LETTER: Time for another urban renaissance

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I am right behind Lord Rogers’ stand on new Market Towns (WSCT 6/3/14). Under his leadership the Urban Task Force taught us the true meaning of sustainable development.

Its report Towards an Urban Renaissance (1999) was a clarion call. It led to a completely new housing policy, the famous Planning Policy Guidance Note 3.

With great clarity this promoted the recycling of brownfield land and older buildings, with higher densities and mixed communities. Shops and businesses were to be integrated with both affordable and market housing. Development was to be accessible to public transport.

The new policy created a housing system which preserved greenfield land by intensifying existing development, but in a thoroughly sustainable way. Housing would be created for people to enjoy living in.

It was an intelligent strategy for maximising what had already been used, and preserving what had not: our valued countryside. Only the will was missing, our own and that of successive governments.

No-one was able to generate the energy and hard work involved. VAT was levied on restoration but not on new housing, so there was immediately a disincentive - and it has not been lifted. PPG3 was superseded. Meanwhile, in the country agricultural buildings – always meant to be temporary - were given a semi-permanent status by relentless government upgrading, leading now to the fateful announcement that they can be developed without planning permission.

Our precious national parks and conservation areas have been exempted from this last provision, but only because of a last-ditch outcry. Even so, our rural heritage – buildings and landscapes - is daily under threat.

The distinction between designated (specially protected) areas and the rest is blurred and fudged. This would not be happening if the Rogers renaissance had been grasped and implemented, but we have mastered only the corrosive art of compromise.

Meanwhile much of our existing housing stock remains unoccupied while greenfield development (easier and cheaper for the builder) is not only tolerated but promoted. Urban renewal, an inspiration and a solution, has been sidelined.

We have just not tried hard enough. We get the society to we deserve and we are all in some way to blame for this failure of national will.

Hasn’t the time for Rogers’ urban renaissance come round again?

JANET ALDIN

Church Lane, Wiggonholt