Ben Derbyshire leads group calling on party to ensure future developments “reflect the genius of our age”

Create Streets Rayner 1

Image of a traditional high street design, drawn up for Labour by Create Streets

A group of high profile architects led by HTA Design chair Ben Derbyshire has called on the Labour party not to “fall for” the idea that the future of housing design needs to be based on “historic” styles.

In a letter to the Times signed by the government’s former chief architect Andy von Bradsky and Proctor & Matthews founding director Andrew Matthews, Derbyshire said the next government should not try to solve the housing crisis by “seducing the electorate with AI-generated populist imagery”.

Ben Derbyshire

Ben Derbyshire

Last week, shadow housing secretary Angela Raynor outlined Labour’s plans to focus on traditional designs in order to win over the public as part of its drive to build 1.5 million homes during the course of its first Parliament if it wins the 4 July general election.

Rayner published a series of images of Victorian and Edwardian style buildings drawn up by Create Streets, the think tank founded by Nicholas Boys Smith which has been a key influence on communities secretary Michael Gove.

She said that Labour’s plans to build a string of new towns would only include homes built with an “exemplary design, with real character that fits in around the local area.”

She added: “No more identikit homes straight out of a catalogue. We’re always hearing that people want tree-lined streets of townhouses, so that’s what we’ll build.”

The letter from Derbyshire, who is also a RIBA past president, was a response to Rayner’s comments.

Other signatories included Jane Duncan, also a RIBA past president, PRP director Ben Williamson, Levitt Bernstein managing director Matthew Goulcher, and Patrick Devlin and Andrew Beharrell of Pollard Thomas Edwards.

It said: “There is no need for the Labour Party to fall for the idea that the future of housing must be sold to the public as a return to traditional, historic ideas.”

While Derbyshire architects can and do learn from the past, he argued the “great places of the future must surely reflect the genius of our age”.


Shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner

“We agree with Create Streets that success — in terms of sustainable, walkable, attractive neighbourhoods — depends on a pattern of streets and green, open spaces,” he said.

“That is how we can comfortably accommodate diverse peoples, cultures, activities and nature, all at mid-density, but we must have different housing styles that reflect their local context and community.”

Derbyshire added: “The next generation of homes for heroes should be promoted with real design quality in mind, not historical, aesthetic populism.”

>>See also: We need a national, collective vision for delivering homes

>>See also: Lack of social rented homes in London costing £7.7bn in lost social value, say G15

Create Streets’ design philosophy, which aims to reduce local opposition to new housing developments, has been highly influential in Tory circles and Gove’s controversial drive to ensure new buildings are “beautiful”.

But Rayner has accused the Conservatives of allowing “badly designed houses, with families paying through the nose for dingy shoeboxes” as she promised firmer rules on access to nature and infrastructure along with more affordable homes.

Housing is expected to be central to Labour’s manifesto, due to be published tomorrow, with the party having already announced plans to help first time buyers with a mortgage guarantee scheme offering loans covering 95% of a property’s value.

Click here for more on the general election