Housing minister Kit Malthouse has warned that a lot of the houses now being built will be “ripped down and bulldozed” as unsuitable, in the way that he says ”much of the architecture from the 60s and 70s is being now”.
Mr Malthouse was speaking at the launch of a new report by a group of architecture firms in in response to the government’s drive to improve the design of new homes and neighbourhoods, Building Better, Building Beautiful.
Mr Malthouse opened his speech by referring to the opening credits of Kenneth Clark’s 1969 TV series Civilisation in which, against the backdrop of Notre Dame cathedral, the presenter remarked that “I don’t know what civilisation is, but I know it when I see it”.
Mr Malthouse warned that in “the vast majority” of cases, the buildings being erected today are “not in the continuum of British civilisation”. “A lot of it is not likely to last,” he said. “There will not be a Ken Clark standing in front of it.
“The challenge is, what story are we going to tell a future society of what we do today? We want people to look back and say that the people alive now didn’t just think about Brexit.”
Mr Malthouse claimed that 70% of people in the UK say they would not buy a new house, and that there are not many other sectors in which people would prefer to buy second hand.
“People are preferring [to live in] very old houses, and that tells us a lot about what’s coming out of the ground at the moment,” he added.
He pointed to a development in his own constituency of North West Hampshire called Augusta Park, as an example of bad housing, claiming that it “feels soulless, lifeless and ubiquitous”.
Mr Malthouse stated that in order to encourage people to accept what he described as the government’s “mythical” target to build 300,000 new homes a year, it is vital to “build something they like”.
“We should build stuff that’s capable of being a conservation area in 50 years time,” he said. “I doubt there are more than a handful of places built in the last ten years in that situation.”
“If you say to local people you can have something really beautiful in your area, then resistance drops. Our job is to ornament the country.”
But he laments hearing “again and again” people commenting that local development will “spoil their area”, citing an example of a recent occasion in Devon when he was “shouted at” by around 200 people making this argument. But upon asking them, it turned out that only about a third were themselves from the local area. “There was then a reflective moment about whether they were pulling the drawbridge up behind them,” he said.
The Distinctively Local report was authored by four architectural firms - HTA Design, Pollard Thomas Edwards,PRP, and Proctor & Matthews.