Grass roots freedom can encourage built quality

Alex Morton's defence of a market-oriented system as the guarantor of quality in design (see related links) slides over two essential points.

First, he cites development from the past as examples of high-quality design generated without the benefit of a planning system. Which conveniently neglects the fact that the free market in the 18th and 19th centuries produced some of the worst construction and housing in history. We can admire the good bits now, because reformers and planners had the sense to knock the bad stuff down and legislate against the worst abuses.

But this is not to fall into the trap set by Morton to say the answer is more design control. The opposition he sets up between freedom and planning is disingenuous. The status quo doesn't offer freedom of the individual so much as freedom for the large speculative house builders who produce the majority of the housing in this county.

Only ten per cent of housing in the UK is self-build, compared to 60 per cent in countries such as Italy, France and Germany. It is no accident that self-build in those countries is facilitated by a planning system with often very rigorous design controls and in many cases up front funding of infrastructure by the local authority.

Freedom of the individual would be great and most definitely can lead to higher design quality. What's necessary to realise that freedom is access to land, funding for infrastructure and an ecosystem of small-scale builders and designers for individuals to exercise it.

Karl Kropf, director, Built Form Resource.

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