Charlie Luxton, TV's latest wunderkind, should stop spouting misguided opinions that play into the hands of the anti-housing, pro-Tory home counties
In his televisual rantings about housing on Channel 4 at the weekend, young designer Charlie Luxton accused housebuilders of poor designs, lack of innovation and the worst crime of all: building suburbia.

Housebuilders can riposte simply by pointing to the disasters of the 1960s. They can rightly claim that the public likes and wants to buy their houses and, indeed, similar, secondhand housing built since the 1920s. Luxton does not seem to be familiar with research on their likes and dislikes, such as that published recently by the Halifax and the New Homes Marketing Board.

Meanwhile, much of the innovative, post-war housing designed by architects has been demolished or is difficult to let.

Both arguments contain elements of truth, but both are untenable, given that PPG3 makes urbanism its political creed and that the government has decided to dictate the kind of housing that shall be built in future.

Luxton's attention-seeking diatribe against most of the housing built since the 1880s is, at heart, dirigiste and anti-market and he is unwilling to learn anything from housebuilders about customers. Again, this is a characteristic he shares with the government and its predecessors.

He ignores customers' preferences because his starting-point is the good old Stalinist one: that the customer is wrong. Customers are wrong in their lifestyle choices and, indeed, wrong in expecting to be able to make lifestyle choices.

Luxton’s starting-point is the good old Stalinist one: that the customer is wrong in expecting to be able to make lifestyle choices

Like Lord Rogers in substantial sections of his urban taskforce report, Luxton is not just attacking housebuilders. He is dripping contempt on the British people and their preference for home ownership in suburbia, without understanding the reasons for that preference. Like Lord Rogers, Luxton wants to make a non-English, high-density urban lifestyle compulsory. In this, he is supported by the political establishment, left and right, because they have been unable to deal with the political fall-out from a largely well-housed population living in traditional suburbia, which wants to stop anybody else joining them.

Where Luxton is undeniably right is in his assertion that architects have made little contribution to housing design since the failures of the 1960s. This is not unconnected with the fact that, for most of the last 20 years, getting houses built has been a kind of guerrilla war, with developers gaining control of fields one at a time. And this is set against the background of a planning policy that, faced with the politically inconvenient necessity of providing more homes, has become increasingly non-strategic.

Now the government is forcing change on consumers, using housebuilders as its agents. It is making them live at high densities in urban areas, regardless of their preferences. One incidental benefit is that the new urban quarters likely to be built are an opportunity for housebuilders and architects to make a fresh start. Take, for example, a proposal at Cambridge for a genuinely urban extension capable of sustainably providing the large number of houses that the city's booming economy requires. A development of this scale must be masterplanned, must feature mixed-uses and must put transport and movement strategies at its core.

Rather than just ranting about past "failures", young architects need to understand why the suburban housing stock they so despise remains so popular. They must reinterpret core elements of that popularity, or they will once again create places where people do not want to live.

The key to this is to plan positively for more housing. The urban extension at Cambridge must be the first of many, unless housing shortages in southern England are to strangle the economy as well as denying another generation of architects the opportunity to design housing. Here, again, Luxton and his generation will have to team up with housebuilders and bodies such as the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Prince's Foundation in promoting the case for more housing. Luxton's exaggerated outburst against new housing is making that more difficult by playing to the gallery of the anti-housing Tory heartlands.