Demolition Dave targets 'dull little boxes'

(Or how the Tory leader wants to knock down suburban homes and build modern villages)
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The manicured close, with its row of neat brick houses, is a quintessential feature of Middle England. But now the cul-de-sac, a feature of housing developments across the UK, is under fire from the Conservatives and deemed "dull and soulless".

David Cameron worries that people living in the suburbs feel cut off. He wants suburban estates, where people live in "little boxes", to be replaced by dwellings designed by architects with imagination.

The characterless dormitories of the suburbs, with their postage-stamp-sized lawns and ostentatious garages, should be transformed into vibrant modern villages where families can live and work, according to a Tory blueprint for transforming suburban Britain.

The paper Renewing Suburbia: Creating Suburban Villages is billed as the next stage in the Conservatives' vision for reviving local communities. People feel depressed, it says. by the identikit architecture of suburban estates.

It argues that new housing developments should strive to have a mix of building types, where people can live and work, rather than bland, semi-detached houses all extracted from the same mould.

"People want to know how their estate can be changed for the better. They don't like the standard 'little boxes' and they feel cut off in their cul-de-sac. Their shopping parade is decaying and all the essentials of life are only accessible by car. And they admire the community spirit and local character of their nearest village. Why, they wonder, can't it be the same on our estate?" it says.

Singled out for praise is the model village of Poundbury, created by Prince Charles in Dorset. The village, built on Duchy of Cornwall land, reflects his traditional view of architecture, but was condemned by some as a pastiche of how a village should look.

As well as Poundbury, the paper says developers should take their cue from West Silvertown, a new mixed-use development in the Royal Docks in London's East End. They blame the Government for failing to "learn from these projects".

The paper, written by Mark Prisk, a front-bench Tory MP and expert in design, says the functional postwar architecture that produced rows of identical houses should be replaced with "a local vernacular".

"The tag of 'little boxes' is quite reasonably applied to many estates," the paper says. "Uniformity in design is all too familiar. Many suburban estates are dull and soulless with no sense of community and are not sustainable, due to a reliance on cars."

The document, which will be submitted to the party's Cities Taskforce headed by Michael Heseltine, argues that planning rules should change "to enable run-down suburban housing estates to be transformed into living, working urban villages".

"We need to change how we develop our suburbs. We need to renew these estates by changing them into living, working communities," says the report.

New suburbs, it adds, should "incorporate a range of uses" to enable people to work near their home. "It must comprise a mix of building types and tenures; and it must be designed and built to a master plan, which reflects the locality."

The Conservatives say the vision to revitalise suburban England "links in with the stuff David [Cameron] has talked about rejuvenating council stocks. This is the next step in making our urban areas safer, more attractive and better places for people to bring up their families," a Conservative spokesman said.

But architects warn against harking back to the past and trying to "extend suburbia" by creating ersatz villages such as Poundbury.

"Suburban villages like Poundbury are a good idea in principle, but do not provide a model that will solve our housing problems. It's much better than normal suburbia, but it needs to have a greater density in terms of population to be a success - you have to get more people into these places," said Rick Mather, of Rick Mather Architects.

"What is crucial is that you don't just extend suburbia - because it's very expensive in terms of infrastructure. You cannot build a suburbia that relies just on cars."

Additional reporting by Nathaniel Parsons