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Traditionalist Roger Scruton to chair government’s new ‘beauty’ watchdog

  • 3 Comments

Philosopher and champion of conservatism Roger Scruton is to head the government’s new Building Better, Building Beautiful commission

Unveiling the new commission on Saturday (3 November), housing secretary James Brokenshire said its role included developing a ‘vision and practical measures to help ensure new developments meet the needs and expectations of communities, making them more likely to be welcomed rather than resisted’.

The government said the commission would build on recent changes to the National Planning Policy Framework which set out how ’more consideration can be given to the character of the local area’.

Brokenshire added that its role would be to expand on the ways in which the planning system ’can encourage and incentivise a greater emphasis on design, style and community consent’ and ’raise the level of debate’ about the importance of beautiful buildings.

Before his appointment to the commission Scruton, 74, had been a member of the government’s housing design panel which was unveiled under a cloud of controversy in 2014.

That body was criticised for being too unbalanced and old – members included 81-year-old classicist Quinlan Terry and 80-year-old Terry Farrell.

Speaking about the need for the new ‘beauty’ commission, Brokenshire said: ’Most people agree we need to build more for future generations, but too many still feel that new homes in their local area just aren’t up to scratch.

’Part of making the housing market work for everyone is helping to ensure that what we build, is built to last. That it respects the integrity of our existing towns, villages and cities.

’This will become increasingly important as we look to create a number of new settlements across the country and invest in the infrastructure and technology they will need to be thriving and successful places.’

Tregunnel hill newquay img 4283 pg

Tregunnel Hill, Newquay by ADAM Architecture

Tregunnel Hill, Newquay by ADAM Architecture

He added: ’This commission will kick start a debate about the importance of design and style, helping develop practical ways of ensuring new developments gain the consent of communities, helping grow a sense of place, not undermine it. This will help deliver desperately needed homes – ultimately building better and beautiful will help us build more.’

In response to the news, former chairman of CABE Paul Finch said: ’It is flattering to note that the government has caught up with the work that CABE did on the subject of beauty nearly a decade ago, and a matter for regret that CABE was abolished by a Conservative administration which is now creating … a new commission!

’It will be important not to confuse the idea of good design with delivery of more housing, which is the subtext to the ministerial announcement. As such they have nothing to do with each other, and indeed all the evidence is that the more consultation you incorporate into the planning system, the slower it gets.

’Government ambiguity about what it really wants is nothing new, nor is the idea that if we only build classical houses everyone would be happy, as seems to be the message from Policy Exchange. Presumably it has discounted the surveys suggesting that the most popular housing type in the UK is the bungalow.’

Further appointments to the panel will be announced in due course.

Building Better, Building Beautiful commission – key aims

  1. To promote better design and style of homes, villages, towns and high streets, to reflect what communities want, building on the knowledge and tradition of what they know works for their area.
  2. To explore how new settlements can be developed with greater community consent.
  3. To make the planning system work in support of better design and style, not against it.

Comments

Ben Derbyshire, RIBA President
I welcome the Government’s work to champion design quality and hope that this new commission on beauty will put architects, described only last month by the Secretary of State James Brokenshire as the ‘guardians of quality’ at its heart.

There is a risk that ‘beauty’ becomes a single identikit style

Without the skill and expertise of the UK’s world-leading architects there is a risk that ‘beauty’ becomes a single identikit style, failing the communities so desperate for high quality, sustainable homes.

Roland Karthaus, director, Matter Architecture
Beauty and community consensus are essential to successful places, but these are achieved through the mature processes of design review and engagement already widely in use in planning. The biggest issue with many new housing developments across the UK is car-dependent design, trapping people in places that are not sufficiently dense to support local facilities and sustainable transport; places where kids can’t play out and walking and cycling are only for fitness fanatics. In 30 years time when our modes of transport have been transformed, we will be aghast at some of the places we are building now. 

If a new commission is required, it should be focused on solving this problem. The car is a relatively modern invention, so if ‘traditionalism’ means a return to more active modes of travel then I’m for it.

Kyle Buchanan, director, Archio
You don’t have to look far on social media to gauge the level of uneasiness about the new BBBBC. Certainly there are huge issues with the quality of much of the housing currently being built in the UK, and in that sense a commission to address that is welcome. However, issues with quality have not arisen because contemporary architects have picked the ‘wrong style’, rather that too many house builders and politicians focus on numbers of units instead of making new places that work for the people that live in or near them. The danger is that this panel that talks about ‘beauty’ in aesthetic term and takes the conversation in the wrong direction. Beauty in housing can never be just skin deep.

You don’t have to look far on social media to gauge the level of uneasiness about the commission

The unease in the architectural profession is not based in protectionism, though some will say it is. Rather that after years of thoughtful debate and investigation into how you make well-loved, liveable new places the whole discussion gets reduced to a question of ‘style’. Let’s hope that the new commission can look past this and push more fundamental ways to improve quality in housing through better delivery practices and more thoughtful placemaking, both for the sake of the people that already have a home to call their own and those that don’t.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • There's surely a parallel with government influence over the Supreme Court of the United States - or with attempted royal influence over architectural taste in this country.

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  • Industry Professional

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    If all the beholders are drawn from the same ethnic, gender, generational, social and stylistic background then what is considered to be beauty is certain to be singular, repetitive and ultimately stale and boring.

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  • One of the truest sayings is that a horse designed by a committee is a donkey with five legs, two heads and three tails! A committee to regulate “beauty” is in the same caragory. Owen Luder CBE PPRIBA

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