I beg to move,
That this House
has considered beauty and the built environment.
It is a great pleasure to speak on this subject. I am prepared to be corrected if anyone knows better, but I imagine that this is the first House of Commons debate specifically on beauty for a very long time indeed. Yet the journey through life should be the pursuit of the sublime. It should be a search for absolute truth. In it we should experience and rejoice in all the exposure to beauty that characterises each and all of our journeys.
Beauty, whether in the laughter of a child, the scent of a rose, a glorious landscape or the setting sun, makes life richer and more fulfilled. In doing so, it does not merely satisfy our aesthetic needs; it takes us closer to the understanding of truth. As Keats wrote:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all”.
What Keats meant was that absolute truth is exposed to us—explained to us, one might say—through the experience of beauty. It is very hard for human beings, who are frail, faulted and fallen, to understand that truth except through the means that I have described: those touches or experiences of something pure, special and magical.
Sadly, we live in an age that is dull and utilitarian and in which mystery and magic are extraordinarily unfashionable. It is odd that it should be, for it was not true for most of our history, and has not been so for most great civilisations. It is unusual to be as utilitarian as we are, but now it is time for a change—for a renaissance. It is time for beauty to be put back at the heart of Government policy. I am delighted that the Minister shares that view, as I know from our conversations. It is a delight to have a Housing Minister who cares about the quality of housing, and all that says about its look and feel and our sense of place, rather than simply the quantity of houses that we build. I shall say more about that in my long and fascinating speech.
The scale of the housing problem means that some may dismiss concerns about style, regarding them as indulgent or even irrelevant. “Aren’t there more important things to worry about?”, we hear people say. Indeed, the focus of housing policy has long been on targets for quantity rather than quality. We risk having a competition across the political spectrum to build the most houses the most quickly by stacking them high and selling them cheap, regardless of their quality or what they look like. That is not good enough. It short-changes our countrymen and the generations to come. Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a place of which they can feel proud and through that to develop a sense of place that informs their sense of worth, which in turn feeds social solidarity through fraternity.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend in the flow of such an elegant speech, but does he share my view that we gave ordinary people the ability to concentrate on the essence of good design as one of the key things in putting together neighbourhood plans? I am disappointed that very few have taken that up. Will he help me to try to instil it in the minds of those who are conducting neighbourhood plans?
That is a good and important point that relates to something I shall say later about taking a bottom-up approach to delivering better-quality housing, rather than imposing top-down targets. My hon. Friend is right that we need to inspire a new generation to believe that this can be done, because there are some who say that it does not matter or even that it cannot be done—that it is no longer possible to build wonderful, lovely things, and that we are no longer capable of imagining what generations before us created. I just do not believe that. I think we can and should do better, and my hon. Friend rightly describes one of the mechanisms that might achieve that.
To dismiss concerns about the quality of what we build is both wrong and, ultimately, destructive. We cannot hope to change the public perception of new development unless we fundamentally change its very nature. Beauty should be at the heart of the public discourse. It should be part of our conversation about housing and development. As the great philosopher Roger Scruton puts it,
“we are losing beauty, and there is a danger that with it we will lose the meaning of life.”
If I am right that the journey through life requires us to experience beauty in order to build the personal fulfilment and communal contentment necessary to make a society that works, ignoring beauty does not merely short-change future generations; ultimately, it will destroy our chance to make a nation of which we can all feel proud. There is a close relationship between the sense of place and the social solidarity necessary to build a harmonious society. I could say a lot about harmony, but that is a subject for another time or another debate and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has spoken about it far more eloquently than I ever could, so perhaps I should defer to him.
The first misconception that I would like to quash, which sometimes prevents the debate about quality from taking place at all, is that the kind of approach that I am trying to articulate, which concentrates on beauty, is both marginal and gets in the way of getting things done. According to that view, constantly demanding more of development—I am talking about commercial as well as domestic buildings, because this is not wholly about housing—somehow acts as a barrier, an impediment, to delivering the bigger objective of building to provide a basis for growth and prosperity. I just do not believe that. Actually, I think the opposite is true.
When Her Majesty the Queen came to the throne, her reign was marked by talk of a new Elizabethan age. After the destruction caused by the war, people looked to new development with optimism. They believed that we could create a society that both looked better and was better to be part of. How curious and how sad that during Her Majesty’s reign, attitudes to development have diametrically altered. Whereas people once anticipated development with joy, they now very often look on it with despair. Frankly, that is the result of successive Governments and local authorities of all political persuasions; I cast no slur on any single party in this House.
As usual, the right hon. Gentleman takes a difficult topic and makes it understandable—to say the least—in a very jocular way. I am sure he will remember as I do when Governments used to announce at general elections that they would build about 300,000 houses a year. That has gone by the board now.
Planning is one issue when we talk about housing, and particularly social housing, in this day and age, but, more importantly, many years ago we used to have the Parker Morris standards for social housing. That is all gone now. Even in the private sector, we very often see houses that are nothing better than boxes. They look okay on the outside, but inside they are very small indeed. I do not think people are getting value for money. There is the design, but there is also the importance of bringing local people’s views into the discussion as well, and Members will probably have heard me talk of the King’s Hill area in Coventry, which is a beauty spot with lots of history where they now want to build houses. Before I sit down, I would just add that when we had a problem in Coventry with council houses, we let residents take part in the process of the design of alterations. That went very well. We have to get back to times like that—
I am delighted to say that I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman said. I think of where I was brought up in south-east London. It was a council estate built, as so many were, in that period during the war and just after. Houses were not only well built—they were attractive. Care was taken about the design of the house. There were a variety of house styles across the estate. There were houses of different sizes to accommodate different kinds of people; there were smaller properties, suitable for elderly people, and large homes suitable for families. The variety of houses, the look and feel of the development, the street layout, the presence of a widely used parade of shops, the church, the school, the community hall, and so on, were the component parts of a functioning community, of which everyone felt part. I am not sure that can be said of many developments now.
The hon. Gentleman is right that privately owned, but also rented properties, are often soulless, ubiquitous and indistinguishable from one another, looking the same from Penzance to Perth, with no sense of the vernacular, no sense of local personality and thereby, incapable of inspiring the local and particular sense of place necessary to build communal feeling. That is where we have got to. It is extraordinary that we have, given the opportunity that existed in the post-war years after the bombing of many of our cities. The redevelopment could have been not only regenerative, but inspiring. I have to say that we, as a nation, failed. Now, this Minister in his time in this job has the opportunity to put it right.
