Gove’s broadside at builders over their ‘ugly’ developments

Ugly: Brick by Brick’s housing schemes for the council were rarely admired by neighbours or the public for their aesthetic style

Michael Gove, in his second spell as the Tories’ Levelling Up Secretary, has declared war against “ugly” buildings, in an effort to reduce opposition to residential developments.

New measures: Michael Gove

That could be bad news for the profit-hungry developers who seek to replace suburban semis and bungalows around Croydon with block-after-block of flats which rarely fit in with or enhance the existing neighbourhood.

And Gove is holding up as the exemplar of “good” architecture Poundbury, the Dorset estate of pastiche buildings renowned for being supported by King Charles, and generally loathed by modern architects.

In his first big speech since being re-appointed as levelling-up secretary, Gove launched a broadside against builders for putting up identikit homes that are too often out of keeping with the local area.

He also accused the industry of “manipulating” councils by using loopholes in the planning system to avoid paying for community infrastructure and overturning democratic decisions about where houses should be built.

Hitting out at new-builds that were not “high quality”, Gove told an audience at the Centre for Policy Studies last night that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government would stop “ugly” housing developments from getting built. If that had been in place six years ago, it might have caused considerable difficulties to the council’s wholly-owned housing developer Brick by Brick, and its in-house architecture firm.

Gove said that to achieve this it would be necessary to take on board local communities’ objections to building in their area.

“The experience of many buyers is that the incredibly expensive homes that they buy simply aren’t up to the standard that they should be,” he said.

“We will use all the powers we have, including call-in powers, in order to make sure that developments which are not aesthetically of high quality don’t go ahead.”

Gove said that much of the opposition to new builds was the fault of “ugly” housing developments, and that councils and communities would have a greater say in the process under planning reforms going through parliament.

“For those who are seeing the new houses built, the fact that so many of our volume housebuilders use a restricted pattern book with poor quality materials, and the aesthetic quality of what they produce, is both disappointing and also not in keeping with high aesthetic standards that may already exist.

“That is a reason why communities say no. They do not want ugliness to be imposed on them.”

Planning reforms included in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill were not dead, the minister told his audience, and local authorities would be given increased powers as well as funding for urban regeneration.

A pastiche Bath: Poundbury, in Dorset, is loved by Gove and King Charles, loathed by many modern architects

Gove also said that developers would get approval more easily if they followed new design codes.

“We will see the wide adoption of design codes and ways in which individuals can appreciate how it is easier to secure planning permission if you build in a way that is consistent with those design codes.”

An obvious contradiction in Gove’s announcement is the intensification likely to be required as a consequence of his recent confirmation that the government would impose housing targets. This is likely to increase pressures to build on Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land. Since returning to DLUHC, Gove has recommitted the government to building 300,000 homes a year, as outlined in its 2019 manifesto.

Poundbury, which has been described as a “pastiche of Bath in the 18th Century”, has been ridiculed for its architectural style. Gove said such criticism was “rubbish”.

Gove cited the example of the King’s model village in Poundbury, Dorset, that adopted traditional housing design and integrated shops and businesses as well as private and social housing within the development zone.

Gove pointed out that house prices in Poundbury were higher than in neighbouring Dorchester, suggesting that it could be a blueprint for other developments.

“If we do make sure that in the planning reforms we are bringing forward, people understand that new homes will be beautiful, they will be accompanied by infrastructure, there will be democratic decision-making, there will be environmental enhancement and that we are creating new neighbourhoods, then we can build new homes and additional infrastructure that this country needs to power the growth to which all of us are committed,” he said.

  • Do you live in a new-build in Croydon? Was your home built to the standards you expect? Inside Croydon would like to hear from homeowners and tenants alike about the quality of their new home – perhaps you are one of Brick by Brick’s customers? Write to us, in complete confidence, at inside.croydon@btinternet.com, giving an account of your new home experiences, and include photos of any snagging or other issues you have encountered

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to Gove’s broadside at builders over their ‘ugly’ developments

  1. Gove’s on the right track. It’s easy to jeer at him and The King, but the thing that characterises the ugly slabs being thrown up near me is their cheapness and ubiquity. A good example is the BXB slab in your excellent piece; it’s from the same bargain catalogue as the ‘McCarnage’ blocks rightly ridiculed in IC some time ago. Incidentally, we’ve a new one on Higher Drive, Purley just being ‘finished’ that’s plastered with white external tiles – not so much Milan cathedral as a giant public lavatory

  2. Lewis White says:

    Beauty–or Ugly- might be in the eye of the beholder.

