CPRE Northumberland

Skip to navigation

A community right to beauty

A community right to beauty

While it a commonplace that beauty 'is in the eye of the beholder', people do in fact generally agree about what they find beautiful, and what ugly, in the places where they live. More or less everyone agrees that places are more beautiful when they are clean, tidy, in good repair and part of a well-ordered layout. The opposite is true of places that are littered or vandalised and subject to antisocial behaviour.

This discussion document published by the independent think tank ResPublica, with support from CPRE and the National Trust among other bodies, argues for 'giving communities the power to shape, enhance and create beautiful spaces'. It proposes that beauty should be an essential element in the environment, on a par with practicality, economy and viability, the key watchwords of government policy nowadays. It is particularly concerned that a broad satisfaction with the attractiveness of where they live seems to be the prerogative of the better off only.

It highlights the potential benefits to places perceived to be attractive, quoting Bruce Mau, the Canadian designer. 'Beauty represents a competitive strategy which can attract wealth, talent and investment'. It further emphasises the heightened sense of well-being a more beautiful area can give its residents, with a similar bonus in enhanced civic pride. 

It concludes the discussion with the recommendation that the planning process be amended to include these key principles.   

  • people should be able to challenge planning proposals on the grounds of beauty,
  • they should be able to require their local authority to improve ugly, neglected or vandalised features, and to safeguard, maintain or improve locally cherished assets (eg buildings, green spaces),
  • local authorities should be tasked with encouraging local people to become involved in the improvement of their areas through community action (supported, perhaps, by local businesses).

Finally it recommends that a new 'protected' designation be established of AOUB (Area of Outstanding Urban Beauty) to provide examples of good practice, and another of Community Improvement Districts to direct funding to where remedial action is most urgently needed to make access to beauty available to all.

ResPublica's ideas deserve consideration by all of us, wherever we live. They may seem to apply largely to urban and built environments, but there are parts of rural towns and villages too which could benefit from improvements to their attractiveness. With just a few moments' thought we could all draw up a quick 'hit list' of the eyesores we pass regularly with some pain to our aesthetic sensibilities. Equally our towns and, of course, Newcastle itself can together yield a rich store of candidates for the accolade of AOUB. Nicholas Pevsner described Grey Street as 'one of the finest streets in England' and Sir John Betjeman waxed lyrical over it.  'Not even...old Regent Street London can compare with that descending subtle curve'.                          

See all in CPRE

join us

Back to top