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Turn Britian's cities into powerhouses, says task force

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The uk needs a national design framework to turn our declining metropolises into 'powerhouses' like Barcelona and Turin, says the Urban Task Force, which forecasts a shake-up in design training and suggests higher taxes.

Its interim report said that the framework should not impose a blueprint on local communities but provide them with 'tools and guidance for developing their own urban places and spaces', and should promote world-class 3D spatial masterplanning as the basis for urban development. According to the task force, led by Lord Rogers, such a policy would promote compact towns and cities made up of neighbourhoods comprising a mix of uses.

One of the task force members, Tony Burton, assistant director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, told the aj: 'We are trying to establish principles that will cascade through the planning system rather than the mish-mash we have now that doesn't hang together. There will inevitably be changes to the way architects are trained, and this will tie in with surveying and planning.'

The task force received feedback from 300 sources including individuals, councils, house-builders and groups such as the rics and the Chartered Institute of Housing. It also visited cities including Barcelona, Amsterdam and Manchester.

Lord Rogers said that the most important issue was quality, not quantity. The issue was not about hitting the government's target of 60 per cent of new households in towns, but how houses are developed. Pockets of wealth in London and the South-east were bad for the country, he said. Long-term government commitment was needed, with regional capitals or groups of regional cities acting as economic and cultural powerhouses with strong European identities.

Tony Burton said that the most controversial aspect of the report was the conclusion that taxes on undesirable developments might have to be introduced. However, the rics said that encouraging brownfield development relied too heavily on the stick (restricting access to greenfield sites) without enough carrot (financial incentives for brownfield development).

Other suggestions included harmonising the tax rate on new-build and refurbishment at 5 per cent, and cutting council tax or business rate on houses or businesses on brownfield sites.

The Civic Trust proposed a tax on rural development, vacant brownfield land and vacant property. Mortgage tax relief could be phased out for greenfield homes with funds ploughed into urban renewal.

However, some contributors to the report said greenfield taxes could lead to more uniform and bland developments as a result of developers trying to minimise costs. It might also lower the cost of rural land, deterring landowners from selling.

The problem with much urban design is rural nostalgia, said the report. 'We seek to mimic a rural form of development and it doesn't work very well.'

The task force will publish its full report in early summer and its recommendations will be used by the government in its drafting of the Urban White Paper. Lord Rogers vowed that it would be fleshed out with definite proposals, and would take in welfare policy, race relations and crime.

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