In my roles in the various offices of state, I have tried to influence the quality of development and what we build. As Energy Minister, I acted to ensure that wind turbines were constructed in appropriate locations after proper consultation with local communities, which is critical. Consideration about the impact on landscape became a vital part of the approval process. Some then simply dismissed the argument I made as irrelevant, on the basis of the easily grasped but utterly crass notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The notion that beauty is relative has been used to justify much of the ugliness imposed on our towns and cities by architects, planners and developers since the war. Such developments have succeeded only in undermining public confidence in new housing. What is often not appreciated is how the public’s perception of development has changed.
I think what I have already described would be agreed by Members across the House of Commons, and certainly beyond it, but the sad fact is that planners by and large still have not learned their lesson. Even today, for example, some still laud the idea of streets in the sky. Plans are apparently afoot to extend the misconceived network of elevated walkways constructed in the City of London after the war. Streets in the sky were never a substitute for real streets—for architecture on a human scale, in proportion and in harmony with its environment. As anyone who has ever attempted to walk to the Barbican Centre knows, urban walkways are alienating, confusing and a poor substitute for design that puts people first. The Barbican is far from the worst example. There were any number of large developments, mainly of social housing, with walkways and gantries that not only became havens for criminals but often also isolated rather than united blocks of flats.
This is not a whimsical issue for my right hon. Friend, but a long-standing issue of concern, as it is for me. My postgraduate thesis was on the Gothic revival in domestic architecture in the mid-18th century. That brings me to my question. How do we reconcile space for innovation, as the Gothic revival was in some respects, with respect for the vernacular in our very different counties and neighbourhoods?
As a direct result of that intervention, let me make my first demand of the Minister. I have more demands to make at the end, so I will get this one out of the way now—I see the Minister glancing at his civil servants nervously.
It is critical that every local authority not only has a design guide that is particular to its locale, but that has site-specific design appraisals for those most important regenerative opportunities. It is not enough for a local authority to rely on some county-wide or area-wide design guide or very broad general motherhood-and-apple-pie design principles. There have to be specific requirements for developers, which allow places to continue to change in a way that is in keeping with what has been done before. That is about materials, scale and sometimes eclecticism; there are particular places that look a particular way. We do not want every high street and every housing development, every town and every city to be indistinguishable one from another, but that will only happen if we are very demanding of what we expect of developers.
As you know, Ms Dorries, I have been Minister or shadow Minister for virtually everything, and I was once shadow Housing Minister. I met many big developers, big names that we could reel off if we wanted to, and they all said to me, “John, if you are clear about the requirements, we will build our business plans to meet them. We understand that you want to build lovelier places, and we know that that is what people want anyway. We are quite happy to build things that people will like and want to buy, or places they will want to rent. Be very clear about your requirements and we will work to them.” It is not about taking on developers; it is about working with them, but being demanding of them.
One of the things I learned in local government when I was leader in Coventry was that if someone is clear about what they want to do, they do not get any major problems—that happens when they are vague and unclear. I was reading an article in one of today’s papers, which showed a link between crime among young people and the design of buildings, particularly social housing, and certainly in areas in London, for example. Has the right hon. Gentleman read that report? It is worth looking at.
The hon. Gentleman knows of my extremely strong views on social justice and the redistribution of advantage in society. If we are going to redistribute advantage, as I think we should, it is not good enough to suggest that people who are less well-off, people who need to rent a home or young people who are looking to make their first home could make do with something inadequate, while those who are advantaged and privileged can buy the kind of lifestyle that was available to my working-class parents. The lifestyle I enjoy in my constituency in Lincolnshire is a bit like the lifestyle I enjoyed when I was a little boy on that council estate. We still use local shops, we have a garden to play in, we have a nice home and we have what might be called a traditional way of life because I am in a position to be able to provide that for my children—going to the village school and all the rest of it—but if I went back to places such as the place where I was brought up, by and large that life would not be available to most people who are rather like my mum and dad were that short time ago. I emphasise that it was a short time ago, Ms Dorries, but you knew that anyway. I want beauty for all, not for some or for the privileged or rich alone.
My right hon. Friend is being incredibly generous with his time. One point that I would bring out strongly is something that he has mentioned in passing but has not concentrated on: the need to include the environment in housebuilding, to be able to enjoy the space that comes with that, and to be able to provide opportunity for the family.
It will be alarming to some, but a delight to others, to know that I am only on page 3 of my very long speech, and I want to make a bit of progress. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that part of the sense of place, to which I referred earlier, is about green space. I will come in a moment to some of the research done by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’s organisations on what people want, because a lot of the interventions have mentioned the role of consultation, engagement and involvement in shaping policy around what people actually want. There has been a lot of work done on this by a variety of organisations, to which I want to refer.
Let us be clear about what we aim to achieve. We aim to build homes of which people can be proud. Le Corbusier, who is responsible for many bad things, said:
“A home is a machine for living”.
A home is not a machine for living. Homes are a reflection of our humanity. William Morris said:
“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
That was because Morris understood that beauty and wellbeing are inextricably linked, and that a politics that is serious about welfare and wellbeing must be serious about beauty. It is not possible to believe in the common good as passionately as all those here in the Chamber do but not care about aesthetics—the two are inseparable.
That beauty is somehow detached from matters of fairness and social justice is the second misconception that must be challenged. For the ancient Greeks, aesthetic and moral judgements were inseparable. In the 19th century, many artists considered beauty to be the vital link between freedom and truth. I sense that today there is once again a growing understanding of how aesthetics are a vital part of our judgment of value and worth. That is partly intuitive; people instinctively understand the connection between the value of beauty and a wider conception of worth.
This can be seen in protests at the ugly buildings that developers still attempt to foist on communities against their will. It can be seen in the despair at identikit supermarkets that lack any sense of craft or character, built with no consideration of the past and no regard for the future. Indeed, at the heart of modern architecture, like all modern art, is the Nietzschean idea that the past is irrelevant and we can create our own value system. Much modern architecture, like modern music, fails precisely because it rejects those principles of harmony that time has taught us to delight in, and that excite our senses not because they are discordant, but because they are harmonious.
