Time to reignite the war on planners
Urban planning has led to shoddiness, squalor and ugliness in our cities. Let’s throw away the rulebook and allow people to build where they want
The suburban semis built between the two world wars were one of Britain’s great social successes — liveable, adaptable and well-built. The onrush of pebbledash and privet was halted by a hysterical but influential pro-Plan campaign. Suburbia lacked the imprimatur of design intellectuals. Yet it was, and is, a land of hope and aspiration.
Today, because of Plan, about 40 per cent of the cost of any new house goes on buying land and getting planning permission. So present-day “executive homes” are often on cramped sites, compared with Non-Plan interwar semis. Meanwhile, to make up for the lack of other homes, about a quarter of a million people — more than the population of Milton Keynes — live in caravan parks....
In the worship of Plan, there’s an arrogant assumption that someone knows what people want, better than the people themselves. But in his Maxims for Revolutionists, Shaw wrote: “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.”
Once upon a time — before the clunking fist of Plan — if houses were needed, then houses were built, mostly by small-scale firms, often employing less than ten men. Thus were created those Non-Plan suburbs so derided by planners and cultural commentators, but in which more than one in five of the population live. Suburbia is the classic national compromise between town and country, and between privacy and price....
The time has come to cut the Gordian knot. Repeal, or drastically curtail, the planning laws. Let building-for-people recommence. Some precious zones should be preserved, many of them already national parks. Otherwise, houses should go where the demand is. Most would be spec-built. Only the most adventurous or the most hard-up people would venture into self-help. But they shouldn’t be vetoed.
There’s one glimmer of hope. Throughout the generations, the Conservative Party has risen to power on the back of promises about homes — from Lord Salisbury’s Villa Toryism in the late 19th century, through Anthony Eden’s “property-owning democracy” mid-century, to Margaret Thatcher’s “right to buy” offer in 1979. At present, David Cameron’s party offers only a hair shirt of cuts, cuts, cuts. Does the electorate really want nothing but that? Last weekend’s Ipsos MORI opinion poll, showing a narrowing gap between Tory and Labour to just 6 per cent, seemed to say, “No: we want more.”
A hair shirt and a home: that’s much more appealing. I’m no Tory. But as a libertarian I say : Let’s raise the banner of Non-Plan.
The minute control that the planners have over us all, boasting of social engineering, changing behaviour towards their ideals and forcing millions of us to live in squashed unloved homes is a huge scandal. And the All-right-Jacks in the CPRE and local action groups are as guilty as the spotty faced socialist in the planning department.
There is only one use for the planners, and that is to ensure that come the glorious day there are enough lampposts to go round.