It’s time we headed for an age of elegance

Demolition of the Deeping St James signal box.
Photo courtesy of John McGowan. EMN-141027-094153001
Demolition of the Deeping St James signal box. Photo courtesy of John McGowan. EMN-141027-094153001
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HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes

Too rarely politicians challenge orthodox assumptions and more rarely still do they take action to turn back tides. In respect of the built environment, the defenders of the indefensible have held sway for too long; the case for beauty being articulated all too rarely, and, when it has, derided by those who dare not challenge modernist determinism.

The aesthetic of what we build has suffered from what Sir Roger Scruton has called the ‘Cult of Ugliness.’ The overwhelming majority of public architecture built during my lifetime is aesthetically worthless, simply because it is ugly.

Defenders of the worst contemporary architecture dismiss criticism out of hand, arguing that while some people might find it ugly, that’s nothing more than subjective personal judgements and, as such, of no significance. Some argue it is only utility that counts, with practicality and convenience trumping all else; others claim that our public buildings are bound to be bland, and that they need be nothing more.

Now that Britain is undergoing a once-in-a-lifetime programme of investment in our transport infrastructure - building new roads, new railways and new stations, as well as overhauling those already here - in my role as Minister for Transport, I am determined that we use this unique opportunity to instil design principles which lift the spirits, nurturing individual and communal wellbeing.

The Prince of Wales’ foundation for Building Community has found that 84% of those asked want new buildings to reflect historic form, style and materials. We shouldn’t tolerate sub-standard, conceptually flawed development be it buildings or roads, neither should we endure the demolition of our railway heritage - which is why I fought so hard for Deeping St James’ signal box and why we are fighting for Deeping St Nicholas’.

Winston Churchill once said that “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” Nowhere is that truer than in the houses which, in becoming homes, frame communities. In future, our area can be freed from the soulless ubiquity that blights many parts of our country. Protecting our market towns and precious villages could not be more important.

Surely what we build should give us a direct link to the past, to a more aesthetically demanding age, by replicating the best of what has gone before, so enhancing our future sense of worth by affirming our sense of place.

The revolt against the Cult of Ugliness is under way; we can and will turn back the tide, we will beat on, 
boats against the current, borne ceaselessly to a new age of elegance. It is time to set out on the journey to beauty.