoned out of town retail parks and ugly old supermarkets would deliver something much more beautiful in the form of thriving new communities where people can raise a family, work or settle down.

‘Our initial report sets many ways we can make our country more beautiful while fulfilling the needs of future generations who will need a roof over their head. We need to move the democracy up-stream from development control to plan-making.

‘Beauty should not be just a property of the old buildings or protected landscapes but something we expect from new buildings, places and settlements. We need to deliver beauty for everyone, not just the wealthy. This will require, ultimately, some fundamental changes. Hopefully our report will start part of that important debate with the public and the professions.’

Communities secretary James Brokenshire MP, who established the commission last year, has also been sufficiently moved by the interim report to muster comment: ‘I am determined to reach our target of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, but it’s right that we do not do this at any expense - what is built must stand the test of time.

‘We owe it to the next generation to not just build more homes, but to build communities people can be proud of.

‘As a country, we should not shy away from talking about what building beautifully means – and this report is an important contribution to that discussion.’

The commission says today’s interim report will be followed by a final report ‘before the end of the year’ so plenty to look forward to.