Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The step-free world - can it have a downside?

Changing the built environment to allow step-free access - an exercise which is costing a huge amount of money, and if you consider London's tube network, has really only just begun - is a good thing.  I have pushed buggies and I still push a wheelchair from time to time, and the world has got better over the last few decades for the millions of us who do this.

But the move to Flatworld is not without a downside, and this doesn't seem to be discussed much.

Making the world safe for wheelchairs and buggies has also made the pavements safe for tourists with luggage on wheels that is too heavy to lift; for badly controlled infants on scooters and badly behaved adults on roller blades (and bicycles); and, in a further contribution to the continuing atrophying of human muscle power, for the Segway.

Anything that had George W Bush as a famous early adopter needs to be looked at with suspicion.

Here at Port Soller in Mallorca, for example, a huge sum of public money has been spent in recent years on public realm improvements along the waterfront.  It is all to a high standard, and as we expect of such projects now, everything is step-free.

And so a shop on the waterfront offers Segway tours - which would not have been possible before the improvements.  You get to see the waterfront, like on foot but faster, and to the irritation of pedestrians.

There are two main downsides to step free access.

First, letting onto the road anyone who has a good reason to be on wheels on the pavement - such as a wheelchair user - for example to cross a side street via dropped kerbs - has the undesirable consequence of letting anyone who should be on the road - such as a cyclist - more readily onto the pavement.  And it makes the use of things such as roller blades on pavements, not always found on the feet of considerate people, easier for those who want to do so.  The general elision of the world of the road and the world of the pavement - in principle a good thing, in the introduction of the shared surface  - encourages the take-up of new things that don't obviously belong to one or the other, like the versions of infants' scooters that are used by grown ups - some versions of which are powered.

The second, related downside is less activity for the able bodied, particularly if they are predisposed to avoid physical effort, as most of us are.  Someone in a wheelchair needs a lift to get the first floor - the able bodied don't, but they tend to use the lift anyway - and most new buildings are arranged to hide the stairs away.  Encouraging walking by improvements to the built environment is a public policy objective intended to improve health, but there are all sort of things that make it easier not to get incidental exercise, such as by climbing stairs or carrying bags, than it used to be.

While shoes with integral wheels don't seem to have caught on yet for the adult market, this may just be the result of an image problem, as so far they have mainly been aimed at children.  But that doesn't seem to put off grown-up roller bladers and skateboarders.  As it becomes more and more practical to get from home to work with wheels on your feet, the practical means will surely soon be provided for everyone to do this.  

The Incas knew about the wheel, but used it only for small objects with no practical use, like toys.  No flat surfaces to use wheels on, you see.  The Incas didn't last.  The future appears to be flat.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

At Golden Lane: old wine in new bottles

The postwar Golden Lane Estate, on the northern edge of the City of London, is more lovable and more human than its later and bigger cousin at the Barbican (though both are good, with plenty to inspire those designing high density housing today).

Golden Lane has also been been more extensively customised (before listing put a stop to all that at both estates), most notably in the case of the Shakespeare pub - originally a modern design admired by Ian Nairn, but now with an Olde England pubbe makeover, complete with retro joinery mouldings, repro carriage lamps and twiddly typography on the fascia (the big sans serif lettering on the white wall on the right looks original).

It's hardly surprising, of course - the modernist pub, as opposed to bar, is an oddity that has never found much favour.  A rather fine postwar example in St John's Wood, the Rossetti, on the corner of Queens Grove and Ordnance Hill, with open plan split level bars, did flourish - it was knocked down and replaced by as banal a neo-Geo housing block as Westminster City Council have ever approved, which is going some.

Across town, at the 1950s Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico - which should also be on the study tour - the architects spared a Victorian pub from demolition and put up modern slab blocks around it: securing the pub's long term future, rather than 'harming its setting' as might be claimed if you tried the same thing today; adding to the richness of the townscape; and avoiding the problem of how to design a modern pub.

