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Martin Pawley: do we all want a programmed life?

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'Just think, Damian. When I was scrimping and saving to buy our clip-on balcony, I never imagined that in just ten years' time mummy and daddy would be allowed to move into the flat right underneath us!'

It sounds like a line from a kitchen-sink drama about East Germany, but it can't be because no one is any longer allowed to aspire to a Trabant, only a bike. Yes, this is life in Millennium Village circa 2010, where a broad range of aspirations has been taken care of by thoughtful community architecture, but an even broader range has been, as they say, 'designed out'. For example, if the occupants of this near-beer council estate should want to go and live somewhere less exposed to the icy winds from the Urals, somewhere in the country, say, they will find the smile on the face of their friendly community architect will quickly turn to a worried frown.

'We can't go letting people live all over the place, ' he will explain. 'There's a simple rule for building that we all follow.

Brown land good, green field bad. Once you understand that, you'll see that all you really want is a new bathroom, and you can have one - when your lottery number comes up.'

Parody apart, sometimes it really does seem as though all the 'tough decisions' New Labour was elected to take have been bundled into one. Last week was like that. The contents of the great Dome was revealed; John Prescott announced that his Jaguar had been converted to run on gas; 250,000 people who already live all over the place invaded London to protest against urban interference in the freedoms of rural life - with the financial support of assorted housebuilders, developers and estate agents; and lifestyle details of the experimental prototype brown-land estuarial community of tomorrow were revealed to a deeply sceptical world.

When you look at the bundle of decisions represented by this lot, it must seem to many people that the government has got most of them w rong . Common observation shows us that, beyond the green belt, there is no shortage of rural land to build on. The new alliance of property companies and country folk shows us that there is no opposition to development in the countryside provided it is low-density and dispersed - everything that Millennium Village is not. The massive costs involved in dealing with contaminated land (a more honest term than 'brown' land), on top of the cost of making good the disintegrating urban infrastructure that threatens to bring London grinding to a ha lt , show us that the v is ion of a 'double-density' city of the kind the government has been persuaded into, is going to be slow, unpopular and hor rendously expensive - if indeed it is possible at all.

Increasingly, it looks as though the original prediction of a need for 4.4 million new homes by 2016 - most of them in rural areas - far from being too radical, was actually the most moderate and practical solution to the problem of future development.

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