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Duncan Sim in LGC

26 June 2017

Politicians must build beauty into housing policy

Before the election, both the Conservatives and Labour focused on the affordability and supply of housing, and rightly so – despite the most recent figures showing the highest level of new housing delivery since 2008, the UK is still failing to meet the over 200,000 new homes we need annually.

But, with a new Parliament now elected to consider this issue among others, it is vital the debate does not fall into a reductive discussion of numbers alone. While this shortfall must be met, design, local engagement, and beauty must also be considered, alongside and indeed as integral to quantity.

As Secretary of State Sajid Javid has repeatedly said, the ugliness of proposed development can help to explain community opposition and reduced housebuilding rates. His ambition for greater community influence over developments’ appearance echoes ResPublica’s recent work on beauty and local participation in planning.

Our research has demonstrated access to beauty is associated with better community outcomes on wellbeing, crime, and civic pride. Previous research also shows three-quarters of people would support more homes being built locally if well-designed and consistent with local character.

Allowing communities to shape the evolution of their area – its housing stock, wider public realm, and infrastructure – with their idea of beauty in mind will help to realise such benefits.

Yet while recognising beauty’s potential as a policy tool, more tangibly, politicians should also acknowledge people’s basic desire to live in a beautiful place. Ipsos Mori have found that 81% of the public believe everyone should be able to experience beauty regularly, so it is puzzling and regrettable that beauty is not a more crucial feature of the debate on housing and planning.

Moreover, ResPublica has found access to beauty is unequally distributed across the country by both geography and household income. The new Government must recognise this as another social injustice to be tackled in addressing the multifaceted presentation of inequality.

It was disappointing that neither Labour nor the Conservatives put forward a vision for protecting and enhancing the beauty of neighbourhoods across the UK as part of their offer to the electorate, in the election just gone. This omission must be rectified in this Parliament.

Improving an area’s visual appeal is critical to building healthier, more prosperous communities. Too many people find themselves shut out from the opportunity to live in an area the beauty of which adds value to their lives.

Beauty is an issue politicians are seemingly reluctant to address, perhaps for fear of being seen as “out of touch” or not focused on the “big issues”. This reticence must change. We call on newly-elected MPs to make the case that the beauty of our housing and broader public realm is important too – not just the numbers delivered.

This article originally appeared in the Local Government Chronicle on 14th June 2017. You can read the original article at this link.