By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Your browser seems to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser.

Close

Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Close

LEAVING DESIGN OUT IN THE COLD

AGENDA

One simple worrying fact: in his response on Monday to the Barker Review of Housing, the document that recommended a massive increase in housebuilding earlier this year, Gordon Brown, the Iron Chancellor, did not mention architecture once.

Or architects. And the only time he mentioned design was in relation to the evercontentious design codes.

Afterwards, during a press conference statement, Yvette Cooper, the minister for housing and planning, only mentioned the 'D' word once and the 'A' word not at all.

One might ask what Brown was doing taking the lead on housebuilding in the first place? Surely, seasoned observers could point out, the supply of new homes has been very much the remit of the Deputy Prime Minister since the 1997 landslide that brought Labour to power?

The official line is that the Barker Review, which itself was extremely light on design and architecture, was jointly commissioned by the Treasury and the ODPM. What better place than the high-profile Pre-Budget Statement for the government to also unveil its collective thoughts on Barker's conclusions, civil servants said.

Surely this exemplified the government's commitment to the sector?

First things first - the government's response to the Barker Review, which apparently represents the combined thoughts of the Treasury and the ODPM, accepts that there is an overwhelmingly strong argument for more homes.

While the Communities Plan, which was unveiled in 2002, said there was a need for 150,000 homes a year, this has now jumped to 200,000 per year.

The rest of government also pulled itself together to make a series of announcements in the wake of the Chancellor's parliamentary appearance.

Not least was the unveiling of four more projects that have won the support of the Design for Manufacture competition, also known as the £60k House Competition (pictured above).

In addition, the ODPM and DEFRA revealed the draft details of a Sustainable Code for Housing, which they seem determined to rush in for all new social and housing association homes by April of next year.

But back to Brown.

What appears to have happened is that the Treasury and the Chancellor have in the last few months woken up to the massive crisis in housing supply. They also seem to have realised that a sudden hike in housebuilding would help Britain's slowing economy.

It does not take a massive leap of imagination to picture Brown, all dour and Presbyterian Scots, saying to Prezza: 'Let's not piss around here, John. I think we need a lot more homes, and so does Kate Barker, so let's get on with building them.' And therein lies a potential problem. Has anyone ever really believed that Brown gives a damn about architecture and design?

Among the many outrageous claims that are made by spin doctors about the 'personal interests' of their political masters, few have ever tried to paint the Chancellor as an aesthete.

While, to some extent, the same might have been said by observers about John Prescott when he first took over the housing brief, advisors, civil servants and campaigners have made some significant progress in awakening the honourable member for Hull East's latent sense of appreciation for architecture.

Oh for the Chancellor to be so malleable.

However, there are those who have leaped to the defence of the Chancellor. Not least Cooper herself. When asked by the AJ whether the Treasury's push for new housing would come at the expense of decent design, the minister became quite irritable, citing a series of initiatives, none of them new, including the Design Code pilots, which are currently being overseen by CABE.

On the subject of the future influence of the Treasury, the minister insisted that the new alliance of Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister on housing should be seen as a positive - as an example of joined-up government.

And there are others too who are keen to defend the government line. 'The Chancellor has really come round to the importance of architecture, ' CABE chief executive Richard Simmons told the AJ in the wake of Brown's parliamentary performance. 'He has realised that the creative industries really help the economy.

'There is also the fact that a lot of these ministers, including Gordon Brown and Yvette Cooper, really believe in the idea of social justice and this can be expanded into the idea that all people, no matter what their wealth, should have decent homes.' There is, of course, a chance that Cooper and Simmons are right, that Brown has indeed had a 'road to Damascus' conversion to good design.

But if the Chancellor was given a choice between 100,000 decent, well-designed new homes and 200,000 noddy boxes that, once built, would rein in house prices and aid his ailing economy, which option do you reckon he'd choose?

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters