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Distance makes the heart grow fonder, but it can be misleading

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Distance creates a diffusion of clarity that lets vision be distorted to conform to your desires.

From an altitude of 10,000m, the east coast of Greenland resembles in my imagination an Omanian settlement of the mid-1950s. I see Dinka tribesmen of Sudan in this place that is so much colder.

As I stand on top of the hill overlooking Shipley, the most striking object is Manningham Mills in Bradford. It sits, with its colossal chimney proudly four-square, on top of the hill on the opposite side of the valley, guarding the right of passage along this ancient route. No Celt would dare pass this way. From a distance, it is already Urban Splashed and magnificent in its role as punctuation mark on an extraordinary horizon. Two new Manningham Mills could punctuate this settlement I look down on. But the heart of Shipley, sadly, is marked by traffic lights, slowly illuminating the night scene with a constant glow of red and then green.

From south of the Mersey the damage of Strand Street, as it destroys the sense of the city touching the waterfront, cannot be seen.

A magnificent line of buildings and gaps exists from Bootle to King's Dock - a line of battlements where Liverpudlians can protect themselves from a Welsh invasion. It is not just a wall but a thin facade cut off from its vital interior, yet another example of traffic engineers'arrogance. Let the traffic snarl and the people breathe.

A long time ago, I used to know the arrival in Northampton from the north-west. At low level in the gutter of the valley, two cooling towers were framed - 'King Kong's egg cups'.

They announced the imminent arrival of the town, the passage from a rural heartland of arable farming to the market it supplied.

From a distance, the prospect of the town was exhilarating - up past Beckett's Park and Well (where Thomas was supposed to have taken water as he fled from Northampton to Canterbury), on up Derngate to Godwin's Town Hall, and then to the Wren-like church in the middle of town. Someone knocked down the cooling towers. Now you no longer have a marker to relate to from a distance. The dogs have been castrated and put down.

There is a house in on a hill in Menorca that has two magnificent palm trees in front of it.

From a distance, it conjures up images of colonial grandeur. That image is shattered at close quarters.

As you fly over Britain you see railways, towns with hospitals, school playing-fields, highways and fields. It looks like a modern and civilised place, slightly scarred by history, but none the worse for that. Age adds a patina, which makes things more wondrous.

From 10,000m, the place seen and imagined is a place to live. As we descend to lower altitudes, but still at a distance, we see the Palace of Westminster looking authoritative and trustworthy in its riverside site; and after we land, we hear Stuart Lipton congratulating the Treasury and the government departments for the progress they have made in moving towards a recognition that good architecture and urbanism matters, and indeed has a value.

Look closer at this national idyll. Peel back the walls of Parliament and look through the words of Lipton, good as they are. Our experience tells us of a magnificent deception, which is ruining the futures of many of the inhabitants of this island state. No trains and no chance of getting medical treatment in time.

Schools like prisons and housing that stifles creativity and assumes a lifestyle of conformity.

The words sounded great, and everything is great from a distance.

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