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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit misguided..., 17 Feb 2008
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This review is from: Let's Build!: Why We Need Five Million New Homes in the Next 10 Years (Paperback)
... But thought provoking nonetheless. James Heartfield believes that the solution to the housing crisis in the UK is to be found in the construction of 5 million plus new homes, at ten to the hectare, over the greenbelt in the south east and doing away with the the planning laws (as we know them), in the process. In making such an argument his is an unusual voice - reflecting a hotchpotch of political opinions, a mixture of thatcherite libertarianism and social democratic optimism.

It is a very readable book, it's argument is sometimes difficult to follow but it does fit together. His main criticism is an attack on the governments policy of restricting the development of greenfield land, in favour of land that is essentially being reused: 'brownfield' sites in planning terms. What he believes this has led to is inner city areas being regenerated at great expense with dubious social consequences - tiny flats, high house prices and cramped urban conditions. He argues that this situation has come about due to an irrational committment to the seperation of 'town' and 'country', the product of a nation dwelling in the past and not looking to the future, and the direction of architects, planners and politicians that people should live on top of each other and take public transport everywhere - political beliefs dressed up in the language of sustainable development and environmentalism that are extremely profitable if you are in the loop.

So far, so good. The problem is that, whilst his radical alternative vision is welcome, it strikes me that it would never work on a practical level. If you were to deregulate on the extent that he advocates you would probably end up with a situation not dissimilar to that currently faced in Ireland and the USA - thousands of empty homes built on green fields, landscape changed forever, collapse in property values, redundancies in the construction industry. The environmental costs are even more severe: no infrastructure to go with development, which makes everyday living carbon - intensive and expensive. Not good in a world of swiftly depleting natural resources - but this reality is one that Heartfield is apparently unconcerned about. He does go some way to pre-empt such criticisms, wheeling out the familliar argument that the government should foot the costs of infrastructure and not property developers, but he hasn't fully considered the costs of such an arrangement.

Overall it is good to have a radical voice in this debate. Heartfield speaks uncomfortable truths about the planning system. However, the argument he makes is incomplete and there are too many shortcomings for this book to really be taken seriously by policymakers.
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