Building on flood plains

Writing in Friday's Guardian, Jonathan Glancey makes one good point but in a bad way. His argument - which I made on this blog on the 22nd - is that, should we feel the need to build on flood plains, we should build houses to be floodproof. I suggested half-sunk basements and high plug sockets on the ground floor while Mr Glancey prefers stilts; I don't know which has more architectural merit.

It is perfectly possible to build in a practical manner on a flood plain. It is also necessary to avoid higher and higher housing costs.

Unfortunately, he uses that argument to question the principle of building on flood plains and to attack town and country planning. He attacks 'modern' towns for being desiged with the car in mind.

I think that's a little unfair, as it is only comparatively recently that people have appreciated the social and environmental benefits of mixed developments and promoting the use of public transport. Milton Keynes was built well before this appreciation, as were all the post-war new towns; Mr Glancey waxes lyrical about how "all traditional settlements used to be eco-towns".

This confuses good urban design for social purposes with good urban design for environmental purposes. While you'd hope that both would be part of the design brief, the one does not imply the other.

Whether Mr Glancey likes it or not, this building is going to happen. While attacking the errors of the past, he neglects to promote any of the other lessons we have learned. Municipal combined heat and power, for instance can reduce carbon emissions and is easier to install by design than to retro-fit.

Mr Glancey would also do well to accept a reality; people work in London and commute from the south east. While both he and I would like to promote geographic communities by providing commercial (and perhaps even light industrial) space in these developments, significant numbers will commute to London; if not immediately, over time as people from existing commuter belts move to these areas. It would be far better to provide good rail links from the beginning rather than burying his head in the sand, try to insist on local businesses and end up putting more cars on the road.


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