Dulce domum

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

29 November 2012


Lots of people throughout the world are losing their jobs at the moment because of the depression but few of them, we suspect, are government ministers.

Nonetheless, we fear that UK planning minister Nick Boles will not be in his job for long.

Boles has been sounding off strangely of late in a way that suggests he is way off message so far as most of his Tory colleagues are concerned.

According to the London Guardian, this is what the junior minister told the Newsnight programme on BBC 2 television:

“I think everyone has the right to live somewhere that is not just affordable but that is beautiful and has some green space nearby,” he told the programme, adding that “the right to a home with a little bit of ground around it to bring your family up in” was a basic moral right on a par with a right to education.

Right on, Mr Boles! You said it.

It’s good to hear a minister with the courage to speak up for both equality and aesthetics at a time when his government has not only presided over a chronic slump in house-building but at the same time, for good measure, has slashed public funding for the arts.

Mr Boles lashed out at housing developers for constructing “pig-ugly” modern homes. Partly, they were cutting costs owing to the high price of land, but partly it was because they were just lazy: they didn’t talk to local people or get involved enough.

Another problem was opposition to development from “nimbies” – “nimby” is an acronym which stands for “not in my back yard”. It is a derogatory term for those who, themselves lodged in comfortable homes, oppose further development in their neighbourhood on the grounds that it will eat up open space and lower the value of their properties.

It was his job, Mr Boles said, to put the arguments to nimbies that if they carried on writing letters to oppose development “their kids are never going to get a place with a garden to bring up their grandkids”.

At present about 9 per cent of land in the UK was developed and all it needed to solve the country’s housing problem was to build on another 2 to 3 per cent, Mr Boles is reported to have told the programme.

The controversial question is where that development is to occur.

Preservationists want the bulk of new housing to be built on derelict or under-used “brown-field” sites in existing built-up areas so as to conserve the countryside and, in particular, the belt of green land on the fringes of the towns and cities which will provide jobs for new residents.

This brings them into conflict with developers, as it is much more expensive to build inside a town or city than in open countryside.

Mr Boles is said to have told the programme: “We’re going to protect the greenbelt.” However, this is less than a promise not to build on it. In any case, he could easily be over-ruled by his bosses.

At any rate, it is certainly refreshing to hear this kind of talk from a minister belonging to a government notorious both for its inability to stimulate the growth out of which new housing will emerge and for its philistine slash-and-burn attitude to aesthetic sensibilities and the arts.

The most notorious offender, as far as aesthetics is concerned, is a UK Cabinet Minister much more senior than Mr Boles, namely Michael Gove, Education Secretary and the government’s leading ideologue.

Gove has laid down the law for new school buildings: mass-produced components, where possible, and no extras – no frills and furbelows. Not an architect himself, he has, bizarrely, enjoined the profession to eschew “curves” when designing new schools. No Michelangelos wanted in Britain, thank you very much! The government, according to Gove, is not in the business of making architects rich.

Any way, good luck, Mr Boles. At least you have tried.  We hope you can hold on to your job.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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