Where modern design does succeed, that is largely by accident or because, where form has at least followed function, a building has a high degree of utility. That is important, because we often hear architects, planners and engineers speak about ergonomics, but they frequently confuse ergonomics with aesthetics. It is not sufficient for a building to be ergonomically sound, irrespective of its aesthetic.
Just occasionally, a combination occurs that unites those two things—the extension to King’s Cross is a very good example. Looking at the extension to King’s Cross and the engineering of the roof, it is clear that what is a functional requirement has been turned into a work of art, as aesthetics and ergonomics have come together. That is such an exception that it is frequently mentioned, because people are searching for an example of something joyful. Every time I go to King’s Cross station, which I do frequently on my journey to and from Lincolnshire, I look in wonder at that development. I know that we should be doing that time and again in towns and cities across the county—if not in scale, certainly in essence.
These lessons are not new, and I offer nothing that is not the wisdom of the people. The buildings that are most often treasured and valued by the public at large—our constituents—are usually older buildings that are shaped by vernacular style, where architects have taken care to be in harmony with the surroundings and where craftsmen have laboured over detail. A study by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment found that, when asked to name the most beautiful buildings in Sheffield, most respondents cited the two cathedrals.
Even the very same architects, planners and technocrats who foist ugliness on the rest of us often choose to live in beautiful, old houses in communities that still have a sense of place and a link to their surroundings. In fact, it is quite alarming that most modernists choose to live in Georgian or Victorian houses. That is the problem: escaping to gated lives, they leave well alone those who are forced to live in the kind of houses that Mr Cunningham mentioned, and that is just not acceptable. Beautiful housing has become increasingly unaffordable to the kind of people he mentioned, precisely because it has become so scarce. We have seemingly become incapable of building anything of comparable quality or of planning new developments with a similar sense of place and community, which are values that matter directly to our quality of life, our sense of wellbeing and our health and happiness.
It cannot be fair that beauty is increasingly the preserve of the few, which brings me to the third misconception that cannot be left unchallenged: that beauty belongs to the past. It is often considered, sometimes unthinkingly, that it is no longer possible to build beautiful buildings. We have somehow, rather depressingly, come to believe that the supply of beauty is both finite and exhausted, perhaps because people assume that it must be dated, kitsch or whimsical to build according to the principles of classical architecture, or to extend such a vision across a development so that it is harmonious, with a sense of community and place.
Such snide comments are sometimes made about the Prince of Wales’s vision for Poundbury, although the popularity of that place reminds me of what one wit said about the original Broadway production of “The Sound of Music”: “no one liked it, apart from the public”. The truth is that, when surveyed, the public repeatedly identify those kinds of place as places where they would like to live and that they aspire to own one day.
Beauty does not have to come at too high a price and it does not have to be sacrificed for the sake of utility. Those assumptions are false. When the city fathers of Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester built great town halls in classical or gothic style, they did so because they understood that these styles had endured. A fine example is Nottingham, a city I know very well, having lived there for 20 years, studied there and been a county councillor in Nottinghamshire. The Council House in the centre of Nottingham, which is a great neo-classical building, was built in 1929. Right up until then, we understood, but the problem has grown in scale and depth since the war. Those planners, engineers and architects built something that they wanted to last, and they succeeded. The modernist library in Birmingham’s Chamberlain Square was recently demolished, just 40 years after it was built, but no one would seriously consider doing the same to the classical town hall or the other great public buildings of the Victorian era.
Despite their appearance, those buildings are, in other respects, modern: they were built using modern construction techniques. In historical terms, compared with the cathedrals I mentioned, they were built yesterday. Many were built in the late 19th or early 20th century. There are no good reasons that we cannot continue to build beautiful buildings, as the Prince of Wales has demonstrated to such wonderful effect.
While I am dealing with the Prince of Wales, I want to return to the issue of what the public want. The Prince’s organisations consulted widely on the principal things that people want and do not want. I will highlight four. They do not want their town or village to lose a strong sense of identity; they do not want green space to be unduly threatened by urban sprawl; they do not want too many tall or large buildings, out of scale with what is there already, to be built; and they do not want change to be too rapid or overwhelming. In other words, people want building development on a human scale that is incremental and in tune with the existing built environment. Is that really too much to ask of our generation? I think not, and I hope the Minister agrees.
The irony is that many modern and postmodern buildings are more expensive than buildings built and designed according to classical principles. Even in cases where improving design and build quality comes at a price, in the longer term that will save money, and not just on maintenance. A British Land study estimates that better design could save the UK economy an estimated £15.3 billion by 2050, making us all happier and healthier.
Good design has the power to strengthen communities and improve physical and mental health through abundant green space and walkable streets. It has the power to improve safety and security through the abolition of semi-private spaces, walkways and underpasses, which trap people and encourage criminality. All those considerations should be fundamental to planning policy.
It would be a genuine tragedy if concerns about the supply of housing led us to revisit the failed post-war experiment in high-rise living. That is not the answer. Tower blocks are actually built at lower densities than terraced housing. We must consign such misconceptions to the past, and in their place develop a planning system that has true regard for people and communities. For almost 60 years, our planning system has encouraged or allowed out-of-scale buildings. We need fundamental change.
I will say one other thing about His Royal Highness, who put this issue in such clear terms and speaks, I think, for the people when he said that he did not want the place
“which I love greatly disappear under a welter of ugliness”.
How many communities and individuals have felt that? How many have felt that their voice is not heard by architects, planners, engineers and—I have to say it—politicians of all persuasions?
We need fundamental change. In the future, buildings should be in harmony with the landscape, vernacular in style and built from local materials, and they should offer local distinctiveness, which is the foundation of people’s sense of place. Pride in communities is unlikely to flourish if people have no say in how housing is built or how their neighbourhood develops.
As John Howell said, that obliges us to engage and involve local people in the character, shape and scale of developments close to them. Although the revised national planning policy framework now encourages local authorities to produce design codes and styles, we must go much further.
That is most kind of you, Ms Dorries. I always regard your advice seriously, and I will move reasonably swiftly to my exciting peroration so others can contribute.
Policy Exchange found that most people do not want to live in glass-covered high-rises or sprawling concrete estates. They want homes that are built in traditional styles, such as Georgian and Victorian-style terraced housing, and tree-lined streets. Similarly, research by Create Streets found that, in overall planning, people value green spaces; walkability, both in terms of consecutiveness and street-level interest; and a minimisation of the internal semi-private space that is a function of tower blocks, walkways and so on.
