BIMBY – Beauty in my backyard

The CPRE is often accused of being NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) – Rupert Hardy explains that the correct accusation is that CPRE are BIMBY.

Attractive vernacular estate at Old Dairy, Okeford Fitzpaine
Image Rupert Hardy

Over the last year Dorset CPRE has been very critical of Dorset Council’s (DC) housing strategy in its Draft Local Plan, particularly on excessive targets. However we have not said much about housing design recently, other than chastise DC for its total

lack of ambition in pushing developers to adopt more sustainable and energy efficient building standards, compatible with its declared Climate Emergency strategy. Good aesthetic design, which is mostly lacking in new housing estates, is so important if Dorset’s residents are to accept the large numbers of new houses that will be built regardless of the target that is finally adopted.

Back in 2014 the Prince’s Foundation for Building Communities developed an online toolkit BIMBY (Beauty
in My Back Yard – click here to explore it)
to help communities have a say on new housing in their area, and overcome opposition to new building.
The Toolkit supported communities to tell planners about the type of housing they wanted. Many communities
tried out the resource, especially when developing Neighbourhood Plans.

CPRE is often accused of being NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) so a good response can be that we are really BIMBY.

Leading designers share their experience and thoughts

Last year Dorset CPRE staged a highly successful conference to examine the question of how
to achieve new housing that is better designed and planned than is currently the norm. Speakers included Ben Bolgar from The Prince’s Foundation, who traced the gradual acceptance of the Prince of Wales’s once-ridiculed concerns for design and planning.

The well-known designer Ben Pentreath (who has been very much involved in the Poundbury development) concluded that ultimately it was for the landowners who release the land for development to make sure that higher standards were observed, and that most new housing fitted better with local vernacular traditions.

The landscape designer Kim Wilkie made a plea for landscape to be central to any new major developments.
It was generally agreed that the small number of big developers, who dominate housing, do
not have the answers to the challenge, since they rarely employ proper architects and are more interested in big profits than aesthetics. Small local builders, such as CG Fry and Morrish, were much more likely to be sensitive to the Dorset context.
The conference was attended by many of the county’s leading landowners, along with a number of Dorset Councillors and members of the planning department. It came hard on the heels of the publication of the report of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

Led by the late Sir Roger Scruton it observed “We seem to have lost the art of creating beauty in our built environment”.

It recommended a much greater emphasis on the need for new housing developments to be visually attractive, to take greater account of local architectural traditions, and generally to be acceptable to the local people on whom they have the most impact.
Although the government has largely accepted most of its recommendations, there appears little sign yet of this being implemented at either national or local level.

In Praise of Dorset Vernacular Architecture

In 2019 I extolled the virtues of Dorset vernacular architecture. Before the 17th Century all domestic architecture was generally vernacular with houses built from local materials, based on the variety of the underlying geology, so that in North Dorset around Shaftesbury the local greensand stone was used most effectively, as you can see in the Ship Inn. We do not expect modern housing estates to fully emulate historic vernacular buildings, but to blend into existing villages they need to pay more than lip service. Some builders try quite hard to do vernacular; but it has been the local rather than national developers. The former were hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, with little support provided by government. We praised estates that were both well designed and vernacular in style, such as Old Dairy in Okeford Fitzpaine (Parsons & Joyce, image above and Manor Farm Close in Pimperne (Wyatt Homes, image below).

Handsome brick and flint houses at Manor Fm Close, Pimperne Image Rupert Hardy

This compares to the dull uniformity of the serried rows of “Noddy box” houses built by national house builders like Persimmon in north Blandford (see below) for example, offering little attention to local tradition and diversity. It is true that traditional building requires more skilled labour, and is a little more expensive – you can see this in the form of thatched roofs, or brick and flint fascias. But the premium is not high.

Rupert describes the ‘dull uniformity’ of the Persimmon estate at Gurkha Rd, Blandford Image Rupert Hardy

We await Michael Groves’s new Planning Bill next year. He has criticised the use of steel and concrete in favour of more traditional materials, saying these materials often had higher embodied carbon.
Conservative Chairman Oliver Dowden has said that the government would now look to “set out in law measures to protect our towns, villages and precious countryside from being despoiled by ugly development”. Will they deliver?

By: Rupert Hardy, Chair, North Dorset CPRE

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