Planning in the Media

Are councils and urban designers about to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s?

The question was raised by architecture critic Rowan Moore in The Observer in considering two competing plans to replace the Robin Hood Gardens estate in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

"Both schemes are generic developers' fare with homes heaped into blocks and towers to make enough money to pay for the demolition of the old buildings, with a notional bit of landscaping supplied as a palliative. There is no sense of place, no distinctiveness."

Looking at the proposals, Moore said it was "easy to imagine a big pointing finger descending from the fluffy white clouds, with a sign attached: 'Slum of the Future', it would say, or 'Site for Regeneration in the Year 2050'."

He also criticised the government for showing "every intention of weakening rather than strengthening the country's already feeble provisions for good design and planning".

Amid growing protests against the government's plans for a high-speed rail link, transport secretary Philip Hammond admitted that he would not fancy the scheme in his back yard. "We are all nimbies," he told The Sunday Times.

"Obviously, I wouldn't like it." But he insisted that the government will go to great lengths to minimise the railway's impact by directing as much of the route as possible through tunnels and cuttings. Open stretches will feature "buffering" to reduce noise and screening with landscaping.

"There will be no bog standard British Rail-type viaducts," said Hammond. "Where we have viaducts, we will make them things of architectural beauty."

Local authorities want to charge more for property searches, building control fees, pub licences and planning applications, according to The Daily Telegraph. The Local Government Association wants to raise charges to make up for a £20 billion financial shortfall between now and 2014-15.

Currently a planning application for a home extension costs £150 while outline planning permission for a new house costs £335 for a small plot. But housing minister Grant Shapps told the paper: "Only lazy councils will attempt to use residents to boost their bank balances."

The Times reported on an agreement signed by ten EU member states to build a North Sea electricity grid linking offshore wind farms from Scandinavia to France and Ireland. The UK will play a key role in the project, "which will allow nations to export renewable energy to their neighbours when they have an excess supply of wind or hydroelectric power".

The paper also reported that the UK's wind industry is on course for a "transformation" after Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced that it is to set up a £100 million deep sea turbine research and manufacturing base in Edinburgh.

"These giants of the wind revolution, nearly twice the size of Big Ben, will be capable of producing 5MW of electricity, with each able to power thousands of homes. The intention is that the finished articles will be on the seabed and turning by 2015."

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