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Glenn Murcutt: Newport Mosque

Piers Taylor’s Review of Glenn Murcutt’s Mosque – the Australian Islamic Centre – is in April’s edition of the Architectural Review

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Contemporary Vernacular Design

FullSizeRender 29IMG_5073 2IMG_3284 2IMG_1843 2Piers Taylor was delighted to be asked by Clare Nash to write the foreword to her new book on British Housing – which is now out in print and can be bought HERE

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Bathampton Park & Ride

IMG_4745This letter, below, was sent to all Bath Councillors, Bath’s MP, UNESCO, Historic England and the Bath Preservation Trust

Dear Sir/Madam

We, the undersigned, are concerned about the council’s seemingly blind support for a Park & Ride on the historic Bathampton Meadows, for which the council have consistently failed to provide any demonstrable need.

The overriding planning consideration enshrined in the NPPF states in para 132 that substantial harm to a World Heritage Site should be wholly exceptional. The green setting of the World Heritage Site is an integral part of the Georgian townscape according to UNESCO, and features in all three criteria for WHS inscription.

An east Park & Ride would inflict harm, which the Bath Preservation Trust argues would be substantial, to the World Heritage site by destroying the very significant relationship between the city and its green open landscape setting in the east of the city. According to the NPPF, local authorities should refuse consent for schemes which will lead to substantial harm unless the harm ‘is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits’.

B&NES has conspicuously failed to demonstrate that there are any substantial public benefits to this scheme. The requirement to justify the ‘need’ for an east Park & Ride site is a primary consideration, and one that has not so far been fulfilled.

Contrary to the Council’s statement to Cabinet (para 8.1, p35) the Inspector did not accept that need has been established but said that it would be necessary to establish need prior to a site being brought forward. A site has now been brought forward, without the council demonstrating this need.

Policy ST6 (original draft) states that there should be no unacceptable impact on the World Heritage Site. The proposed revised draft states that there needs to be clear and convincing justification for any harm to the World Heritage Site, and that the degree of harm should be weighed against the level of public benefit.

Compelling current national and international academic research and credible statistical evidence from local organisations show that a Park & Ride in the east of Bath will not produce the public benefit to outweigh the substantial harm.

Therefore, at present, there is neither convincing justification nor any indication of the level of public benefit (as required in ST6). In summary, this scheme is contrary to both national and local policy. The majority of Bath residents also do not want the eastern Park and Ride on this site.

The Council now admit themselves that an East Park & Ride will do little or nothing to improve congestion on the London Road, and thus in turn to improve air pollution.

Demand for parking in Bath rarely exceeds supply, except during the Christmas market, so a provision for peak days should be made, not year round over-provision.

The Council’s own forecast projects that an east Park & Ride will only reduce London Road traffic by 5% by 2029, and it may increase congestion on the main eastern routes and in east-of-Bath rural areas as more people use their cars to get to the Park & Ride rather than use public transport.  In addition to this, the main A4-London Road into Bath will continue to be heavily used by A46/A36 through traffic (including HGVs) and by local residents and the school run, all of which are not the expected users of a new Park & Ride.

Local resident car use will continue to clog up our roads until they are incentivised not to drive into the centre via better and cheaper public transport or by some form of congestion charging. In addition, rural public transport services will actually decrease as demand is impacted by the Park & Ride.

Since congestion will not improve, there is no case for any improvement in air quality or reduction of emissions.  Local resident car use will continue, and additionally there is evidence to suggest that Park & Rides encourage people back into their cars to drive to a Park & Ride, producing a net increase in pollution, especially in the sensitive areas around Bathampton and Batheaston that are already close to national poor air-quality limits. Compulsory low emission zones incentivising less polluting cars would be more effective.

We also believe that, contrary to what the Bath Chamber of Commerce hopes it will achieve, this Park & Ride will not improve connectivity to support business growth. ‘Predict and provide’ models of transport provision have been shown to attract and encourage further car use. Surely ‘future proofing’ means looking to innovative future sustainable transport solutions and encouraging people out of their cars?

Both sites B and F have serious flaws as viable options because of their visibility in important long views, openness and their significant role as the green setting of the eastern part of the World Heritage Site. The harm to these valued qualities, as well as to the natural environment, would be substantial, and we cannot see that any screening would either be appropriate in a context that is open, flat grassland or sufficiently mitigate this harm.

In summary, there is poor evidence of need for this Park & Ride, little evidence of public benefit, undisputed evidence of harm, inconsistency of approach by B&NES in terms of city-centre parking, and a worrying lack of vision and innovation.

The East of Bath Park & Ride is an expensive, divisive, diversionary white elephant, necessitating significant borrowing on the part of the council –  investment which could be better spent on demand management measures. We urge the Council to think again.

Yours faithfully

Piers Taylor, Architect & Broadcaster

Peter Clegg, Senior Partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios & Professor of Architecture, University of Bath, RIBA Stirling Prize Winner

Andrew Grant, Director, Grant Associates Landscape Architects, RIBA Stirling Prize Winner
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How British Housing Can Rediscover its Soul

cover-finalClare Nash has recently published a new book, for which Piers Taylor wrote the foreword, below. The book is available to buy HERE.

Great Britain has some of the most beautiful, appropriate and resilient housing in the world. The majority of this housing was built before 1940, was not designed by architects, and forms the backbone of our towns, villages and cities. In many ways, it used to be so easy: we built unselfconsciously, using local materials, customs and techniques – effortlessly forming our own vernacular.

Since the war however, almost all of the housing stock that we have produced has been substandard to the point that it has wrecked many of the towns and villages that had survived unscathed for generations. This was caused by poor planning policy and urban design, ideologically misguided architects and perhaps most importantly, the shortsighted selfishness of volume house builders who refuse to put good design before quick profit.

Most volume housing has not been designed by architects – but to a certain extent, our vernacular housing showed that it didn’t necessarily need to be. If we followed certain fundamental rules of thumb we could create decent, ordinary resilient houses that together formed a cohesive beauty greater than an a collection of individual buildings.

The housing that was designed (often over designed) by architects in the post war period didn’t fare much better – communities were uprooted and re-housed in buildings lacking the fundamental ingredients that allowed these communities to reform and thrive in the way that they had previously.

The ability for housing to become ‘place making’ has, by and large, become lost from our nation’s psyche. The tyranny of the ‘dream home’ perpetuated by populist TV programmes means that many people aspire to a ‘statement’ detached dwelling with a double garage and a sea of tarmac, rather than the simple dignity of a house, in a street, that purposely subjugates its own individuality for the greater good of place. This latter type of housing – the house that becomes the street, that becomes the neighbourhood, that becomes the town – is effortlessly democratic.

This does not mean that we need to hark back to a mythical golden age of pre war housing: on the contrary, as Clare Nash has painstakingly researched, there is much contemporary housing that is exceptional, and shows what is possible in any context in the UK.

Much of the housing that Clare writes about in this book is affordable, alluring, durable and democratic, and shows that there is another way other than that provided by the volume house builders. Clare’s study shows how well we can do it when we want. She restates the importance and significance of the ordinary, the everyday, and the vernacular. In the face of the impending ransacking of the landscape by new and inappropriate housing, Clare’s exemplars show the potential for a beautiful built future to house successive generations effectively.

A manifesto for change, this book needs to be thrust into the hands of all developers and house builders. It also needs to be read by everybody else – to wean us off our addiction to the false promise of the ‘exclusive, individual luxury home’. Let us hope we can look forward to a new era of effortless vernacular place making, using the building blocks of the versatile and appropriate housing shown here.

© Piers Taylor 

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