Bishop of Chester highlights impact of built environment on well-being of society

On 28th July 2014, the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, took part in a short debate in the House of Lords on the Government’s response to the Farrell Review of architecture and the built environment. He supported the relaxing of planning laws, to enable people to have a greater say in the built environment in which they live. He also argued that architects should play a more significant role in issues of planning, cautioning that houses built in the past 20 years risked becoming the slums of the future.

14.03 Bishop of ChesterThe Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, reference to the Tower of Babel earlier stimulated me to speak in the gap, and I believe that there is time to do so. Skyscrapers are quite ambiguous—they work in some places but not in others. Why does the Shard work but the Cheesegrater look completely out of place? Maybe that is just my own subjective judgment. Why do some cities that have no need of skyscrapers feel they want them? Some cities in Australia that have all the space they could possibly want still have an instinct to build skyscrapers. It indicates how important the environment is for us. We see no skyscrapers in Paris or Rome. The urban planners there do not allow them.

Buildings have a huge impact on us. We are very conscious in the church that we are responsible for nearly half the great listed buildings in the country. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, they have an impact on the spirit. Over the years I have had a lot to do with architects in connection with these buildings. I have always thought that the architectural profession in our country is to some extent the poor relation to other professions. A huge amount of work goes into training an architect, but they are not valued, as was mentioned earlier. There is a role for more proactive planning and involvement of architects but I would think it a danger if we thought that all the creativity will be decided in advance. We need a combination of planning and allowing initiative.

I sometimes think that in this country our whole planning regime is too constricted. We need only look at the modern housing that has been built in the last 20 years. I fear that we have the slums of the future. Houses are squashed together because of rules on density that were introduced. They are often on three floors so it is very difficult to put in stair lifts, and so forth. They have very small gardens. Is this really the environment in which people will want to live in the future? Buildings affect the spirit and a planning that involves architects who have a real sensitivity for space and place is important. Alongside that, we should ask people what environment they want to live in rather than decreeing it through some over-rigid planning regimes.

I read the summary of the report this afternoon. It is very important and I hope that the dignity of the architectural profession will be enhanced in the years to come.


Lord Bates (Government response): …I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, during her time as chair of English Heritage and when she was a Minister at DCLG. She spoke about the importance of our heritage. The future remit of English Heritage is being considered in the lead-up to the establishment of Historic England, its replacement body. Heritage was also touched upon by my noble friend Lord Cormack and, in an ecclesiastical setting, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester; it is an essential part and a theme which runs through the National Planning Policy Framework document.


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