End of cheap schools, reform of the Green Belt and liberation of under performing English cities must all feature in next Government’s hit list.

A new report from The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has set out a number of recommendations for the next UK Government. RIBA’s report, Building Better Britain: A vision for the next Government, calls for commitments to:

  • Schools – faced with the greatest shortage of school places in decades, too many of the UK’s schools are past their life cycle and riddled with asbestos. The current school building programme is just too cheap. We need to be spending 20% extra on the new schools we build
  • Building on Green Belt – urgent need to assess real value of greenbelt to allow communities to unlock housing and growth potential on wasted land.
  • Health – Government should commit to spending 10% of transport budgets on ‘active travel’ e.g. linear park and protected routes for walking and cycling
  • Planning – We need an end to the risk adverse, NIMBY-fearing tick-box planning system that is failing communities across the UK. Government needs to own up to a lack of strategy and create a national spatial strategy for the country.


By September 2014, we will be short of one quarter of a million spaces in our schools. Years of underinvestment, coupled with recent changes to school building, rebuilding and refurbishing programmes have left us with crumbling schools which fail those trying to learn and teach in them. 80% of schools are operating beyond their life cycle, and more than 75% contain asbestos.

The standardised ‘baseline’ designs are 15% smaller than those built under the Government’s previous programme ‘Building Schools for the Future’. Standardised designs have smaller corridors, smaller assembly halls and canteens.

Overcrowding in narrow corridors exacerbates bullying and harassment, fewer social areas outside classrooms limit students’ abilities to socialise. The new schools being built aren’t fit for purpose and will certainly not stand the test of time.

The next Government should invest in our children’s future by increasing the cost per square metre of schools by 20%.

Green Belt

The UK needs to be building 300,000 new homes a year for the foreseeable future to accommodate the shortfall in homes built over decades.

Solving the housing crisis will require building a mixture of housing on brownfield land in our cities, towns and villages – and it might require building on some parts of the green belt that have a low or negligible environmental and amenity value.

In some areas the green belt has failed to consolidate urban cores and development has simply jumped the green belt into areas of genuine countryside. In these parts of the country the green belt no longer serves its purpose and isn’t appreciated by the local community, the land could be much better used to provide new housing, parks and space for communities to grow and prosper.

A Government led review, using methods to assess the environmental and local amenity value of the green belt needs to take place; this should be used to help compile an evidence base to support Local Authorities in making decisions about their green belt.

By building on the unloved parts of the green belt, local authorities could, with the right approach and encouragement from Government, develop areas of low value green belt as a mechanism to unlock difficult brownfield sites. Extra income generated by selling former green belt land could be used to develop on brownfield areas what have previously been too expensive to develop.


The UK is experiencing a health epidemic with millions predicted to die early from obesity related disease. At the same time we’ve seen walking to the shops, school or for leisure have fall by 27% in the last 15 years. Cycling is equally poor with just 4% of the population riding a bike on a daily basis – this compares with much higher rates in similar countries in Europe, with 28% of daily cyclists in Denmark and 20% in Germany.

59% of people living in English cities do not exercise enough, and cities with the lowest amount of green space report the highest levels of deprivation and health inequality.

The Government should commit to 10% of the transport budget towards active transport like walking and cycling which would have a dramatic effect on the nation’s health – and save the NHS upwards of £675m a year. If local authorities were required to create safe, sustainable walking and cycling routes that encouraged people to walk instead of use their cars we could not only improve our health but also reduce congestion and improve the economy.

Planning and English Cities

A National Spatial Strategy needs to be developed with the power to identify core objectives and plan for the long-term across political cycles. Decisions are too often taken on a piecemeal local basis. By developing a national spatial strategy the England can make long term decisions of national importance including major infrastructure projects like high speed rail and the future provision of housing, energy, whether garden cities are needed and how to address flooding.

Our cities are vital to the national economy and must do better. In order to rebalance the UK economy and take some of the pressure off London and the South East we need greater economic leadership from English cities. We should go beyond City Deals to autonomous city regions and ensure they have the financial mechanisms to access large amounts of long-term but sustainable funding.

RIBA President Stephen Hodder said:

“The next UK Government should empower our cities, towns and villages to prosper and provide the homes, education, services and jobs that are vital for the nation. The next Government needs to look at architecture and the built environment as part of the solution. Reform of the green belt, building more new homes, talking the failed current school building programme and empowering English cities to compete on the global stage need to be priorities.”

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