Houses and planning, Germany vs. UK


In the UK, we lived in a 1940s, semi-detached, pebble-dashed, ex-council house. All the houses on the street were identical -and all equally ugly. A neighbour wanted to make some changes to his house and applied for planning permission. It was denied; the reason: it would be out-of-character with the street. Now, call me stupid, but to my mind any change to this spectacularly ugly street could only improve it. But that’s not how planning works in the UK. Common sense and aesthetics have been sidelined – why?

In Germany almost every house is different; there is not a single mindlessly-designed, profit-maximizing, identikit, wimpy estate to be seen. Most people build their house on a vacant plot to a design of their choice, resulting in diverse and pretty streets full of interesting looking houses.

There is one thing which detracts from this however: garden fences. For some reason metal and chain-link fences are hugely popular. These metal fences imbue a disproportionate and depressingly negative effect on their surroundings relevant to their actual size – and it would be so easy to use wood-panel fencing instead. It’s probably even cheaper. Suburban garden fences are one place where normally excellent and purposeful German over-engineering completely trample any aesthetic sensibilities.

Whilst I’m on a rant anyway… Ireland’s planning has historically been just as bad, but in reverse, by allowing ugly, ostentatious “Dallas” style houses to be built in the middle of the Irish countryside it has destroyed many a historically beautiful landscape. I hate to say it, but this is the reason that Welsh landscapes beats Irish landscapes, hands down. The countryside is one place UK planning has got it right.