I know the latter's wearisome patter as well as I know my own: it's what the people want … the failures of the 1960s … traditional this, traditional that. Don't these people know that traditions are invented and can therefore be reinvented? Don't they know that the failures of the 1960s were failures of management and of maintenance? Don't they realise that presenting sectional interests as The Public Interest is a stratagem practised by every profession, that it gulls only the gullible, that it preaches to the hermetically institutionalised?
Thus it is with astonishment and a certain ruefulness that I must admit that I concur with Mr Roger Humber about something – indeed, several things. I have no doubt that this will cause him to choke on his jumbo G&T at his golf club bar. Oh, the horror of having an instinctive antagonist, a gut opponent, as an ally! But in the case of Humber's disagreement with milord Falconer of Cronyville, there can be only one winner. Humber's take on the outcome of the forthcoming green paper on planning (26 October, page 33, and 16 November, page 16) seems, unlike his regrettable architectural opinions, to be unexceptionable. The vested interests of volume builders may be founded in the pursuit of material gain, but they are at least inflected by a kind of realism. Milord's wheeze about affordable housing is based in utopian wrongheadedness.
Unlike Humber, I believe that dirigisme can be a useful tool, provided that it is employed in appropriate areas, such as aesthetic control. But there is nothing appropriate about the social correctness of the judgment that Mr Justice Ouseley meted out in Housebuilders United vs Oxford council (2 November, page 15). His decision to allow councils to increase the amount of social housing provision required in developments is in tune with the policy that a coalition of Falconer, mayor Livingstone and the DTLR appears to be pursuing at metropolitan and national level. How awkward it must be for milord to be backed by such a robustly independent judiciary.
The arrogance and cunning of the authoritarian herbivores in government is breathtaking
The judgment is flawed, for the reason that it fails to acknowledge that humankind, too, is flawed. Humankind is snobbish, tribal, exclusive, preoccupied by status and position (one would have thought that a judge, of all people, might be aware of this). These are not attractive qualities. We struggle to quash them, to hold them in abeyance, but we do so as individuals. It is no more the job of government to promote private moral improvement than it is its job to sanction greed, the way Lady Thatcher's administrations did. The sauve-qui-peut mentality of the 1980s may be seen as a coarse reaction to the well-meaning but futile essays in social engineering of previous decades – hence the social Darwinism, the sale of public housing, the creation of an underclass and so on.
The forthcoming green paper signifies a shift back to what was once called architectural determinism. We are moving from one pole to the other. The failure to replenish the stock of public housing is a national disgrace and has to be tackled, but the arrogance and cunning of the authoritarian herbivores in government is breathtaking. The "third way" is a mere euphemism for sleight of hand. The level of investment, psychological as well as financial, that we have in our homes is a disincentive to altruism and charity, but a two-tier configuration in which, say, 30% of a given development comprises social or affordable housing, will guarantee that the other 70% remains unsold, or sold at a fraction of the price that it would have fetched had it not been thus millstoned.