Lord Falconer – 2001 Speech on Housing


Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer on 11th September 2001.

Thank you all very much for coming today to the launch of Better Places to Live: By Design.

We all know the huge cost of bad design. Bad design can facilitate high crime. It can repel people rather than attract them.

Too many housing estates are designed for nowhere but are found everywhere. They fail to sustain local services, they waste land and they promote dependency on the car. They easily end up being soulless and dispiriting.

Bad design creates barriers to building communities. It is socially destructive – and can be hugely costly as councils and social and private landlords struggle to maintain living communities against the odds.

It contributes to poor services and undermines social regeneration.

And it’s not just in cities – and not just in the rented sector. Across the country identikit estates, often sold as executive homes, have mushroomed. They make no architectural reference to their region.

So launching Better Places to Live is not simply some dry abstraction. It is about creating high quality living environments through good design. Places where people will want to live – and thrive.

It is the result of close partnership between my Department and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. So I’m delighted that Sir Stuart Lipton is here to help launch the guide and, of course, extremely grateful to CABE for their commitment and help with this document and agenda.

I am also pleased to welcome Geoff Ball, President of the House Builders Federation and Sir Terry Farrell, an architect and urban designer well known to you all. Geoff and Terry share this platform because we are also launching today Building for Life. This is an industry initiative with CABE and the Civic Trust to drive up the standards of design in new housebuilding. It is the perfect complement to Better Places to Live.

We are not setting ourselves up as style gurus. But we are challenging all those involved in the planning and development of new homes to think more imaginatively about design and layout.

Housing accounts for the vast majority of new development in this country. New housing changes places. That it is why it is so vital for places to be designed around the needs of people and not the other way round.

Yesterday I was in Plaistow to launch the New Deal for Communities annual review. This is a £2 billion programme already delivering real benefits to neighbourhoods.

The involvement of communities, local political leaders and businesses have proved crucial to the success of New Deal areas. They have proved what can be achieved by partnership – and good design.

Many of the crime cutting measures they have taken are simple. For example, putting gates across alleyways in Manchester and Salford has stopped criminals getting access to the backs of houses.

On the Hulme estate, simply fitting corner windows onto flats and houses has allowed people to see and be seen.

Good design is the key. This is a shared commitment by all of us on the platform today. Government, industry and our partners are clearly committed to deliver better design. This strikes me as a powerful combination.

The guide is intended to support the new approach to planning for housing we set out in PPG3.

Most of you will know that PPG3 is a fundamental change It has a brownfields first policy. At its heart is the challenge to create well-designed places for people to live.

Through it we want to deliver:

– more efficient use of land through higher densities;

– community safety by designing out crime;

– a better mix of housing types and sizes to promote social inclusion and affordable housing; and

– better access to local facilities and public transport.

In the past too much housing development has fallen short of what we should expect.

Better Places to Live shows this does not have to be so. In drawing up the guide we have looked at a number of contemporary developments and at places that have stood the test of time. Some will be familiar to you. Others less so. Look around the walls and you’ll see examples and photos of places.

We wanted to draw out the transferable lessons and explain how they can help create better residential environments. We are not saying the case studies are a template to follow in all aspects. But what they have in common is how good design can enhance the quality of life.

The challenge we face is delivering a fundamental change in the quality of the places we build. It is not meant to be a substitute for skilled designers. But we will achieve nothing without a shared ambition for quality. Above all, we need investment in design and people with the right skills working in the industry.

The prize is better communities. The penalty? The chronic social problems that leads to riots, disaffection, low voter turnout and a low quality of life. What you do today will have an affect on the way people live tomorrow.

I would now like to hand over to Sir Terry who will lead the initiative to say a words about it.