The success of the “Save our parks” campaign run by The Mail on Sunday is indicative of how much we value green space, yet parks and open spaces across the country are being lost, eaten up by greedy developers and unprotected by careless councils. We should not just protect green spaces, but build new parks and squares. I was pleased by the Budget yesterday, but we need to do more. Why does the Minister not stand up and say that it is his plan, ambition and intention to create 100 new parks and green spaces in towns and cities across the country?
In practice, much greenfield development is degenerative. All development should be regenerative where possible. It should be not a bolt-on to communities, but an opportunity to enhance and develop them in a way about which we can all feel proud. Policy Exchange estimated that, in London alone, there are 6,122 hectares of brownfield land, the mixed use of which could accommodate between 250,000 and 300,000 new homes. Bad design must no longer be tolerated. I want beauty for all.
I am coming to my exciting peroration, Ms Dorries, so excitement can build from now on—just in case anyone wanted notice of the need to be excited. We plant trees for those born later—for our children and grandchildren—and we should build for future generations, too. The built environment we leave behind is our children’s inheritance. We must not leave them a poisoned legacy of lost beauty and present ugliness. Such a legacy has already led to the burgeoning interest in local history. Bookshops are filled with illustrated history books, invariably with the word “lost” in their title. Towns and cities, pictured as they once were and no longer are, fascinate our constituents, because once we knew how to build and develop. They show a lost world of proud local shopkeepers, well-kept shopping arcades, community and Victorian civic pride. How much more can we afford to lose before we end this destruction? When will we start adding to our stock of beauty once more? Beauty once lost must now be regained. The Government can play their part. We must demand and do more. We must deliver beauty in our time.
Order. The Front Benchers are going to have 10 minutes each. Two other Members wish to speak, so to be fair and equitable they have just over 10 minutes each.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I congratulate Mr Hayes on securing it and, as ever, for speaking so eloquently and poetically. I would never be able to emulate his use of the English language and his flow, but others might be able to—I suspect that Mr Vaizey will do so.
The focus of this debate is the national planning policy framework, which provides a framework for producing local plans for housing and other developments. Those plans, in turn, are the background against which applications for planning permission are decided. I appreciate that the NPPF applies only in England, but it is important to have well-designed and visually attractive developments across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I am sure most, if not all, hon. Members will have heard me talk about my beautiful constituency of Strangford, which I have the honour and privilege of representing, and working and living in. I genuinely believe it is the best place to be in all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Other hon. Members will say, “I expect the hon. Member for Strangford to say that,” but I honestly believe it. I urge those who have not been there to make that journey. When they see the beauty that we have, they will undoubtedly have the same opinion as me. We have large towns, small towns and lots of small villages, but for the most part we are a rural constituency with rolling green hills, a glistening lough, beautiful walks, canoe trails, and much more, all under the protective gaze of Scrabo Tower as it looks down from the edge of Newtownards down to Strangford Lough and across the constituency of Strangford.
Those of us who represent rural constituencies know how important it is to balance the need for development with the need to maintain natural beauty, ensuring that buildings are in keeping with the local area. In 1943, having seen a burnt and crumbling House of Commons, Winston Churchill remarked,
“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 393, c. 403.]
That is spot on. As a boy, one of my childhood heroes was Winston Churchill, as was Blair Mayne and a former Member of this House, Dr Ian Paisley. To receive planning permission to build in the countryside in Northern Ireland, one of the requirements is to
“promote high standards in the design, siting and landscaping of development”.
It is no longer enough for buildings to be structurally sound and to simply do the job. It has to be more than that. They must also be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, whether they are in the countryside or an urban area.
While we battle to maintain our green spaces, we also recognise the demands for more housing and the infra- structure to support it and keep villages and towns connected. In Northern Ireland, the regional development strategy—RDS 2035—sets out eight aims, two of which are:
“Promote development which improves the health and well-being of Communities”— and—
“Protect and enhance the environment for its own sake”.
According to neuroscientists, buildings and cities can affect our mood and well-being—I believe they do—and specialised cells in the hippocampal region of our brains are attuned to the geometry and arrangement of the spaces we inhabit. For example, evidence shows that people’s happiness levels can be more easily achieved by living in an aesthetically beautiful city or a beautiful location in the countryside. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on healthy homes and buildings. Last week we launched a white paper in which we outline the need for modern homes to be energy-efficient, to have the correct air quality, and to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye inside and out. Last week Mr Bacon introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on those issues and how we can make housing more accessible to people right across the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the need to provide infrastructure along with housing, but environmental infrastructure is the big thing that is mostly missing in the development of new housing estates.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right. That is why we make sure that the environmental impact is a big part of development approval in Northern Ireland. He is clearly right and that should be at the centre of any development on the mainland as well.
Studies have shown that growing up in a city doubles the chances of someone developing schizophrenia and increases the risk for other mental disorders such as depression and chronic anxiety. Despite a higher concentration of people, much of it stems from a lack of social cohesion or meaningful neighbourly interaction. It could be one of the reasons why access to green spaces, where people can gather and escape, is so important for people living in cities. The correct environment around someone helps emotional and mental well-being.
Although we face potentially different issues in rural areas, the need to ensure that developments are in keeping with the area and, if possible, enhance it rather than detract from it is vital. The greatest problem in rural areas is the increasing need and demand for developments, and, as a result, improved infrastructure in terms of roads and transport. Of course, rural development always poses difficulty, especially in areas that have either seen an influx of new buildings or in more remote areas that are almost untouched by architecture or by any development at all. In both cases—I can speak with some authority on this because it is something that many constituents have come to speak to me about—the fear is that something is being lost, and that natural beauty and natural habitats are being replaced by concrete and stone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that rarely sits easily with residents.
We are also, arguably, more aware than we ever have been before of the impact that we are having on the world: our carbon footprint and the increase in pollution and waste. It is an issue for us every day in this House and outside. Those are fairly new considerations that architects now must deliver as well as ensuring that buildings are safe and structurally sound, along with providing an element of beauty for the local area. The Government have set some money aside within the health budget to address mental health issues. I read the other day that among students and young pupils in school there has been a 50% increase in mental and emotional issues. In Northern Ireland we have 10,000 children who have such issues. It is good that the Government have set that money aside. We need to have departmental co-operation and interaction to ensure that what we deliver in terms of houses also helps to reduce the mental and emotional issues.
