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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
The housing boom in Britain seems to be as strong as ever, but are we really happy with the homes on offer?
When it comes to buying a new house, the fashion designer Wayne Hemingway thinks the choice is pretty terrible. In fact, he's been so annoyed by what he calls 'identikit' new house building that he's applied his design ideas to a development of affordable homes in the North East.
He revealed his plans to Newsnight, and gave us his personal view of how to improve the housing industry in this country.
I think this is one of the biggest challenges we face in our society. What could be more important than providing decent, affordable housing for everyone? The Government claim they are ready to tackle this issue, but is the current approach to building homes for the future the right one?
I am stood on the banks of the Tyne in Gateshead. All this area in a couple of weeks will be a hive of activity. For the past year, myself and my wife have been working amongst the team that's been designing Britain's largest affordable, community-based, modern housing estate. It's going to be absolutely fantastic, but the main thing about it is I have learnt some important lessons about affordable house building in this country.
It all started a couple of years ago. As a designer, although I started in fashion, I have always been interested in architecture. I wrote some articles about the Wimpeyfication of Britain, the bland rabbit hutches and Identikit housing developments that constituent most newly-built homes. We are slowly but surely making Britain's mass housing estates look ugly compared to the rest of the developed Western world. Victorian working-class housing has got preservation orders slapped on it. Can you imagine these 70s and 80s houses in 100 years having preservation orders? They are going to have demolition orders put on them. After sounding off about this in the papers, I was approached by Wimpey themselves. My first thought was I was going to be sued, but they wanted me and my design partner to come up with some designs for houses. Initially we fended off their approaches. Instead, we talked to them about designing a new development of affordable housing. It was an exciting challenge, a chance to make a real difference.
The first phase of development is 150 houses. This is an overview of them, the houses are arranged in a courtyard with a communal garden in the middle and private gardens. Our scheme got the first home zone grant in Britain. It means that, outside the front of your house, instead of seeing a black tarmac and cars whizzing past, you have an area where kids can play, adults can meet and cars get relegated massively to tertiary status after cyclists and pedestrians. It might take a little bit longer to get to work, it might mean that you can't park your car outside your front door, when it is peeing it down and you've got Tesco bags in your hand. They are the kind of choices we're going to have to make if we can going to live in a better environment.
What I'd like people to recognise is their own front door and when they have visitors or family coming round, they can say mine's the one with the blue front door, with the wood clad, the extra large window on the front. Just something to say you're an individual and you've got something about you and everything around you becomes part of you. I have tut-tutted my wife for watching too much Dermot-Gavin and Lawrence of Suburbia on telly, but all of it has paid of now because on these river-front flats, she has put a decked area behind as a communal area, and the cars drive underneath and you are left with a play area or a meeting area above the cars.
The houses are not built yet and this is the best we can do, computer women, computer houses, the sun always shines in Gateshead and there is always a nice white fluffy cloud. This will be utopia.
Having the space to live and socialise in, is really important. The conventional wisdom of government agencies is that high density housing is a solution. We are told that a high proportion of us have to live in flats like our near European neighbours. When I grew up, space was crucial. I have more memories of the local rec than the home I grew up in.
Gardening is also important to most people. You only have to looking at TV viewing figures or magazine sales, people either want to be Alan Titchmarsh or sleep with him. Green space is important to everyone. You've got some green space, but they can't use it, it is fenced off, it is green space next to tarmac. With a bit of thought that space could be used as a play area, it could be shielded so that somebody can sit in there. This bank here, why is it here? They have put waste clay and banked it up, but surely they could have made it flat so it could be used for something. There could be seats in it. Something could have been done better than this. People just churn it out.
The Government has set a target to build 60% of new homes on brownfield sites. It is claimed there is plenty of space on such inner city derelict land, around 60,000 hectares. Perhaps we need to get our priorities right and not be overly protective of the green belt. We need space to build, but also for recreation areas. We are subsidising land for cows, land that we could be giving to our kids to play on close to our homes. It doesn't take a child psychologist to tell us, parents that kids love to be outside.
I am stood on a hill overlooking Gateshead and Newcastle, the A1, railway tracks, industry and to my left a little village. This is stuck in the middle of the green belt. It is a mining community and the mine shut down about 30 years ago. It is a perfect place to take land and build low density housing, the kind of housing the public have shown they like, to give the people what they want, which will not ruin the green and pleasant land.
Town planners have an unfair reputation for wearing brown Crimplene suits and wanting to knock off at 4.30. Town playing course are poorly subscribed. We should be encouraging our kids to be town planners, not designers or architects.
This is your private garden?
This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.
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