The Telegraph – Homefront. By James O’Shaughnessy

An Englishman’s home is a broom cupboard

(“The author is head of research at Policy Exchange. ‘Better Homes, Greener Cities’ is available at www.policyexchange.org.uk“)

But it hasn’t always been like this. Those lucky enough to live in homes built before the 1940s enjoy high architectural standards in well-designed homes. We rarely think of these as sullying the local environment. Yet they were built on what was green field land once, too.

When did new buildings stop being beautiful? When state socialism got at them. The nationalisation of house-building brought about by the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act heralded the darkest period in Britain’s architectural history. Like so many similar post-war reforms, the centralisation of this major national industry produced mind-numbing uniformity and the standard of new buildings plummeted.

(ninme cheers)

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In many European countries with a similar density of people per square mile, such as Germany or Switzerland, spacious homes in green neighbourhoods are the affordable norm. Planning is controlled locally, so development is sensitive to the local environment. Communities have clear incentives to develop at a rate with which they are comfortable.

Council spending is financed from local taxes, so the new revenue brought by each additional inhabitant compensates communities for the social and environmental costs of building new homes – and can be used to improve local services or even to cut taxes.

What is more, house-building is almost a cottage industry, with thousands of small developers and architects providing innovation and diversity beyond the financial reach of most Britons. The result is a wonderful array of high-quality homes and communities, in contrast to Britain’s monotonous estates of bog-standard boxes. …

British planning should be made local again, so that development is controlled by communities, able to grow organically rather than having John Prescott drop 10,000 new houses on their doorsteps.

A tariff of £500,000 per hectare should be levied on development land and retained locally, compensating residents for the costs of development and giving communities the incentive to build. And, by putting local people in charge, the grip of big house-builders would be broken too.

Hmm.