In rural areas we must ensure that the requirement to bring something to the local area and to enhance it—at the same time as complementing the local environment—is always met. In urban areas more needs to be done to ensure that, where possible, residents have access to green open spaces and that architecture can respond to the demand for something different and interesting, particularly as simple and monotonous architecture has already been shown to have a more negative impact on citizens. When something as simple as our surroundings can have such an impact on our daily lives and therefore on our mental health, it is important that measures to improve the aesthetics of new and existing buildings should be considered.
I am grateful for the chance to appear under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes for securing this important debate. He started by asking whether we could remember a time when beauty had ever been debated in this mother of Parliaments. I confess I cannot recall a particular date, but what is lodged in my mind is
That has always stuck in my mind, because it was the first and probably the last time that a politician talked about beauty. My right hon. Friend was the environment spokesman, and he made many of the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings has made so eloquently in today’s debate, with almost mirror-image quotes about how people despise litter and love their landscapes, and how people are up in arms if someone threatens to build over much-loved parts of our country. So why do politicians not talk about beauty when most people live their lives yearning for beauty in some shape or other?
Of course, the language of bureaucrats and bureaucracy takes over, but when we talk about planning we are really talking about beauty. Planning is a system that is designed in some shape or form to try to regulate beauty. It is ironic that many of the buildings and much of the architecture that my right hon. Friend praised were built when planning laws were much more relaxed. When we walk through the medieval streets of the City of London we walk through an entirely unplanned city, which would have been planned after the great fire of London had not the merchants revolted against Christopher Wren’s masterplan, but we cherish such beauty.
Modern planning is a system to try to regulate beauty. As a new Back Bencher and then later as Minister for Culture, I lobbied hard for the terminology of beauty to be put into our national planning framework. When my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps was Housing Minister, he came up to me in the Lobby after the 2010 election and thanked me for being a pain over our years in opposition when I was lobbying him to put design principles in the national planning policy framework, and he thanked me for helping him to understand its importance.
Nevertheless, we have not covered ourselves in glory since. I, for one, hold my hand up as having been at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport when we downgraded and merged the role of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment—I think it was subsumed into the Design Council. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what engagement he has with what is left of it.
I do not say that CABE was a perfect model, but to have just one organisation out there holding planners and, more importantly, developers to account for design principles was important. In fact, someone from CABE, when it was still alive, kindly took me around a development in my constituency and pointed out where the developers had put in money and effort, and where that had petered out, resulting in the creation of buildings that were not, of course, unliveable, but were certainly not designed in a way to create harmonious surroundings. It was not really a question of money; it was a question of laziness.
What my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said about how easily things could change is true. I remember bringing the architect Terry Farrell to my constituency. I am not going to defend his buildings, but as an urban planner he is quite impressive. He sat down with residents of Wallingford, a medieval town in my constituency, pointed to the thousand-year history of settlement around it—towns and villages that developed around what had been marshland—and talked about how it might be developed sympathetically and harmoniously. The residents were supportive. I do not say that if his master plan had come to fruition and the houses had been build they would not still have manned the barricades, but just to be engaged and have someone acknowledge the history of their beautiful town was enough.
I should like to hear from the Minister not only about the incorporation of design in planning principles, but about a slightly more mundane although still important issue—the quality of new buildings. Linden Homes, probably the worst developer in my constituency—the bar is pretty high—is building houses in Cholsey that are literally falling down. I have had to go and visit constituents. Miller Homes in Drayton and Kier in Shrivenham have also had some problems with their buildings. The quality of building is shockingly bad. The great irony is that the building trade has not yet been disrupted by technology. Despite the terrible connotations, we should be building prefabricated homes. The Germans have done so for years. We could build quality homes in factories and erect them at lower cost, and with higher design quality, than the terrible homes being built by Linden Homes at the moment.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings mentioned the work that Policy Exchange is doing, which I applaud. A remarkable meeting is happening at lunchtime on Thursday, when a Syrian architect called Marwa al-Sabouni will be interviewed by Sir Roger Scruton. In the middle of the bombardment of Homs, that lady emailed him to ask him a question about his book on aesthetics. His talk is about the role of architecture in the Syrian civil war, which sounds completely out there, until one hears her quotation about the “lack of beauty” in Homs and
“the promise of a good life that architecture can inspire”.
“The old city of Homs used to be known as ‘the mother of the poor’. You didn’t need money to live there. It was a place of trees, and jasmine and fruit.”
That phrase could almost have been written by my right hon. Friend. She continued:
“But then the new city, with its corruption and its modern blocks, developed over it, bringing with it a lack of hope, despair.”
She is someone who, in the midst of an incredible conflict, with her family at risk and her friends being killed, was able to take time out to appreciate the importance of beauty.
Everything I shall say after that will seem mundane, but I certainly want design and beauty to be incorporated into planning principles. Policy Exchange has called for places of special residential character. The idea was put to me by the Duke of Richmond, about Chichester, for example. Could a heritage listing be given to some of our great cities and towns, to preserve them?
Will the Minister update us on whether what I read in the newspaper last week is true—that the wonderful, protected views of St Paul’s in London are now under threat from developers? That really would be a case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Those wonderful views keep London as the green, liveable city it remains, despite its being one of the world’s most globally successful cities. Everywhere we look in public policy, design and beauty are vital. How pleasing it was, even given the delays with Crossrail, that design and beauty were thought about in the design of stations. How pleasing it is that design is being made central to the character of High Speed 2; I hope it will get built. To echo, again, what my right hon. Friend said so eloquently, within the design of HS2 people in Birmingham want to build a station that is a homage to the great stations of the 19th century—a place of arrival, great welcome and beauty.
I want finally to give a small nod to my old beat of the arts, and mention the White Paper that I managed to publish before I got fired. It put place making at the heart of cultural policy—the opportunity to work with the arts to help to create and support places of great beauty.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and I thank Mr Hayes for bringing this important debate to the Chamber. I reacted to some of the points he made with great empathy and understanding, and I appreciate his approach.
When I first looked at the Order Paper, and thought about the legislation and the planning frameworks that underpin these matters, it seemed on the face of it that this would be a very English debate, because the frameworks in Scotland are different. However, the speeches have been very full in their coverage, and we have had an exciting view of what the future might bring if we can get the frameworks right.
