Localism's Design Silver Lining

A New Year visit to Cornwall has proven surprisingly uplifting.

The place, people, food and walking were great but most encouraging was a realisation that the government's Localism concept may produce something useful - better design for new homes.

I am not talking of top-end new build houses, constructed by thoughtful niche developers who ensure their homes adopt local vernacular designs with locally-sourced materials. These homes are already looking good.

No, I am talking of identikit designs from many volume builders, looking the same wherever they are in Padstow or Preston, Bodmin or Basingstoke. We all know the names of the culprit companies.

There is little more depressing than driving through Newquay, for example, and seeing new flats (many unsold, by the way) in blocks which look just like those in city centres around the UK. Many Cornish village outskirts are similar - no attempt is made by builders to match local stone, the shape or density of nearby homes, or to give a sense of local 'place'.

Instead it's just more of the Turkey Twizzler school of 'design' thrown up, with excuses like planning constraints or density targets used as a cloak when anyone dares to suggest this Lego approach to house-building is actually selling us all short.

So might Localism do the country a favour, by making communities look closely at house builders' proposals and exercising the critical
judgement on design which our planning committees seem not to have exercised in recent years? If improved design then becomes one of the only ways of a builder getting consent, then design will indeed be improved.

If builders really want to build homes, they might be obliged to use local materials and employ architects to make the homes look like modern versions of the surrounding communities, rather than just one of the standard eight templates that some volume firms have for the entire UK.

If locals are as NIMBYish as most experts predict, this might be an activity where builders are forced to be a little more imaginative. That would be good for Cornwall, and good for everywhere else, too.

It would really put the Local in Localism.

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