As with the half-timbered neo-Tudor bar fit-outs that you can find inside modern air terminals at Heathrow and Gatwick, there's something faintly disturbing about the kind of 'old in new' conjunction found at the Shakespeare.  Frank Duffy's formulation of 'Shell, Services, Scenery and Set' explained how buildings and bits of buildings are replaced on progressively shorter cycles (for offices, perhaps 50, 15, 5 years, and a few weeks or months respectively).  When you find the 'Shell' of a 500 year old crumbling stone building in the centre of Rome fitted out with a crisp and shiny new shopfront with bronze glazing bars ('Scenery'), that seems like the natural order of things, and you're relieved that Roman Heritage or whoever deals with such matters hasn't insisted on timber stall risers and bolection mouldings - as they might have done in some places I can think of.  Modern interventions in old buildings brought out and bring out the best in some architects. Carlo Scarpa was better when intervening in something interesting that was there already than when starting from scratch; similarly Haworth Tomkins are an example of present-day London architects who do their best work in existing buildings (putting them in the same sentence as Scarpa should prevent this observation being read as criticism).  The Shakespeare's fit out did not bring out the best in anyone.

But cheer up - a few doors up from the Shakespeare in Goswell Road you can find original Golden Lane shopfronts with original typography, still looking good (and with the original three-letter phone code too).

Like many architects, probably, I find myself conflicted between the instinct that a visually well-ordered world is better than the alternative, and the feeling that there's a limit to how much you can hope to, or should, exert control on aesthetic grounds on what happens in the environment  (see the entire UK planning system passim).  Corbusier's Frugès housing at Pessac was good when it looked coherent; so, for different reasons, was the pimped-up people's Pessac that followed.  If (as I suspect from a Streetview inspection) architect-y types are moving in there and trying to restore it to its original state, then perhaps a free market in coherence can exist after all - although the Second Law of Thermodynamics suggests this is unlikely to happen to any great extent.

The issues are made clearer by considering Duffy's formulation.  Shells should be controlled; Sets (the flowers and sandwich board in the picture above, for example) obviously shouldn't be (though I think they may be in Singapore). The Shakespeare's Scenery - old wine in new bottles - is in the contentious zone between the two.

Monday, 8 July 2013

At Kidbrooke Village

Estate regeneration - mainly, knocking down and starting again - is taking place, or planned, on a massive scale across many of the biggest postwar public housing estates all over London.

Last week, developers Berkeley organised a morning of talks and tours at Kidbrooke in Greenwich, where the Ferrier Estate, built forty years ago by the GLC and now in the hands of Greenwich Council, is being demolished and turned into a mixed tenure development, at about twice the density of the old housing.  That ratio appears to be typical for such schemes, the 50% of housing for sale helping to pay for the 50% of affordable housing, reprovided in the same total amount as before.

Work has been going on for four years now - the first phases, of an admirably high standard of design and finish, are occupied, and the last of the old buildings were being flattened in front of our eyes.

The Ferrier, very isolated from surrounding areas, had become notorious for physical and social problems as early as the late 1980s, but when the first tenants had moved in less than 20 years earlier, they loved it (or at least there is film of tenants saying they loved it) - as was often the case with such housing.

In today's redevelopments, there is much emphasis on social as well as environmental and economic sustainability, and Berkeley are promoting studies of how this can be achieved in developments of this kind - undertaken here by Social Life, an offshoot of the Young Foundation.

Much work in sociology concerns the built environment, but one can't help suspecting that connections between the different professions and disciplines generally remain poor, and studies such as this one rare.  Former LCC architect John Partridge's account of his involvement in the design of the seminal housing estate at Roehampton - another estate, much of which is listed, now due to be regenerated - mentions the involvement of a sociologist on the LCC staff in the 1950s as if that were not a particularly unusual thing. It would, one suspects, be unusual now, yet one can't help wondering how much the social consequences of the redevelopment of many of these estates is being dealt with at a deeper level than that of a wing and a prayer.

Typically, such places were cut off from their surroundings and quite different in almost every way: appearance, tenure, social mix etc.  Now they are being reintegrated with their surrounding physically, and monocultural tenures are being replaced by more mixed forms.  But the enterprise could still be described as 'experimental' - a term often used in the past as a criticism of failed housing schemes, such as Robin Hood Gardens, though  in fact there was seldom any research or any findings.  But if things were properly monitored, that surely would be a good thing.  The new Kidbrooke Village, with good looking buildings and the lavish landscape that Berkeley have learnt makes good marketing sense, feels a long way away from the bleak housing it has replaced.  One hopes that studies such as those being carried out by Social Life will continue through the remaining twenty years or so of rebuilding that remains.

Monday, 29 April 2013

An architectural family tree at Cannon Street - the song remains the same

Peter Frame's Rock Family Trees are a delight for music geeks - and appear to be a nice little earner for their author and artist.  Someone should do the same for postwar UK architecture - though I suppose the market might be a bit more limited.