My constituency contains one of the largest housing developments in western Europe—the Dunfermline eastern expansion—and perhaps that fact allows me to contribute to the debate on design and beauty, which are applicable in all constituencies and communities, irrespective of the planning guidelines that are used. The eastern expansion has brought what seems like never-ending growth to our mid-sized Scottish town, which has grown by easily a third in the past 10 to 15 years. The homes can be regarded as fairly similar in their design, reminding me of the song about houses that are
“all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same”.
However, while there are some good examples of design and layout within that massive development, quite a lot of opportunities have probably been missed. If all the houses were triple glazed, with higher standards of insulation, and had solar panels or different kinds of renewable power built in as standard, that would give an environmental boost to the way we look at homes. The fact that people now need to retrofit some of that new technology is a backward step. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the guidelines on how to make homes more environmentally friendly in future. Some of the things I have mentioned are not visually appealing, but when we put less pollution into the environment that is surely a benefit for all citizens. It improves the environment we live in, especially when such things as air quality are so far up the environmental agenda.
Scotland starts with quite an advantage, in terms of general layout. Urban Scotland is more green than grey, and green space covers more than half of urban land in Scotland; I think 54% of urban land there is deemed green space. That translates into the equivalent of a tennis court-sized piece of publicly-accessible green space for every person, which is quite a high bar to have set and to maintain. This is not just a matter of the new homes such as those in the eastern expansion. We can surely get big wins, if we have imagination, by bringing empty houses and derelict land back into positive use, especially if that breathes life into town centres.
A great example in my constituency is the rebuild of an old linen mill that lay empty and unloved for the best part of 10 years. It is now being restored and rebuilt to create 200 new flats, but without losing all the outward appearance of the old mill building. That new life will bring vitality to our town centre, not to mention new homes for people to rent or buy.
The Scottish Government fund the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, in conjunction with Shelter Scotland, to help councils to work with owners of empty homes to bring them back into use. Some 700 homes have been brought back into the market this year alone, and Scottish local authorities can remove council tax discounts on empty homes. They can even increase council tax on those homes, so that there is an incentive for homeowners to refurbish, re-let or sell their properties, and perhaps allow an uncared-for home, or an eyesore in a town or village, to come back into use. That initiative is supported by the £4 million Scottish empty homes loan fund, which supports 17 housing projects and is targeting 500 homes across the country.
The old linen mill I mentioned is a short walk from the new Dunfermline galleries and library—a development that was crowned “Scotland’s best building” in 2017. It has already won numerous design awards and is likely to be shortlisted for many more. The architects have managed to integrate the older Carnegie library, which was built last century, with a new glass and stone structure that has an open aspect across to the 10th-century Dunfermline Abbey and views across the Firth of Forth. Taking in that view, we can see Dunfermline High School, which opened a few years ago. I am particularly proud of that development, because in a previous life I was one of those councillors who Members mentioned in thinking about how we can encourage councillors and people who make local decisions to be more open to the visual aspects of our buildings.
I was chair of the council’s local education committee when Dunfermline High School was built, and I remember the endless meetings, care and attention that went into the design and functionality of that new school. In the end, we got a school that is light, airy and fit for purpose. Many Members have highlighted the psychological effects of good planning and design, and how that can affect our mental state and general outlook. Educational attainment figures for Dunfermline High School have risen on the back of that new building, and such examples highlight why good investment in public design and smart, aesthetically pleasing architecture raise both spirits and performance, and give us all a feel-good factor.
This has been a bit of a constituency tour—I am sure other Members have examples of great buildings in their constituencies—and I have saved the best to last. The Queensferry Crossing opened last year, on time and under budget; I am sure the Minister would be interested in having budgets like that all the time. It is a superb structure of immense architectural beauty, and it is framed against the backdrop of the Forth road bridge, and the iconic UNESCO-recognised Forth rail bridge. Those bridges were built in different centuries—if Members are interested, they can look on my Twitter feed, @DougChapmanSNP, because I managed to take a picture of all three bridges during my flight on Monday morning. If people want to see those views, they should do so. That might raise their spirits for the rest of the afternoon.
This has been an extremely valuable debate, especially in Budget week. Usually, anyone in charge of spreadsheets knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, but this debate has shown that many Members do know the value of our built environment, albeit it sometimes comes at a price. If we can better train our councillors and planning authorities to value design and beauty, and if we give them the planning frameworks and legislative tools, such as the Scottish Government’s Creating Places policy, we can start to put those factors at the heart of the communities we are trying to build or rebuild. If we can do that, today’s debate will have been very worth while, and I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Ms Dorries, and I congratulate Mr Hayes not only on having the most beautiful name for his constituency, but on securing this important debate on beauty. I will return to his comments in a moment, but first I wish to thank Jim Shannon for his remarks. I think he introduced a very important aspect of this debate, which is the link between beauty, a healthy environment and people’s health, including their mental health. He also reminded everyone how wonderful and beautiful Strangford is. After everyone has been to visit Durham, I encourage them to go and visit Strangford—I hope he is happy with that.
The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings made an amazing speech. I will not be able to match his eloquence in any way, but I hope I can offer him a service by endorsing his comments, which were long overdue. I hope that this debate starts a different discussion in this place about what planning can and should deliver.
The right hon. Gentleman raised an incredibly important topic that I learned about early on as a young academic in Belfast. One of the first projects on which I was included in the research team evaluated the impact of Divis flats on the health of the local community. Some Members might not know this, but the Divis flats were completed in 1966, as were a lot of deck-access blocks in this country. There were 12 eight-storey deck-access blocks, with one 20-storey block at the edge. I carried out my research in the 1980s, but people had maintained for many years that those blocks of flats adversely impacted on their health and wellbeing.
During the course of the study we discovered huge amounts of asbestos; that ultimately led to the blocks being demolished, which is what the local community wanted. People were propelled into campaigning, however, by the fact that they simply felt that they were not living in a good environment. They had to walk a long way along deck-access corridors that frequently had no lights, and they could not easily access transport. All the space was common space—there was very little external space. I do not know whether what replaced the Divis flats would pass the test set by the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, but it is interesting to note that those flats were replaced by streets of houses with lots of garden space and public areas of green space. The streets are near the city centre, and there is access to employment. People got better access to bus routes, and the community went from having a great many problems to being self-sustaining. I learned early on that the scale and quality of a development is very important to our sense of wellbeing.
