I have just driven into Bristol from Bath on the A4. This road passes through some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere. Not dramatic, but rolling and comfortable to the soul. Countryside that, if you are not in an urban mood, you would wish to wake up to, with its soft light and slightly broken horizons.
In actual fact you would not. This road, which links two rather good cities, has been furnished in the 20th century with all the detritus that Bristol and Bath would not want.
The mass of garages, cheap sheds, suburban sprawl, all made even worse by traffic engineers, has created a nightmare out of this beauty that no one would wish to dwell in. As you crawl through Keysham, the detritus reaches its zenith. This large village, of great resonance to middle-aged Radio Luxembourg listeners, is now a bitter disappointment.
As you descend into Bristol you arrive at Temple Meads Station. The original station is rather beautiful, but everything around appears to be blighted. This gateway to the city lies in the ownership of relatively few people and yet I have no great expectations as to its future. All of this area lies almost in the shadows of St Mary Redcliffe Church, which Simon Jenkins identified as the finest parish church in the kingdom. Sadly, its immediate environment is among the worst.
Worse still, there is no clear strategy to deliver anything of any worth. The city, which is one of the landowners, has recognised that it requires an urban planning exercise but is not prepared to pay for it. Instead, it tries to pass on the responsibility for this valuable piece of work to one of the area's private landowners, whose own planning permission could well be dependent on funding such an exercise.
Why should they pay, and even if they chose to, how much will they pay? We all know the answer to the question - virtually nothing!
The city should pay for this exercise. Not only is it in its interests but it is also in control of its own traffic engineers, who will be fundamental to such an exercise.
Masterplanning cannot be left to the private sector, because it has too many conflicting interests, and also because many of the people who have acquired land in these areas are the worst possible clients for any architect to have. These clients are often advised by agents, who singularly lack any sense of social responsibility. The word aesthetics does not enter their vocabulary.
As a result of this derisory view of urbanism, architecture and design, our towns and cities are, at best, mediocre and usually ugly.Why is it that a nation of gardeners, who take so much pride in their own patches, can totally disregard the picturesque? There is, sadly, a macho attitude that says making money is more important than social and visual responsibility. As a society we have accepted that it is acceptable to make money at other people's expense.From this attitude we use phrases like 'business is business', as though it possesses a morality that does not have to fit in with the normal sense of justice and love. Money appears to override everything. A wealthy society such as ours has chosen to fund the National Gallery in such a way that it can barely afford to buy a picture when it becomes available.
How often are we called to save a work of art for the nation? Beyond the call of duty, it is the same enthusiasts who dip into their pockets.
Meanwhile, the people running our environment don't contribute at all. They are uneducated vandals who don't deserve to exist.Unfortunately, our government appears to side with them, and we all know how Temple Meads will turn out.
WA, from the Hotel Du Vin, Bristol