Localising new-build housing

Architect and writer Clive Aslet (left) writes about a development of 4,000 houses on 500 acres – houses, small apartment blocks, schools, surgeries, mixed income housing, shops, business premises and leisure facilities and green spaces – on the edge of Newquay. There is an emphasis on local labour, materials and procurement.

“How society chooses to house people is every bit as important as how it chooses to feed people,” says Tim Gray, estate surveyor and chief of operations “If you can get those two things right, you will be happier, healthier and better able to engage socially. the ambition is to build community and engender civic pride, to live so that you can meet your daily needs conveniently on foot, not to differentiate between homes of different tenures, and to be connected socially with the adjacent settlements — this should provide good foundations for deciding how the nation should build homes in the future. There really is an alternative.”

Aslet describes a number of features:

  • a core commitment to spend the money in Cornwall, using local labour and materials and a pattern book with typical Cornish vernacular details, e.g. roofs are made from Cornish slate from a nearby quarry
  • The plans include setting up a town farm in some listed buildings to provide food for residents of the development.
  • There will be mixed-use neighbourhoods, in which the car is subservient to the pedestrian.
  • There will be a community orchard, allotments and ‘edible gardens’.
  • Low-cost rented homes are scattered among the more expensive owner-occupied ones 30% of the housing is affordable.

The area has been given a new lease of life. The quarry provides jobs, and so do the builders responsible for the work — all firms are from the southwest, whose work not only requires local labour, but also helps to establish local supply chains. They form what Gray calls a “consortium” a method that ensures the architecture is practical and appropriate for the local market.

Newquay is poor and homes are particularly needed by young people. Judging from conversations with a number of people in their twenties and thirties and young families met in the area, they like the designs, the edible gardens (herbs and fruit bushes are planted next to houses), espaliered pear trees and bee bricks (bricks with holes laid into the eaves of houses to welcome threatened bee populations), they’re all part of the philosophy — as well as local style, local materials and local employment . . . local food.

This is symbolised by the community orchard. seven acres of land that has been turned into allotments. “Trespassers will be composted”, reads one of the signs. Orchard and allotments are visible signs of the local food web that is being encouraged. They’re also somewhere that people from the new housing can meet long-time Newquay residents.

As Tim Gray said, this should provide a good foundation for deciding how the nation should build homes in the future. There really is an alternative: Aslet sees it as the beginning of a movement that made Britain better to live in.





The advantages of a regional food supply chain, advocated in the light of the discovery of toxic phenylbutazone residues


Michael Hart 3As a search of medical abstracts reveals advice that there should be zero tolerance of bute residues, the 2002 Look to the Local report by former MEP Caroline Lucas, LWM co-founder Colin Hines and beef farmer Michael Hart (opposite) comes to mind.

It deplores farmers turning to export meat because supermarkets buy cheaper meat from countries with low wages, and low health and environmental standards. Up to date figures were found for this ‘food swap’ which consumes air-polluting fuel for no good reason:

HMRC Market Bulletin Jan-Jun 2012

Market Bulletin – September 2012 half year trade update

clive 3 asletThe report quotes Clive Aslet,who shares this concern, and a rereading of his seminal article, ‘Clocking up food miles’,Financial Times 23/24th February 2002, reveals much of relevance.

“A public whose confidence in food has been battered by successive crises salmonella in eggs, pesticides in carrots, BSE in beef, genetic modification in cereals – has understandably erected health into a totem. While costly government action generally follows each media outcry, Parliament does not always have the foresight to limit risk in advance.

“Trade liberalisation continues. The World Trade Organisation, driven by the US, wants food to be treated as a commodity like any other. It has little truck with governments that fear health risks (it does not accept the precautionary principle), and none at all with those who raise environmental objections.

“Above all, the multiple retailers that control the food system in Britain are not likely to change their ways without pressure. More than four-fifths of British food is bought in supermarkets.

“The one straw of hope that concerned shoppers can grasp is their own purchasing power. Rightly or wrongly, consumer opinion turned so violently against genetically modified crops that the big retailers were forced to declare themselves GM-free zones.

“If the vogue for farm shops and farmers markets catches on, consumers could force supermarkets to source more food regionally, with proper labelling and promotion”.

The Hart-Hines-Lucas conclusion

Look to the local cover 2 croppedAs more consumers, farmers and workers world wide are experiencing the downside of economic globalisation in agriculture and other sectors, now is the time to consider how it can be replaced with this completely different alternative of self-reliance and localisation.

This will involve dramatically reducing world food trade and re-localising production. The goal of such a “local food-global solution” policy would be to keep production much closer to the point of consumption (and regulation) and to help protect small farmers and rebuild local economies around the world.