This is not a new topic; it is a lesson we have learned before and appear to have to learn again. Raymond Unwin, who I think we all accept as the father of town planning, said in 1909 that we needed to make a real case for the importance of attaching beauty and art to town planning policy. Somewhere along the way, we have lost that attachment, and that needs to be addressed. ResPublica found that English people believe beauty to be a right rather than a luxury, and 81% of those polled believed that everyone should be able to regularly experience beauty, whether in the natural environment or through other methods, including those that planning can deliver for local areas.
Through the debate, the right hon. Gentleman has encouraged us all to focus on what the fundamentals of planning should be and how planners working with local communities—I will say more about that in a moment—can deliver a vision for what an area needs. Tools are also needed so that that vision can be realised in a way that local people are happy with, which means that planning has to move from using the very technocratic methods that it employs at the moment to doing something more visionary and inclusive.
As we are in the middle of a housing crisis and know that we need to deliver many more homes every year, much of our discussion in this place concentrates on the need to improve housing delivery. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can usher in a new discussion about place making, because although it is important that we have the homes that we need, those homes sit in communities. All too often we do not pay attention to the other things that communities need to thrive: proper infrastructure, access to public services and access to employment.
We do not talk enough about good quality design, or about how to not only save green spaces, but make them. The Minister could consider incentivising taking brownfield land in cities back to being green space, because there is often no land that has not been built on to be made into such a space. I also hope that he will consider how to give the national planning policy framework more teeth. It is okay to exhort people to have better design and have discussions in this place about it, but unless we get some regulation in the system and create the level-playing field for developers that the right hon. Gentleman talked about, we are never going to raise the quality of new building. In particular, local people need to be involved at an early stage, so they can talk about the type of development that they want and make the historical and modern references that they would be willing and able to make if they were supported through the planning system.
The Minister also needs to look at permitted developments. Yesterday, I was horrified to hear the Chancellor say that there might be more. Permitted development is leading to some of the poorest housing we have had in this country for a long time—barely a third of it meets basic standards. We need proper planning in place to deliver the quality homes that we need, but permitted development does not provide that, and having more of it on our high streets could be a problem. Of course, we want change of use and a flexible planning system—it has to reflect changing needs—but permitted development ushers in poor quality, and I hope that the Minister will reject it and look instead at developing a new planning system that is much more community focused. That system could have regional or national planning tiers and focus on what our neighbourhoods need and what people say they need to thrive as communities. I know that the Minister is quite new to his job, but I look forward to hearing his response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Dorries. You and I were both brought up in a city punctuated by architectural superlatives, but also scarred by some of the worst examples of architectural vandalism over the last three or four decades, so this debate is of interest to us both. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes on his fantastic speech. It will sit in his canon, alongside his groundbreaking and remarkable speech, “The journey to beauty”, which I have read several times now. He gave it as Transport Minister and it caused quite a stir in the industry at the time. He is without doubt an aesthete and a patriot, and I salute his indefatigability in the face of the ugliness that he rightly calls out. I am tempted to say “I agree” and sit down. He knows however that the issue of beauty in the built environment is close to my heart, and so I shall continue.
One of the advantages of having a poet on your speechwriting team in the Department is that they quite often recall to us some of the poetry of our youth. In preparing for this speech, we considered Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb”—a wonderful poem—which reminds us, with his image of the earl and countess captured in stone, that the things we build today could last for centuries, and that we have a duty to future generations to ornament their lives as ours have been ornamented by the generations that preceded us.
When the Prime Minister asked me to take this job, she was clear about my task: she wanted more, better, and faster homes. Those are the three indivisible words by which I live. We are talking in particular today about the “better” bit; building more beautifully, because in the words of the architect Frank Lloyd-Wright:
“If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it.”
Back in 2010, just 134,000 net additional homes were added to the country’s housing stock, but today, the Government are in delivery mode. The number of additional homes is up 55% to 217,000 per annum, and we are well on our way to reaching our target of 300,000 per year. We have always been clear that building more does not mean that we cannot build better. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said, we have to quash the myth that quality and quantity cannot go together. In fact, the more we build, the more important it is that we get it right. While I accept his challenge that beauty is not a relative term, when it comes to our built environment it is often in the eye of the beholder, so no matter what we do, some people will be unhappy.
We all know what beauty should feel like. Beautiful places not only make us happy but keep us well, and move us from fear and anxiety to hope and happiness. They welcome us, inspire us and elevate the mundanity of human existence. Great housing developments do not have to be billion-pound projects—the overall winner of last year’s Housing Design Award was a mixed-tenure regeneration scheme in Camden—and critically, beautiful places to live and work should not be the preserve of the wealthy, as my right hon. Friend also pointed out. No matter where one stands on design, our first obligation is to ensure that communities get what they need in a form that they appreciate.
The Government are leading on that by putting beauty at the heart of our housing and communities policy. In both the housing White Paper and the social housing Green Paper, we are focused on creating great places and on design quality. Homes England, our new and more assertive national housing agency—I launched its strategic plan this morning with an exaltation to beauty in all that it does—is promoting design quality through its programmes. In July, our revised national planning policy framework put another stake in the ground. It states that:
“permission should be refused for poor design” especially when it
“fails to take opportunities to improve the character and quality of an area.”
In decades to come, we want to look back on this golden age of housebuilding not through the windscreen of a bulldozer, but with a view to treasure, preserve and invest in what lies before us.
We must learn the lessons of the 1960s and 1970s. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings referred to the Birmingham central library, which has now been demolished. The same is true of Robin Hood Gardens, as well as Pimlico school—a brutalist concrete school in a ward where I served as a councillor—which I played a part in having demolished. They are temporary buildings.
While the Minister still has 10 minutes left, let me ask him if he will agree to three things: first, to draw up a black list of blight, which would allow us to demolish many more buildings of that kind; secondly, to put in place obligatory local design guides so that local authorities have to build in a style that is suitable and appropriate; and, thirdly, to back the Mail on Sunday campaign to protect urban green spaces. Dr Blackman-Woods spoke about level playing fields, but any playing field will do. Playing fields are places where people dance, play, meet friends and enjoy the open space. We need to protect them. Will my hon. Friend do those three things?
