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Don't Nimby us, these problems are serious

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Your editorial 'Government must turn to architects to win over Nimby housing lobby' (AJ 2.12.04) raises some important points, but reflects a centralist standpoint unhelpful to those of us who understand the real issues on the ground and need to find local ways of dealing with them.

The South East England Regional Assembly is indeed unelected, and probably even less popular among those who are aware of its existence than the recently defeated proposals for a similar body in the north of England. However, by government edict it exists, and we are fortunate that enough elected councillors from districts and counties have agreed to join this body to reflect, as far as they can, the wishes of their local electorates in the face of government determination to impose unsustainable planning solutions. The assembly's decisions last week seem to me to be wholly reasonable: in brief, to recommend that the additional levels of expansion be slightly reduced and that development should not take place without adequate government-funded infrastructure.

The government's proposals are not joined up. At the same time that increased housing development above already-agreed increases is proposed throughout the new 'sub-regions' in the South East (public consultation in January 2005), the deputy prime minister has diverted the previously available housing grant to Milton Keynes and Thames Gateway. Thus the cost of 'affordable' housing must be derived from Section 106 agreements along with schools, estate roads and other public infrastructure. There are no proposals to consider trunk-road improvement in Oxford until 2015, for example, and the Planning Inspectorate system is in meltdown.

We are not Nimbys - we have serious problems to contend with that the government clearly does not wish to comprehend.

Your sideways swipe on 'immigration' is beneath contempt, though a comparison of the number believed to be illegal immigrants residing in the UK and the shortfall of 'affordable' housing will prove instructive.

So how can architects help?

What is needed are innovative new forms of tenure and a completely fresh look at a development process that requires consortia of developers to deliver infrastructure upfront. As the ODPM points out, the unit cost of a house at £60,000 is eminently affordable, whether traditionally built or prefabricated. Add on the land value at £100,000 and the cost of Section 106 commitments and it becomes out of reach for more than 90 per cent of emerging families in the South East.

I'm afraid that so long as architects remain downstream in the development process, their contribution is likely to remain as purveyors of 'good taste' for a minority.

Colin James, Oxfordshire County Council

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