    But the issue around the borough, I think, is perhaps less about visual style, but about real “mass” or “bulk” of redevelopment, relative to the context of the adjacent street.

    I have my tin hat on while writing this, but have to say that many of the redevelopments I see locally are contextual in terms of following local materials or modern interpretations , with good quality brick work (whether traditional “Southern England” types of brick, tile hanging, sensibly-sized areas of white rendering etc, and pitched roofs and gable ends. Plus some attractive flat roofed, brick built blocks of flats in a modern style, often using the softer “Dutch bricks” with their dappled, multi tonal look. Rather lovely, an innovation of the last 20 years.

    Either way, traditional or modern, to me that seems OK., depending on context.

    The real problem, as I see it, and exemplified in many photos published in Inside Croydon, in articles by IC and Steve Whiteside, is of over-large buildings being plonked down onto sites, filling the frontages from end to end, dominating the general scale of the neighbourhood.

    A classic example is of a traditionally-designed building that mimics local style, but which has been fed steroids–so it is far too big and bulky, dominating the street, with no room at the ends for landscaping.

    Another is of the buiding erected a metre or two (or more) nearer the street.

    Years ago, there was a concept of setting the frontage of new buildings in a street alomg a “building line” . This started back in Victorian times as a rule, to ensure that development did not crowd in to the street, and to design in greenery, for amenity (of the fortunate residents) in areas of big houses with big front gardens, and smaller houses with smaller front gardens. Lawns and cherry trees of the 1950’s …..

    The building line tended to give streets a uniformity that can be criticiised now as being rather rigid and a bit boring, but at least, generally speaking, it worked. It kept the areas green and pleasant.

    More recently, the tendency has been to abandon or nibble at the building line. This can result in a more varied and interesting street, but equally, it can mean that ne buildings come forwards, several metres, so that they block out their existing neighbours’ light. If the building is taller, too, it can result in “bully boy buildings” that dominate their next door neighbours.

    Sadly, even where building lines are retained, there is a UK wide increase in frnt garden, off-street parking, where both large and medium front gardens end up as car parks, many with fence to fence, front to back paving and NO PLANTS AT ALL– so, all over, the greening is disappearing.

    Another example of over-large developments on too small a plot is where the new one has a hard-paved frontage (as most do) designed to provide parking bays for all the new flats, but this leaves no space for new trees, hedges or shrub beds.

    Typically, a 9-flat block. There are many.

    But also, it also happens with conversions of existing big houses to become a number of good quality flats, with a parking bay for each.

    For years, every few weeks, I have been driving down a street in Purley where one such formerly green big(gish) front garden has now become totally paved over for off-street, with no hedge along the street. I realised when the hoardings came down that this had just been featured in Inside Croydon– a big house converted to flats, looking to be in the mid to higher end of the market. Not a shred of greenery – nothing to screen off all the parked cars from the road. Unacceptable–or should be.

    There is a good case for renewal, with redevelopment along the “main roads”, roads around the local centres and occasional plots that are big enough to take big bigger buildings.

    But it is more than sad– when the existing urban greenery we need in the urban environment is designed out of existence, or its potential for new greening is stymied– by building bloated buildings on stes too small to accommodate them properly.

    Forcing “quart sized” buildings into “pint (or half-pint) sized” plots is not town planning, it’s town cramming.

    The need for redevelopment or major refurbishment comes once in every 50 years, at a guess. It is a tragedy when the cramming option gets built.

    Can the new Mayor get his planning officers to strike a better balance when it comes to the scale and height of buildings, relative to the street and context, and bring about a greener development agenda?

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