An example of an architectural family get-together can be seen at Cannon Street.  The powerful exoskeleton of Foggo Associates' new building over Cannon Street Station (centre of picture) has a clear affinity with its neighbour, Arup Associates' 80 Cannon Street of 1972-6 (the Pevsner guide calls the latter a 'startling tower', though rather more startling towers have appeared in the vicinity since that was written...).

Foggo Associates emerged in 1989 from Arup Associates, where Peter Foggo (who died in 1993) and his team had been responsible for many of the latter's most notable projects through the 1970s and 80s.

The recent reminiscing prompted by Lady Thatcher's death has reminded us how much there was that was awful about the 1980s.  Arup Associates' work from that decade showed them unable resist the tide of PoMo, and included the part of Broadgate covered in stuck-on granite framing, seen above - one of the more dignified commercial projects of that decade, but nevertheless unlikely to be regarded as highly by posterity as projects such as 1 Finsbury Avenue nearby - which was only a year or two earlier, but really the swan song of Arup's more rigorous 70s style.  Other 1980s projects by Arup Associates, such as the building at Bristol Harbourside, also look rather dated, at least in parts, and suggest that being 'civic' was not their forte - whatever one thinks of the whole sorry saga of Paternoster Square, it's probably for the best that their scheme for that site remained unbuilt.

The new Cannon Street building can be seen as a return to form for the Arup family - a welcome contrast to the skin deep architecture that is so prevalent elsewhere.

Rock family tree comparisons spring readily to mind - for example, the embarrassment of Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, a hero of the 60s and 70s, getting himself a new wave perm in the Thatcher years - but fully redeemed by his own remarkable return to form more recently.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Are tall buildings blighting our skyline?

To the RIBA / Observer debate on tall buildings, where we hear from Rowan Moore and Simon Jenkins (two journalists), who think tall buildings are a blight, and from Julia Barfield and Peter Rees (two professionals), who don't.

For such a subject that is so emotive - at least in architectural and planning circles -  it was a surprisingly even-tempered and consensual occasion, with everyone, panel and audience, lay and professional, basically agreeing that the answer to the question 'are tall buildings blighting our skyline?' is that the ugly ones are and the beautiful ones aren't; and that it would be nice if there was a bit more planning to counter the opportunism of the promoters of projects.

Moore thought that the London Plan sets out the right policies and quality standards, but that many project that have been built or approved fail to meet these policies and standards.  Rees made the slightly odd assertion that you shouldn't build high unless it is necessary to do so (why not?), but that it is necessary in the City because there is no spare land, so you should make sure you do it well.  Barfield pointed out that you can't blight a skyline with beautiful buildings, and reminded us that the best tall buildings are listed.  Jenkins' view was that the argument is about planning, not architecture, and that the 'pass was sold' long ago.

For Jenkins, the problem is that there is no one to dictate what the skyline should be like.  Your blogger pointed out from the floor that dictating is best done by dictators - my thinking being that lack of consensus is part of the problem. Is the fact that some people don't want these things - almost certainly a minority - enough to stop those who want to build them, who are doing so because they are providing offices and flats that are wanted?  And in spite of the theoretical consensus about stopping the ugly ones, there is less agreement than you might think about which those are.

This was a room full of people who cared about the subject; most don't.  The self-selecting audience - with those admitting to being architects, in a show of hands prompted by Simon Jenkins who thought he was in the lions' den, forming only about a quarter of those present - answered 'no' by a clear majority to the proposition.

The most chilling observation of the evening, almost certainly accurate, came from Rowan Moore, who suggested that the planning car crash that is the 'emerging Vauxhall cluster' of towers is a result of a development zone being on the border of two local authorities (Lambeth and Wandsworth), the politicians of each of which are prepared to let rip, in development terms, because there are few voters nearby who care, and other areas of the boroughs will benefit from what Jenkins referred to as the 'bribes' (Section 106 etc.) that smooth the path of these things.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


The Architecture of Funny Shapes was superseded some time ago by the New Boring.  But just when you thought that the straight line and the right angle had regained their rightful supremacy, it seems that vertical fins have gone all twisty...

...not just here in Farringdon Street, but on several big UK projects currently on the drawing board.   Did it start with the Olympic Stadium, which did something similar with its 'wrap' ribbons - or did they get the idea from somewhere else?

