UK appoints conservative philosopher Roger Scruton to champion “beautiful” new housing that fits in

In a bid to combat nimbyism and get more homes built, the UK government has set up a commission to try and make new housing developments "beautiful", with the renowned conservative writer and philosopher Sir Roger Scruton as its chairman.

Sir Roger Scruton (Pete Helme/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

The "Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission" will develop "a vision and practical measures to help ensure new developments meet the needs and expectations of communities, making them more likely to be welcomed rather than resisted," the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government announced Saturday, 3 November.

"Most people agree we need to build more for future generations, but too many still feel that new homes in their local area just aren’t up to scratch," said Communities Secretary James Brokenshire.

"Part of making the housing market work for everyone is helping to ensure that what we build, is built to last. That it respects the integrity of our existing towns, villages and cities."

Brokenshire added: "This commission will kick start a debate about the importance of design and style, helping develop practical ways of ensuring new developments gain the consent of communities, helping grow a sense of place, not undermine it. This will help deliver desperately needed homes – ultimately building better and beautiful will help us build more."

The move follows a warning last August from housing charity Shelter that big house builders were breeding nimbyism in the UK by ignoring community concerns with ugly developments.

"Even when communities create detailed plans for housing developments, these developers brush them aside and build unattractive, unaffordable homes," Shelter chief executive Polly Neate told The Times. "This means many [people] choose to oppose new homes rather than go through a long planning process, only to be ignored in the end."

The ministry said it had recently rewritten the planning rulebook to bolster design quality and community engagement, and the commission will build on that with its three aims:

  1. To promote better design and style of homes, villages, towns and high streets, to reflect what communities want, building on the knowledge and tradition of what they know works for their area.
  2. To explore how new settlements can be developed with greater community consent.
  3. To make the planning system work in support of better design and style, not against it.

"Placing beauty at the heart of housing policy is the biggest idea in a generation," said Dean Godson, director of think tank Policy Exchange, which has been promoting the concept.

New housing at Birkenhead, Merseyside, England, 2013 (Rept0n1x/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

"We know from our research and polling that local support for development increases across all income groups when beauty is made a priority and this commission represents a fantastic first step," Godson said.

A prolific author, Professor Sir Roger Scruton’s latest book, published in June this year, is Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition. Over his 30-year career he has specialised in aesthetics, including music and architecture.

Top image: The village of Corfe Castle, Dorset, England. The commission will push for more respect for local character in planning new housing (Huligan0/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

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  1. A worthy initiative; we know how much the built environment affects so many aspects of life for individuals, the communities and our society at-large over generations to come. Lets’ hope its aims can be realised – and that can only happen if it has ‘teeth’ in the planning approval process and we are willing to pay the inevitable premium for what is (on the large scale) majoring on ‘affordable’ – for whichever stakeholder you aim that at.

  2. Another ridiculous hoop to go through where some fanciful board will end up referencing some absurd scheme regardless of cost or appropriateness. Empower planning officers in their professional capacity to make the right call using their sound knowledge and judgement.

  3. There is very considerable scope for the beautification / ashesthic appeal & servicabilty of new & old properties both externally & internally. The appointment of Sir Roger Scruton is a wise choice in achieving this long overdue goal.

  4. The appointment of Professor Scruton is to be welcomed. Our planning system has become an overbearing bureaucracy and unrepresentative of communities. Worthwhile projects which aim to restore older buildings or build new settlements or villages are usually turned away by planners with disdain, with the result that it is usually only the humdrum or formulaic that gets built, as was the usually the case in socialist countries. Architectural competitions in which the public can participate are a rarity. The irony is that architects from all over the world are trained here, we have a world class construction sector and adequate available finance. Despite these advantages we have tied ourselves in knots and it needs some radical ideas and visionary politicians like James Brokenshire to realise the potential for a sensitive and skilful approach to evolving our built environment.

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