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Beauty commission calls on councils to ‘say no to ugliness’


The government’s beauty watchdog has called on councils to ‘say no to ugliness’ by naming and shaming bad housing developments 

An interim report by the commission, due to be published today (9 July), has urged town planners to publicise examples of ‘bad schemes’ they reject to encourage better design. 

The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission also calls for retail parks and large supermarkets to be transformed into mixed-use communities, and greater use of master-planning.

The report explores the ‘fundamental reasons’ for ugly developments, and also calls for communities to be given an earlier say in the development process.

Nicholas Boys Smith, the founder of think-tank Create Streets, who is now leading the panel, said: Our initial report sets many ways we can make our country more beautiful while fulfilling the needs of future generations who will need a roof over their head. We need to move the democracy up-stream from development control to plan-making.

He added: ’Beauty should not be just a property of the old buildings or protected landscapes but something we expect from new buildings, places and settlements. We need to deliver beauty for everyone, not just the wealthy.

This will require, ultimately, some fundamental changes. Hopefully our report will start part of that important debate with the public and the professions.’

In addition to singling out poorly designed schemes, the commission praised ‘beautiful’ developments, including Ash Sakula’s riverside housing scheme The Malings in Newcastle.

Ash Sakula Hunter Johnstone  4

Ash Sakula’s Malings scheme in Newcastle

Source: Hunter Johnstone

Ash Sakula’s Malings scheme in Newcastle

According to the commission, the development is in-keeping’ with the traditional terraced properties in the area.

The findings included that any financial support from Homes England and local councils should ‘aim for beauty’, with more work required to understand how this might be achieved and measured.

Ian Tant, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), said the commission has ’helpfully steered the conversation’ about beauty to placemaking and places importance on planners to play a ‘decisive role in changing the status quo’.

Tant said the government should take note of the commission’s wide-ranging recommendations to ’use the planning function more creatively’ for place-making rather than development control. 

Asked what powers councils should have to be able to refuse schemes based on appearance, an RTPI spokesperson said ’poor design quality’ should be stated in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as being sufficient grounds for appeal dismissal.

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire praised the interim report for recognising the ’power of placemaking’ and ‘giving the subjective “beauty” some meaning’.

He added: ’This can only be supported through a properly resourced planning system, community engagement and by empowering local authorities to make the right decisions for their area.

’There is no greater challenge than tackling the climate emergency and I welcome the recognition in the report that sustainability and beauty must be in symbiosis.’

Boys Smith was appointed to replace the commission’s previous chairman, the outspoken academic Roger Scruton, who was sacked in April after the government said comments he gave to The New Statesman were unacceptable.

The magazine has since published a clarification of his comments on China and anti-Semitism. However, it was not the first time the government faced criticism over the appointment.

Labour MPs had previously called for his removal over his comments described Jews as forming part of a ‘Soros empire’ and his views on homosexuality. In 2007 Telegraph article about gay adoption as ‘not normal’.

Scruton also claimed in a public speech in 2005 that there was no such crime as date rape and described sexual harassment as merely ‘sexual advances made by the unattractive’.

The commission, which plans to submit a final report to the government before the end of the year, has taken evidence from over 120 stakeholders and received evidence from over 70 bodies and individuals including members of the public.

The panel also includes property consultant Gail Mayhew and chair of the TCPA Mary Parsons. A third commissioner, the landscape architect Kim Wilkie, has stood down from the commission.


Readers' comments (5)

  • Since when have councils been the best judge of what is 'beautiful' this is a ridiculous notion! They dictate external materials, roof forms, balcony types, massing etc. Developments have a multitude of constraints to overcome, esp. affordable housing, planning constraints (as above), low budgets, HA requirements, low architectural fees, time constraints on options, neighbour objections, politics, covenants, party walls, site topography, TPO's, I could go on and on and on. This is far more complex then you are making out and highlights the issues architects face when their peers are only able to judge on the appearance of a completed scheme without being aware of any of the other constraints. This country has a massive requirement for new homes and this coupled with expensive land, massive development taxes, low funding availability for HA's and restricted materials (planning and HA build-ability) will always mean there are few options available. Radical review is required if you want 'beauty' restrictions need to be lifted and funding increased!

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  • Define 'beauty' when considered as being 'in the eye of the beholder'. Expand upon 'One man's meat...…….'

    If Malings in Newcastle is considered 'beautiful' there is already a clear divergence of views.

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  • We don't yet have the final report, but the suggestion that refused schemes should be named and shamed seems likely to complicate even further the already taxing relationship between planners and those seeking planning permission. The grounds for refusal on the basis of ugliness will need to be very carefully set out. "Building beautiful" remains a challenging concept and, if it is to be policed in the way suggested, raises real questions about the legitimacy of the process and the scope for its abuse, particularly where local "interests" are involved.

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  • I suggest that the Beauty Police have similar powers to the Spanish Inquisition, including the power to burst into architecture studios guilty of producing ugly buildings...rather like the Monty Python sketch. The threat of being stretched on the rack and burnt at the stake should focus the minds of the ugly merchants.

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  • John Kellett

    The BBBB would not know a Beautiful Building if it Bit them on the Bum.

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