If you want to give your building's elevations a little bit more life than would accurately represent the suits that will occupy it, this is probably a better and cheaper way than twisting the whole building. .

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Street View goes Nolli

Nolli's great 1748 map of Rome - turbocharged version here - is a magnificent and continuing source of inspiration for architects and urbanists.  It is famous for going further than typical city maps of the period (such as Rocque's map of London, also from the 1740s) - and of today - to include plans of public buildings as well as streets and squares.  It thus shows the layout of nearly everything that can be termed the public realm, inside or outside - but not that which is private.

Two and half centuries later, Google's Street View is catching up. Lazy or overstretched architects have got used to the idea that they can get away without visiting the site by using the street views that are available now of nearly everywhere.  But one can now visit the insides of some buildings as well - at Lincoln, for example, you can enter the close and go in through the great west door of that city's glorious cathedral to see the interiors of the nave, transepts and ambulatory (but not yet the choir - perhaps Google's operator was rumbled by a verger somewhere around the crossing).   

Other sites include the Spurs ground at White Hart Lane, sacred to some - where you can do a lap of the pitch. 

Private homes will presumably follow shortly, following one of those inexorable laws about the growth of data.  Beware the knock on your front door from a man with improbably bulky headgear asking for a look round.

(Hat tip to Sarah Jackson for this one). 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Hopkins 3

To Hopkins Architects' Wellcome Trust building in Euston Road for the launch of the latest book of their work, Hopkins 3.  Their Wellcome client introduced the evening with unreserved praise for a building now nearly ten years old that still looks as as good as new (partly due, I learn later, to Wellcome's luck or wisdom in retaining long serving staff who look after and run the building as it was meant to be looked after and run - something that is not as common as it should be).

The quality, consistency and rigour of the architecture in the book, from the Wellcome building to the Olympic Velodrome - taking in along the way a surprisingly diverse range, including small country house interventions and cricket stands in India along with the better known known projects - is entirely unmatched by any other UK practice over that period.  Of course Hopkins have been fortunate in the quality of their list of major institutional clients with an interest in building properly and for the long term - not least in a sequence of university projects on the Eastern seaboard of the US.  The budgets evident in most of the work will be envied by many architects who read the book - while a big budget is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for great architecture, it certainly doesn't do any harm.

The built results mostly look effortless - we can be sure they weren't.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

MIPIM - better to hold it in Brighton?

Reflections on return from MIPIM, the annual European property fest in Cannes.

Like so much that happens in the world of property, there is plenty that is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland...

The event takes place in 'the bunker', a giant, generic exhibition space which in spite of being on the shores of the Mediterranean, might as well be the NEC or Excel once you are inside it.

Architects spend their time trying to attract the attention of developers, who are looking the other way because they are trying to attract the attention of investors, who may be more interested in countries that encourage you to build things rather than giving you a hard time....

Several thousand delegates from the UK attend, and tens of thousands from the EU, Eastern Europe and elsewhere - but one suspects the interactions between Brits and continentals are pretty limited.  Most of the UK action is in the 'London stand', actually a standoffish tent separate from the bunker.

The London stand has a great buzz - the Paris equivalent had nice drawings and models but no people, and it felt as if tumbleweed might take over.  For those involved in London projects, MIPIM is a chance to see  more people from the development world in one place at one time than you would ever get in London.  

But... this is the age of the staycation, and the rediscovery (by the chattering classes) of the delights of the English coast.  Our food is as good as the food in France.   We have our own ghastly bunkers that you can get to by train.

MIPIM, for UK property at least, would work better at home.  

Specifically, it could work in Brighton.  Brighton has its own horrible conference centre - plans to renew it seem to be on hold, but if they got on with it and added some decent exhibition space, it would be a bigger draw than Birmingham or Newham.  It has the grand seafront hotels already.  And it's a great deal easier to get to.

I like fish and chips just as much as oysters - and the merry-go-round would be much the same as this one on the Croisette...

Monday, 4 March 2013

Room at the top

The London Plan tells us to optimise the use of land, and residential densities.  It also tells us to conserve and make use of 'heritage assets'. This project in Banner Street (EC1) is a built case study of what happens when you try do both at once.

All very polite and neutral, to 'respect the character' of the old facade.  (Depending on who did it, the architects may well have used the word 'palimpsest', inaccurately, in making the case for it.)

