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So, Lord Rogers, why shouldn't we build on surplus rural land?

It seems that Lord Rogers of Seething Metropolis has abandoned all restraint on the subject of urban densities.

Writing in the Observer recently he assembled a collection of arguments not equalled since the Urban Task Force report.

Where his enthusiasm for a return to nineteenth-century-style rookeries in place of garden cities and Kowloon-style tower blocks in place of village life came from is a mystery. But where it is going is becoming clearer and clearer. He begins by telling readers that the need to house four million households over the next 20 years is a prospect greeted with 'universal horror' and 'dread'.

Why this should be so in a country where the housing policy of the Labour government of not so long ago was to construct 10 million houses every 20 years is difficult to say. Lord Rogers says it is because building these houses 'on top of the unhealthy cities we already possess' will cause 'the erosion of valuable countryside' and the 'diminution of our quality of life'.

Well nobody wants that, do they, especially the diminution part. But then nobody seems to want to question the shaky logic that underlies Lord Rogers' next step, which is to insist that we 'reinvent our notion of the city, urban life and citizenship'.

This is a vacuous proposition indeed which, if it means anything, must be a heavily coded reference to making everybody rich.

As for the widely accepted canard about there being not enough rural land to build on, Lord Rogers relies entirely upon urban preconceptions. According to him we are as extravagant with land 'as though we lived in the Australian outback', and this is wrong because land is scarce. The cause? Out-of-town shopping centres (four times as many built since 1980 as in the 40 years before - is that really a surprise?), lax controls on greenfield land, needlessly lowdensity building, and so on. Nowhere is there any acknowledgment that the predicted need for more building land is more than matched by a tremendous superfluity of agricultural produce, which has left a huge surplus of unused agricultural land. So striking and so irreversible is this situation that - were they allowed to - impoverished farmers, land-strapped greenfield house builders and would-be home owners could solve one another's problems at a stroke. But not while people like Lord Rogers insist, with no more evidence than their own privileged enjoyment of 'spacious Georgian terraces', that what the housing market should aim at is what Frank Lloyd Wright derided as 'a battleship existence pig-piled into flats'.

Surely the choice of the countryside should not be forbidden. Land without beneficial use is not scarce today. If it cannot be used to build on, what can it be used for?

Lord Rogers pronounces that 'The semi-detached house and garden is no friend to the true sociability and well-being of a well-ordered high density urban community (because) where people are spread out more thinly, from the city centre to the suburbs, it becomes impossible to sustain the social interaction that is the basis for good urban life.' This clearly marks the beginning of a new line of attack and a disgraceful one at that. Having failed to ignite the enthusiasm of the masses with the double-density conclusions of his task force, he turns to the supposed pathology of suburban and rural life. A hint that the suburbs are secretive and anti-social, that gardens might be bad, even that it might be better for everyone if current greenfield planning permissions were rescinded forthwith.

Lord Rogers concludes his article: 'I am not a politician, I am an architect'.

If that is true he might be wise to leave social engineering alone.

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