Households with incomes higher than £45, 000 a year (1) are the most able to access beautiful places and green spaces, according to a new report from the independent think tank ResPublica, which includes a call for VAT relief on refurbishment costs, where a community calls for or takes a lead on improvement to a building.
‘A Community Right to Beauty’ is based on a poll of 2,164 people on their access to beautiful surroundings.
Authors say the law must be changed to end this injustice.
Caroline Julian, report co-author and Deputy Director of ResPublica, says being surrounded by beauty should be a right for all not just for the privileged: ‘Our public poll is damning. It shows we are singularly failing the poor. A staggeringly high household income, more than £10, 000 above the national average (2), gives you better access to beautiful surroundings.’
‘This inequality has a significant impact on health and wellbeing as well as the way people behave within communities. Those who are surrounded by beauty are more likely to take care of it, become more involved in their communities. Uglier places see higher levels of anti-social behaviour, crime and more litter. We have to create a system by which we all have a Right to Beauty.’
Kevin McCloud MBE, designer, writer and presenter of Channel 4’s ‘Grand Designs’, commented: ‘We all of us instinctively recognise when someone, something or somewhere is beautiful. And we all have a right to it. Admittedly we’re all a little clumsy in our use of the language of beauty in the 21st century, but if we are to preserve such beauty as we have in our natural and built environments and if we are to see yet more of it in those places (and by the same token, see less ugliness) then we must clamorously shout out for it.’
‘We should demand more beauty in our parks, streets and housing because it is good for our souls and good for our health and our well-being. This landmark report sets out how we can achieve that: by tidying up what we have, by democratising the Right to Beauty, safeguarding the cherished and valued of the everyday and by demanding that the word Beauty, and all that it magically means, are equitably woven through our planning system, our architecture and our built world.’
The report also found that less than half of those living in social rented housing, 45%, felt they had the same access to beauty.
Less litter was most commonly mentioned as the most important factor in making an area beautiful (36%). Less crime, vandalism and graffiti was mentioned by 35% and 23% said fewer vacant and run-down buildings was the most important factor in making their local area more beautiful.
To remedy inequalities, authors make a series of recommendations including:
Power to the people:
* The public should have the power to choose their preferred design and developer. Communities should be consulted on proposed new developments, a range of options should be subject to a local vote.
*Citizens’ Juries would oversee problematic developments. Residents supported by experts working within a public budget would make decisions that the local authority would be bound by.
*A Community Right to Reclaim land should be extended to buildings and other local assets to enable the public to challenge authorities to improve derelict or unsightly developments.
*To incentivise visual improvements that communities want there should be Capital Gains Tax relief for developers.
*VAT relief on refurbishment costs, where a community calls for or takes a lead on improvement to a building. For buildings listed as ‘Local Beauty Assets’ (see below) the relief should be greater.
*A system similar to Business Rates Retention, which helps economic growth, should be used to recognise the value a beautiful development adds to an area.
New areas of beauty:
*Areas of Outstanding Urban Beauty: Similar to Conservation Areas these would recognise beauty that isn’t just historic or green.
*Buildings, areas and spaces with local importance should be labelled ‘Local Beauty Assets’ and preserved and maintained.
*Areas without much visual appeal should be designated Community Improvement Districts. In these areas communities would be empowered to demand policies to tackle problems such as Litter Abatement Orders where litter is an issue.
Read the press release