Beauty should be at the heart of all we do

John Hayes
John Hayes
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The work of Parliament – like life itself – is a balance of the immediate and the eternal. Politics ought to be driven by high ideals as well as practical concerns, by matters of principle and matters of practice. So it was last week, when I spoke to a think tank on the subject of Beauty one day, and responded for the Government to a debate on the use of drones another.

There are obvious risks to safety, security and privacy from drones, their misuse being wholly unacceptable. Nonetheless, technology presents exciting possibilities. Scientific improvements can deliver not only economic benefits – transforming the way in which businesses deliver their services to consumers – but also aid emergency services. Some Fire Services, for instance, use drones in surveying sites and conducting wide-area searches. Indeed, they were employed following the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower when it was unsafe to inspect the higher floors of the building by any other means. We must allow the proper use of this technology, but bear down heavily on its misuse.

All changes must be guided by long-standing principles, and my speech to the ResPublica think tank elucidated the principles on which – as Transport Minister – decisions on road, rail and other infrastructure should be made.

My principal message was straightforward: good design, careful planning and, above all, beauty should be at the very heart of all we do. Beauty should, as Sir Roger Scruton perfectly puts it, “be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justify our rational inclinations.”

Our connection with beauty, by giving a taste of the sublime, offers both an escape from and a compensation for the inevitable pains and trials of daily life.

People are deeply spiritual – in need of much more than their daily bread alone – which is why beauty is the essential nourishment of the common good.

In any case, while beauty and utility may not be the same, there is no doubt that one does not have to be sacrificed for the other. Indeed, the great railway stations, bridges and tunnels of the Victorian era show how they can be made to work in harmony.

Fine words matter, but they matter most as the precursor to fine deeds.

The Government has consulted the public over drones and will shortly set out what more needs to be done to keep us safe from the risks they may pose.

Likewise, the Government must concern itself with the look and feel of roads, railways, villages and towns. It matters that we do, because our sense of place feeds our sense of worth, and our well-being is inseparable from the environment around us. These are matters which politicians should not neglect.

I am determined that well designed roads and railways should prevail and have set up Design Panels, drawing up plans to make sure of it.

The detractors, defeatists and doom-mongers will doubtless carp and cry, but what we plan and build must be of the best. We owe nothing less to future generations.