I’m writing again about housing because I’ve received some response to the earlier posting about self-build.
In that post, I mentioned that St Jacut de la Mer, the village in Brittany where I spent part of the summer, was full of self built houses. I forwarded the post to the person who rented me my holiday home and she kindly wrote back:
“It’s true,” she wrote, “Communities like St Jacut look nice because there is this old fashion feel about it but also because there are ever so many different new houses. So many different ways to build a house!”
She also sent me information about a local village called Bazouge sur Hédé where there is a well-known self build community full of unique, interesting-looking modern houses, with cars kept in just one part of the site, and a footpath linking the buildings. This was created when the mayor decided “to ease the way for an ecological settlement”, and is now being imitated elsewhere in the region.
This brings me to the second piece of feedback that I’ve had – from Ted Stevens at the National Self Build Association.
He explained that in France and Germany it’s very easy for individuals to buy plots of land on which to build their own house. Communities (or the local mayor) identify fields for development, put in the roads and utilities and then wait for the public to buy individual plots. Developers don’t tend to get a look-in.
Ted reminded me about the settlement at Almeera in Holland. He said that, as an ex-planner, he was concerned when he first heard about it that it would look a mess – but on visiting, was pleasantly surprised. There are none of the “laser-straight standard lollyboxes” that we’ve got used to in the UK, he said.
Self build is not nearly so advanced here in Britain as it is on the Continent. Whereas in France and Germany the proportion of self built homes is over 60 percent, here in Britain the figure is only 10 percent. Recently a government initiative to increase the numbers of self build homes appears to have failed.
Perhaps that isn’t surprising. Developers in this country are a powerful interest group and, if Wye is anything to go by, they are quickly commissioned by landowners without any thought as to whether land may be suited to the alternative of self build. We, the public, have also become used to the developers’ work – and are perhaps unaware that there could be another way of doing things.
So could a settlement such as the one at Bazouge sur Hédé be built in Wye?
The village design statement (VDS) is obviously useful when trying to work out whether a building or housing development is appropriate for the village: WyeVillageDesignStatement1. Anyone who has read it will see that it is a comprehensive piece of work which was written after considerable consultation.
However, I would suggest that there is a contradiction in the VDS which makes it difficult to understand the village’s position on modern architecture. On the one hand, we state that “high quality contemporary architecture and designs which complement their surroundings and incorporate variations in geometric form, mass and scale will be encouraged.”
But then we state “materials that harmonise with neighbouring buildings should be used for both neighbouring buildings and alterations.”
The first statement would seem to open the way for a settlement such as the one at Bazouge sur Hédé. The second statement implies that we should be building things that blend in rather than contrast with existing buildings.
My own view is that modern architecture actually looks fantastic in association with old buildings – far better than any pastiche which is likely to be the result of a “blend in” policy. Such buildings also have the advantage of being identified with a particular era: buildings of note to professionals and public alike.
In 50 years time (I will still be around believe me!), I would like to walk round the village proud to show off a development that was clearly built in the 2010s – possibly by individuals who have built their own homes.
“Look at this!” I’ll say, “So many different ways to build a house!”