Grant Shapps: Cleverly designed houses can make better neighbours of us all

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The Independent Online

Our attachment to the place in which we live is – for the most part – guided by just two factors: the architecture of the built environment, and the sociability, or otherwise, of the people we call our neighbours.

Combine these factors and we can estimate how you feel about the place in which you live. Ask yourself: what does your house, your neighbourhood, your area look like? And what are people who live around you like? Good neighbours and a pleasant built environment leading to a high quality of life? Or anti-social locals, poor design and a miserable place to be?

The problem is, for the most part, that these two factors have been dealt with in near isolation. And the outcome has contributed towards the construction of some deeply dysfunctional communities. Many of you have been calling for a greater emphasis on design for a long time and more recently there has been a general recognition that design plays a major part in determining quality of life. A huge amount of work has gone into creating better housing and public space.

Indeed, in 1997, Labour engaged some of the world's best designers and architects to improve the quality of public housing and public space. Lord Rogers and the Urban Taskforce brought out important reports detailing regeneration and the rescue of our inner cities. And a small number of brilliant, glistening, new estates represented a new hope for future development led by great design.

Progress has been made. I've seen it for myself as I've toured around the country over the past two-and-a-half years, visiting hundreds of different housing projects. Most have been impressive, introducing cutting-edge elements to design out anti-social behaviour, ingenious architectural devices that are intended to remove opportunities for anti-social behaviour and special materials which assist a zero tolerance approach to graffiti. Simple things like brighter lighting and strategically placed CCTV cameras have made a difference.

And as I walk around these 21st century developments, the creativity, design, thought and innovation that has gone into regenerating these places is certainly impressive.

This is an extract from a speech given yesterday by the shadow Housing minister to the Royal Institute of British Architects