Why can’t all development be beautiful?

Giving the annual EG Peter Wilson Lecture on 26 February, Dame Fiona Reynolds, current Master of Emmanuel College and former Director-General of the National Trust, gave a rallying cry for the importance of incorporating beauty into our modern landscapes and development.

Dame Fiona urged us never to take our green spaces for granted. Incredibly, stunning areas of our countryside, such as the Lake District and Peak District, were not formally protected until after the Second World War. Equally, who could imagine London without its havens of green spaces? However, a change in the law, a new government and these beautiful escapes could be lost forever.

Why is it, she asked, that we would never want to knock down Ely Cathedral or a Cambridge College? The answer is because they are beautiful. They were built to last and complement the natural environment and to stand the test of time. However, this does not mean that we should be stuck in the past. Dame Fiona challenged developers to build more beautifully, taking a holistic approach, rather than focusing solely on meeting housing targets.

Making a development attractive and sustainable should not be a last-minute consideration - once the design is complete and if there is enough money left. It must drive every aspect of the design and planning process. After all, people are more likely to want to live and work in a beautiful development.

Making better use of our existing development space is just as important, such as regenerating our high streets by developing accommodation above shopping parades. However, when it is much easier, and often more economical, to build from scratch on bare land, ultimately, will investors be prepared to take a risk on more complex developments?

With the ever-increasing need for development, the Lecture was a salutary reminder that our environment requires constant protection and support to ensure that our development complements the landscape, rather than being a blot on it.

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