In Moscow, in new building projects as in other respects, they are a bit more gung ho:

Not exactly refined, but entirely in the spirit of modern Russia.

More homes are needed in London, and one way of providing them is to build on top of existing buildings a lot more than we do.  As the above examples show, this doesn't need to be limited to the cautious set-back single extra floor, justified on the grounds that 'you'll never notice it'.

In Shoreditch, the Hackney planners are to be congratulated on being persuaded by Duggan Morris's interesting looking scheme (above - photo credit Jack Hobhouse), now on site, to add a further three storeys to a three storey building in Curtain Road.  A two or three storey building in central London is not optimising the use of land.

Westminster City Council have woken up to the fact that many residential areas of the centre of London now resemble a ghost town out of office hours, with crazily expensive flats and houses, owned by people who live somewhere warmer, being treated as assets rather than homes.  This is partly a result of the rationing of the supply of homes.  We should be encouraging people to add a floor or a few floors to every building in London that could take them, rather than preventing them.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

At the Crystal

Wilkinson Eyre's Crystal sustainability centre in the Royal Docks is worth a visit (or actually I would say ** vaut le détour rather than *** vaut le voyage) - especially while you can still get there by the Emirates Air Line cable car over the Thames, also well worth doing in its own right, and worth doing soon before they take it down and relocate it to an Alp - since user numbers are plummeting, and it seems to be used only by tourists.

This example of the Architecture of Funny Shapes does however share a difficulty that occurs in many more straight-down-the-line modernist projects - that of making it clear where the front door is.  The newsagent-style sandwich board seen in the photo above, not I think designed by Wilkinson Eyre or included in the original specifications, reads 'Welcome' - a polite way of saying 'Entrance this way'.

You don't have this kind of difficulty spotting the front door at the National Gallery.  On the other hand, if you're pushing a baby buggy, you can't get to the front door of the National Gallery (yes I know there are other ways in, but I like the one in the middle) - whereas at the Crystal there is no problem once you have found it.

So maybe not everything is going to the dogs.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Why buy a well planned home when you can have one that looks normal?

The quality of architecture is usually all of a piece - the awful-looking bog standard homes available everywhere are usually badly planned as well.

review by Rowan Moore in yesterday's Observer featured new houses at Harlow by Alison Brooks, which looked interesting and sounded as if they had had more thought put into them than most.  Referring to planning minister Nick Boles' stated wish to improve on the 'pig ugly' housing that homebuyers are normally offered, the review points out that well-designed housing like this is mainly about providing practical, liveable homes, and that architects as much as anyone else prefer to avoid discussions of difficult words like 'beauty' - 'some will find these houses beautiful, some not... but looks are not the main point.'

The point, surely, is that while the offerings of many volume housebuilders are indeed pig ugly, good projects such as this one at Harlow, by skilled, prizewinning architects, tend to look interesting rather than beautiful - and they are also quite likely, as these do, to look enigmatically 'different' (or 'Other') -  in a way that the housebuilders' commercial directors are likely to feel will actually put off some of their buyers, depending on the likely demographic.  They know the pig ugly stuff sells (only, in fact, because supply is rationed, but that's another story).

It takes a skillful architect to design a decent house layout within the minimal floor areas offered in this country - and a persuasive one to get the housebuilder to dump the default layouts 'based on something someone designed in 1958' that Alison Brooks rightly bemoans.  But on the whole, an architect worth their salt won't be content with sorting out the practical stuff without also leaving their personal mark on the looks of the thing - it is a complete package that is on offer.  Here at Harlow, the result is definitely a something rather than a nothing - but not one that every Essex buyer would be comfortable with.

Francis Bacon (the seventeenth century one) wrote 'Houses are built to Live in, and not to Looke on; Therefore let Use bee preferred before Uniformitie, Except where both may be had.  Leave the Goodly Fabrickes of Houses for Beautie only to the Enchanted Pallaces of the Poets, Who build them with small Cost.'   This Elizabethan politician's view persists virtually unchanged, four centuries on - albeit expressed today sourly, rather than wittily - in the views held by most politicians (e.g. Mr Gove), civil servants and housebuilders in our new Elizabethan age.

Nick Boles is out on a limb.  His call to arms is made even less likely than one might hope to be effective because today's architects, unlike Bacon's contemporaries, do not for the most part think that beauty is really the aim of architectural design.  The minister might be better advised to complain about the fact that many new homes are badly planned, and take little account of how family life has changed since 1958 (as well as being pig ugly).

