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Myth versus reality

It is possible to create modern housing developments that are of exquisite design, obviously. Most developers just don't do this because either they have little imagination or it eats into their profits. Or probably both. Have a look at the work of architect and masterplanner, Ben Pentreath, who with his team has managed to create really attractive housing developments that have improved with each phase. They are new build homes. While some architects can be snobbish about new homes built in the traditional style, poll after survey after poll demonstrates that this is what people want. 





While we are immersed in work, commuting, shopping in outsize retail parks, queuing in heavy traffic, sliding from one internal environment to another it is easy to forget that Warrington has on its doorstep access to extensive countryside, nature reserves and sites of significant natural beauty. From Risley Moss to Woolston Eyes to the ancient woodlands of the Lumb Brook Valley, it is possible to be in the midst of nature just a short distance from the town centre. 

It is universally accepted that nature and green space is good for our physical and mental health. And the more of it we retain, the better it is for our environment. But significant parts of our precious Warrington countryside are in danger of disappearing forever.

In the unprecedented times through which we are living we have all discovered the importance of green space, the countryside and the difference they can make to our wellbeing. Our world, to a degree, has become smaller  and where we are lucky enough to have access to it, we have come to appreciate the importance of our green areas.


Now is the time to pause and reflect what we want from our town. Do we want more green spaces or fewer? Do we want our town to be more attractive and a better place to live for all, or do we simply wish to become a dormitory town for commutes to nearby cities?  

Along with the importance of our countryside and access to green space it is also essential that we consider what is actually built in those areas where it is appropriate to do so.  The residents of Warrington could be forgiven for being a little sceptical about the aesthetics of any plan for the regeneration of our town - after all, despite many tenders for an attractive central landmark we ended up with...skittles. At a cost of £1m.  Drab apartment blocks are swiftly thrown up; identikit mediocrity dumped next to a roundabout or disused warehouse. Woolston Park "Trim Track", anyone? And we are never far away from the announcement of an exciting new development, lauded as a "village" but which in fact turns out to be another treeless housing estate crammed with red brick, soulless boxes and tarmac car parking; bland and characterless. We should expect and demand better. 

Ask for Beauty. Beauty includes everything that promotes a healthy and happy life, everything that makes a collection of buildings into a place, everything that turns anywhere into somewhere, and nowhere into home. It is not merely a visual characteristic, but is revealed in the deep harmony between a place and those who settle there. So understood, beauty should be an essential condition for planning permission.


Refuse Ugliness. Ugly buildings present a social cost that everyone is forced to bear. They destroy the sense of place, undermine the spirit of community, and ensure that we are not at home in our world. Ugliness means buildings that are unadaptable, unhealthy and unsightly and which violate the context in which they are placed. Preventing ugliness should be a primary purpose of the planning system.


Promote Stewardship. Our built environment and our natural environment belong together. Both should be protected and enhanced for the longterm benefit of the communities that depend on them. Settlements should be renewed, regenerated and cared for, and we should end the scandal of abandoned places, where derelict buildings and vandalised public spaces drive people away. New developments should enhance the environment in which they occur, adding to the health, sustainability and biodiversity of their context.

Communities: bring the democracy forward. Local councils need radically and profoundly to reinvent the ambition, depth and breadth with which they engage with neighbourhoods as they consult on their local plans. More democracy should take place at the local plan phase, expanding from the current focus on consultation in the development process to one of co-design. Beauty should be the topic of an ongoing debate between the public and the planners, with the developers bound by the result.

Nature: regreen our towns and cities. Urban development should be part of the wider ecology. Green spaces, waterways and wildlife habitats should be seen as integral to the urban fabric. The National Planning Policy Framework should place greater focus on access to nature and green spaces - both existing and new - for all new and remodelled developments.

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