Thursday, 30 March 2006

How to design unsustainable communities A couple of months back, in conversation with a researcher who had been looking at the government's sustainable communities house-building programme, I was a bit gobsmacked to be told that there was no requirement for the new developments to include a decent rationing of what used to be called 'community facilities' - yer actual clinic, dentist, school, playground, library and so on. I don't think I really believed him. Surely it's standard, if you're building any kind of new housing estate, to consider the provision of amenities and upgrade them or provide new facilities, according to formulae which presumably drop down off the menu on the desktop of any self-respecting planner. And if you're going to be so rash as to brand your house-building programme 'sustainable communities' then it's not just standard, it's a no-brainer. Whatever 'sustainable community' means, I'd have thought it has something to do with access to common resources. The ODPM definition says it should have "facilities for everyone including children and older people." (I know, it's an odd phrase: under what circumstances would the category 'everyone' not include children and older people?) And it talks about having a "good range of affordable public, community, voluntary and private services." My doubts began to peep through, like those bulbs, late this year, whenever I've been near a recent development in the south-east. And now I've come across this Telegraph article, by Jim White, describing what seems to be going on. "Looking around the new estates the other day, watching instant suburbia flourish where once were just oily puddles, it soon becomes clear that there is nothing here except houses and cars - lots and lots of cars. There are no schools, no shops, no doctors' surgeries, no parks, no leisure centres, no public transport connections, just streets called things like Brook Drive and Meadow Avenue. "The people who live here are expected to use the town's existing facilities. They must add their names to the school waiting lists, join the queue for the over-subscribed dentist, line up at the bulging health centre. "Incredibly, developers have been allowed to build 2,500 homes and sell them at more than half a million apiece and yet add nothing at all to the city that has provided them with their bottom-line bonanza. Building companies must provide 'planning gain' only if they build more than 200 houses. So the strip has been developed piecemeal, 199 at a time." Someone tell me it isn't true.

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