As a nation, we have, unfortunately, become accustomed to thinking of new development as ugly and intrusive. It’s easy to see why, with many new builds taking the form of one of a number of stock templates, regardless of whether they are built in one of our sprawling metropolises or, closer to home, in our beautiful countryside. That doesn’t have to be the case.
With the right design and the use of suitable materials – particularly those that mature and age gracefully – we can construct good quality homes, built to last, at affordable prices. Crucially, we can build the sort of developments communities want to see.
Indeed, in recent months there has been a renewed emphasis in Government on precisely this point: an increase in the quantity of housing does not need to be at the cost of quality, or for that matter, beauty. This is a drive I wholeheartedly support.
Last month, James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, announced a new commission which would champion beauty in the built environment as an integral part of the house building drive. The ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ Commission will develop a vision and practical measures to help ensure new developments are in line with the needs and expectations of communities. It will also look at ways in which the planning system can encourage and incentivise a greater focus on design and style.
In a similar vein, earlier this week the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, set out proposals to place the environment at the heart of new development, with builders required to deliver a ‘biodiversity net gain’ when creating new housing stock. Under these guidelines, habitats must be enhanced and left in a better state than they were pre-development.
Of course, much of this is directly applicable to the development of the St George’s Barracks site when it is vacated. I have always been clear that whatever is built must be sensitive to its rural surroundings. We should not, and will not, accept anything that is poorly designed. I know this is something the Council have been very clear on as well, and to this end will produce a specific Design Code where detailed work will be done to ensure the design for the scheme is right for our community.
As for Rutland as a whole, the Council are also intending to develop a county-wide Design Code. This will provide advice and guidance for developers on things like layout, the design of buildings and the materials to be used. It is expected that a developer submitting a planning application should comply with the Design Code, and if they do not, they risk having their application rejected.
By building properties that complement their surroundings, we can not only provide the homes people need, but importantly, the homes local people want to see. Due to demand, development is, to an extent, inevitable, but that doesn’t have to be a negative. By reshaping the debate on housebuilding, putting the needs of communities, not the developer, first, there’s no reason we can’t provide the quantity we need without sacrificing the quality.