Good housing design is the whole package - not Beautie only.  The houses that have been thoughtfully planned - in respect of everyday things like proper provision for multiple recycling bins for example - nearly always look better too.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Is this what you want? - a blunt instrument from the nimby toolkit

This flyer seen on a recent trip Brussels appears to be a protest about some planned new buildings.  Presumably the buildings won’t actually be bright red, though.  

The ‘protest montage’ is a now familiar ploy of those who oppose projects. Every effort is made to make schemes look as daft and offensive as possible (equal and opposite, of course, to the efforts of the promoters, which can be equally misleading).  The technique was used in London by opponents of the alleged ‘steel and glass tower blocks’ that Richard Rogers planned for the Chelsea Barracks site (for which read: ten storey buildings much the same height as nearby 1930s mansion blocks, with big windows made of that futuristic material ‘glass’ because even rich people deserve daylight). 

I don’t know who started all this, but the architect planner Thomas Sharp was certainly at it in his 1968 book Town and Townscape.  

These intriguing images of an abandoned scheme for university buildings in the centre of Cambridge, images which Sharp prepared and described as not showing ‘any actually proposed architectural treatment’, can be compared with the real designs of Lasdun (whom Sharp, oddly, cannot bring himself to name in his book).  A provocative photomontage provided by Lasdun himself can be found in William Curtis’s monograph.  While the his scheme for the New Museums site (where the buildings by Arup Associates are today) is pretty shocking to today’s sensibilities, they look absolutely nothing like the banal blocks in Sharp’s drawing, being highly articulated into vertical components, like a compressed and over-energetic version of Kahn’s Philadelphia laboratories, to achieve a rich skyline which clearly echoes the older buildings in the foreground – an approach more explicitly responsive to context than many similar projects of that period  including some of Lasdun’s that were built.

Protests of this kind call to mind the catchphrase of one of Harry Enfield’s Middle England moaners: ‘Is that what you want? – because that’s what you’re going to get…’  Usually, what the nimby flier show you is not what you’re going to get. The detail matters – and the difference between a dumb box and a complex, articulated building proposal is a lot more than a matter of detail. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The future of cities

To the Gallery at Cowcross Street for an evening of thought-provoking talks, organised by Farrar Huxley Associates, on ‘The future of cities’. 

They brought home just how useless we are at ‘planning’ (in the sense found in the dictionary, rather than the rather different sense we all use when we are down at the council planning department).

Ken Webster of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, Kayla Friedman, and ‘rational optimist’ Kelvin Campbell of the Smart Urbanism Alliance presented a series of challenges at difference scales of time and space that all posed questions of ‘top down vs. bottom up’ in planning for the future of the city.

Two contrasting big topics that stuck in the memory after the event were:

·         Global energy supplies will run out and no one is getting to grips with it (the scary scenarios are presented in David Mackay’s Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air).  The Ellen MacArthur Foundation promotes the Circular Economy as one way out.

·         Big urban design /masterplanning is dead and incremental, bottom up intervention is the answer for the age of austerity.  

While I might just buy buy Kelvin Campbell’s examples of self-organising squatter settlements as good bottom-up models (though Prince Charles’ support for them makes me suspicious), I don’t buy the extension of this line of thought closer to home to suggest that the unplanned, unregulated ‘beds in sheds’ bottom-of-garden homes that have sprung up in tens of thousands in outer London locations far from the chattering classes such as Barking and Southall, might be just as admirable a model.

Planning in its origins was meant to address basic needs and problems – public health, sanitation, decent homes, not living next to a glue factory or a car breakers etc.  Once those basic problems were more or less sorted, we got mission creep, and ended up with a system that opines on what your windows will look like.  Similarly, since no one knocks down nice old buildings any more, conservationists move on to stopping people building new things near nice old buildings.

The effort put in to ‘planning’ (starting with the Government, who are the really important planning authority) is inversely proportional to how much things actually matter. Very little effort into securing future energy supplies so that our grandchildren do not end up like extras in ‘The Road’; middling effort into checking whether people are being housed in homes fit to live in; and lots of effort into stopping developers building (at a time of housing shortage) new homes that are a few metres higher than the neighbours would like to see.

I did, however, very much buy Kelvin Campbell’s maxim ‘incentivise the fine grain’ – that really would be a useful task for the planners.