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Damn density, say Conservatives

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Shadow planning minister John Hayes has invited the wrath of the architecture community by saying that 'he doesn't give a damn about density' and demanding architects buck up their ideas.

Pushing the boundaries of Conservative Party policy, Hayes also called into question the future of CABE in its present form.

'I don't give a damn about densities, ' he told the AJ in an exclusive interview last week. 'I'm not slightly interested in how dense the development is. This is something that should relate to local needs and concerns. I want to give planning back to the people. We will create new duties for local authorities to originate more far-reaching local planning guidance.' He continued: 'Every local authority should have a duty for its own design appraisal in a role like CABE.' Although he admitted there was some demand for a centralised body that could respond to local requests for design advice, Hayes said that if the bar of architecture was raised on a local level this would call into question the need for safety-net quangos like CABE.

After citing his favourite piece of London architecture as 'St Paul's Cathedral, closely followed by Poundbury' and stating that 'much of what was built in this country between 1955 and 1995 wouldn't be missed', the minister commented: 'I think that the architectural community can rise above the mediocrity. I call on your readers to draw up a blacklist of blight.' Commenting on Prince Charles' Dorset brainchild, the minister said: 'I think Poundbury was inspired by an earlier age. People weren't nervous about building pastiches back then.' The comments come in the week that the Conservative Party launched its manifesto, stating that it intends to 'halt Labour's plans to concrete over our green fields' and promote brownfield development.

In response to Hayes' comments, RIBA president George Ferguson said: 'His comments on density show a lack of understanding of the relationship between density and the preservation of green space.

It's the other side of the same coin.

'I think architecturally we have to look forward to what is relevant today. St Paul's will hopefully remain relevant for a thousand years, but it's no solution to our housing and public buildings problem.

'He needs to send out the right signals regarding good contemporary architecture, such as the Welsh Assembly building. With regard to his views on recent buildings, much has been built without even seeing an architect. Every politician has a responsibility to promote good design, ' Ferguson added.

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