Posted by: Adam Roake | March 9, 2011

More from Mr Shapps

Quite a lot of column inches have been spent on Grant Shapps’ letter to David Kester at the Design Council (original letter to David Kester). The press boys and girls at DCLG obviously had a field day with reference to the iconic LEGO brand and the press have lapped it up. Some of it good stuff, like Colin Marr on the planning blog, but some of it is just lazy, like Anna Winston in BD and her ex-editor colleague Amanda Bailieu; please tell me, Amanda and/or Anna, are the quotes in your articles actually in the letter? Colin makes several valid points; ‘local character’ is more difficult to identify than period character – Georgian looks like Georgian whether it’s in Bath or Edinburgh; materials which might help define locality without exception will add cost to volume builder’s product; Shapps’ exemplars (by the way, according to the DCLG press office, “The comments about the exemplar schemes were made today by Grant Shapps but were not in the actual letter“, which in itself is an interesting concept!) are all in “…areas where clear rules already exist to prevent inappropriate development” so Mr Shapps inadvertently appears to be arguing for more regulation; and finally how does this all sit with Mr Gove’s belief in flat-pack, identikit schools? Ms Baillieu to her credit picks out this last issue, although I’m never too sure if I’ve understood her argument.

There are two important issues which seem to have been missed, perhaps through paying undue attention to the press release and insufficient to the actual letter. Firstly, Grant Shapps thinks that Neighbourhood Plans should be about describing the “…look and feel” of a neighbourhood, its character, and that good design is simply about reflecting that character. In fact, and Amanda may care to expand on this, the position on design is not far from Mr Gove’s – design is really only about the twiddly bits on the outside, you don’t need them on schools but you need a few on houses to keep the neighbours happy. I am not confident that design policy is in safe hands and I am not confident that Design Council/ CABE will make much headway over the next four years

Secondly Mr Shapps says “… alongside the New Homes Bonus, good quality community-led design has real potential to unlock the housing growth this country so desperately needs“. I think I’ve said enough about the New Homes Bonus to demonstrate how little new housing that will lead to (even DCLG are only expecting a maximum of 13% increase in housing completions) but to claim that ‘community-led design’ could have any impact on housing numbers seems extraordinary. Please could someone tell me how that might work? Really I’d love to understand the casual link between the two.



  1. Spot on with your comments as always Adam, especially in pointing out that this is so more about the sound bite, than any real attempt to offer a genuine solution to any of these issues. It’s becoming incredibly tiresome, all these headline grabbing statements, made without any idea of how to follow them through.

  2. Thank you Roger.
    I agree the shameless sexing up by the CLG press team does little to address the real issue of how are we going to get more homes built and the substance behind the fluff is sadly of even less effect than the fluff itself! Mr Shapps will of course move to higher and better things within the next year so really he doesn’t care, so long as his profile is on the up.
    The most important lever currently controlling housing numbers is confidence in the economy. Above all else the perceived lack of confidence is forcing buyers to hold off and builders to slow down production. Simples. Granting planning permission (or not) today will not produce more homes for at least two years and probably longer, so tinkering with Neighbourhood Plans or New Homes Bonus now is unlikely to produce anything for several years, if indeed ever.
    I will reflect on what this might mean for developers and LPAs and aim for a positive blog next time! Sadly I don’t think we should expect Mr Shapps policies will unlock housing growth.

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