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A beautiful place in the east needs dreams and imagination

I enjoyed reading Martin Pawley's piece on our attitudes towards the development of the countryside (AJ 13.2.03).

The rural parts of our nation have certainly been in disarray for a long time and Pawley's speculation about a landscape of occupation, where we abandon the pretence of natural conservation in favour of an absorption of our special requirements, could offer Ambridge a new lease of life.

The alternative to increased urban density is a useful and much-needed debate.The benefits of increasing the density and functional mix of our existing urban spaces is a compelling argument in many of its dimensions, but it has never really addressed the problem of how to deal with the hundreds of homes that already exist in the rural idyll that is sub-suburbia.

These homeowners are trapped in a location that was first affordable, secondly aspirational and lastly a lifestyle. In the postwar requirement for housing and the establishment of new settlements for overspill from London, places were conceived, such as Peterlee, New Ash Green and Cumbernauld, which, whether we like them or not, were all based on a vision of a lifestyle and concept that were the result of a genuine social concern, combined with a little experiment.

Like Pawley, I feel that establishing - or, more accurately, admitting - that huge chunks of England are already a city would be an honest response to our apparent need for more homes. If this mega or rural city was recognised and subsequently dreamt about, we would not be in danger of disenfranchising hundreds of people living in rashes of bungalows.

I am not against the principles of the Urban Task Force and I hope brownfield sites, greater density and better infrastructure will be achieved.But John Prescott has observed that this strategy is not going to deliver the 400,000 new homes in the South East in time.

His recent announcement that he would adopt Heseltine's plan for the Thames corridor and allow London to extend to the east is an exciting challenge, but one fraught with danger.

It would appear that this housing provision will be the responsibility of the private sector, with CABE taking the role of aesthetic and architectural police.No one has sat down to think and dream about such an estuarine community and what it could be. It seems as though the mere provision of a roof is good enough, with the employment of imagination not an essential requirement.Numbers over quality is the order of the day.

What would a sunrise on Two Tree Island be like? How would a Saturday feel on Dagenham waterfront and where does a Sheppey resident go to play football? Will there be encouragement for an economic base that will provide more localised employment? Could the eastward extension of London become a celebration of the return of the artisan? How many piers would stretch across the mud? What is the relationship between the ecology of the estuary and education?

There is a beautiful place to be built out to the east, but at present no one is thinking about it. I suspect that no one will and the opportunity will be squandered on a repeat of the trash that so-called 'market forces' demand.

A blight across our eastern approaches seems unavoidable with no aspirations at all.

We should build on our land only when a dream has been identified.

WA, seat 8C, London to NY, flight 45

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