My right hon. Friend raises some interesting issues. As he knows, I am in the process of producing the guidance to the NPPF, and I shall certainly take his advice as I do so. He might be interested to know that when I was at City Hall, I suggested a competition for Londoners to vote each year for a building that should be demolished, and that we should provide grant support to assist in the demolition of that building, if required. However, let us see where we get to with the guidance.
My right hon. Friend mentioned local materials and the vernacular, and we want to draw from the history of any area the use of materials that mature and age gracefully. Critically, we want to build the conservation areas of the future. That is a challenge I have put to the housing development community in a number of forums over the past three or four months that I have been in this job. That does not mean that all new homes and public buildings need to be a replica of the local style, but they do need to fit in, in the broadest sense of the term.
We are therefore supporting high-quality, high-density housing such as mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets, typical of the English urban townscape and rural context with which we are all familiar. In particular, I am keen to see the re-emergence of that great British gift to the world of architecture, the garden square. It is possible for modern, efficient and technology-driven design to echo our history and to reflect the local area without becoming pastiche. It is something we have sought to achieve with our garden communities programme.
More than a century ago, Sir Ebenezer Howard first outlined his idea of a garden city. He had a vision of places where people could work, raise families, travel easily and enjoy green spaces. We are renewing that idea for the 21st century, and we have set out clear expectations for high-quality place making across our country. It is a chance to aspire beyond identikit housing, which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings identified, and town centres that look like everywhere and nowhere. We are championing ambitious councils which see garden communities as a central part of their plans for housing and growth. Our programme supports 23 places to deliver more than 200,000 new homes by the middle of the century. I hope that we might be able to rise to his challenge to produce 100 new parks, if each of those places has four.
We are not only building homes. We recognise that we are building neighbourhoods. Developments of 500 units or more are bigger than most villages, so we have to think in terms of neighbourhoods that function, as my right hon. Friend pointed out. To achieve that, however, we know that local planning authorities need design capacity, so we have directed almost £5 million to 26 local authorities through our planning delivery fund, to support them in developing innovative ways to increase design skills throughout the country.
We are also running workshops for councillors, to help them to understand and to support their role in ensuring beauty in the built environment. The workshops will offer them the opportunity to discuss the challenges that they face and, importantly, to share their own experience of promoting design quality. We are bringing in people from across the sector—from local authorities to developers, housing associations and architects—to share their ideas about beauty and great design.
I am more than happy to meet. In the past, I have worked closely with the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community—I knew Hank Dittmar quite well before he sadly passed away—and I would be delighted to become reacquainted with the prince’s work, not least because earlier this year we held a design quality conference, the first of its kind, which was attended by 380 people from across the sector, and we want to do more of that kind of work, because the responsibility to build more beautifully rests with all of us.
Where the Government are leading, I encourage the private sector to follow. When I bring that message of “more, better, faster” to the sector, I always stress how design matters at every level, from planning to community acceptability: build beautifully and get permission, build beautifully and sell more houses, and build beautifully and communities will actually welcome developers, rather than drive them out of town at the tip of a pitchfork.
First, I echo what my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes said: we have had far too many Housing Ministers, and I call upon the Prime Minister to keep this wonderful man in office until the 2022 election and many years beyond. Secondly, I caution against this debate tipping over into an attack on modern architecture. Robin Hood Gardens may not be lamented, but Park Hill in Sheffield—a similar design—has been restored and is much loved. As the Minister who listed Preston bus station to much anger, I am delighted that it is now treasured by the local community.
I acknowledge what my right hon. Friend says, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings said, that is often an accident of ergonomics, form and beauty coming together, just as it did for the roof at the British Museum—an extraordinary structure in which, exactly right, ergonomics and form come together.
Some of the best examples of beautiful buildings are delivered by small and medium-sized enterprises, from self-build to the refurbishment of historic buildings. Sadly, the 2007-08 economic crash killed a number of such growing developers, and we are yet to see a new talent pool emerge. I believe, however, that SMEs are part of the key to the challenge. That is why we are directing our home building fund towards SMEs—to give them the confidence to grow and build, and to raise the bar on design quality. By having more players in the market, we shall get them to compete on innovation and quality.
Ultimately, it comes down to delivering houses that people want to live in, buildings where people want to work and places that people want to call home. More than that, we must build things that elevate and entertain. That is what the Government are hoping to and will deliver in the future. I look forward to working with many hon. Members on that most important of missions. I close by—
Sorry, yes. I asked my team to update me on the London views. Apparently, there is a campaign by London First and other developers to relax the protections, but so far they remain in the draft London plan. We shall see where that plan lands.
I shall finish my speech by returning to that Larkin poem. Members may remember—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings does—that the most affecting part of that poem is in the second stanza, when Larkin reveals that the couple he has been looking at are actually holding hands. They have been holding hands for the centuries for which they have been lying there. At the end of the poem he ends with that famous line:
“What will survive of us is love.”
In 200 or 300 years’ time, what will future generations see as a symbol of our love for them, projected forward in time? All that will survive of us is those things that we build today. We are joined in our ambition to ornament their lives and to create the beauty that will enhance their existence for centuries to come, as ours has been enhanced by the generations who came before us.
Simply to repeat, Ms Dorries, that we are lucky to have a Minister—and, by the way, a shadow Minister—of such calibre. He is right, we are talking about what we do for generations to come—those born later, as I described them.
Speaking of Larkin, urban planners have done to too many of our fellow Britons what Larkin said all our parents do to us. Now it is time for Government to raise their sights to a more distant horizon. Beauty is not a bolt-on, an extra or something that we may opt for; it is intrinsic to developing a sense of place, which is essential to a sense of value and worth, as the Minister clearly understands. That is not only about future generations, but about the common good now.
As the Government move forward on their plans for housing, they need to have a debate about quality and not to be limited to a debate about quantity. It is absolutely right for those two things not to be paradoxical. It is entirely possible to build homes that people want to live in.
I hope that the Minister will make the ambition of 100 new parks come to life; that he will prohibit development on the green spaces where, as I said, people play, make friends, dance and dine; and that he will be insistent that all that he has said today informs not only his thinking but Government policy into the future. It is right for buildings to elevate, as he said, but more than that the buildings and the politics should enthral. That is not merely an aspiration, but the duty of all of us, which is why I am delighted to have sponsored this debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered beauty and the built environment.