Thursday, 18 December 2014

Jersey and the Cyber Planner

“Jersey campaigners are gaining momentum against controversial plans for a maritime hub and 18 apartments on the harbour in St Helier. The thousands of Islanders petitioning to stop the Port Galot plans are hoping People-Power will win the day. But the Planning Minister says the development will be assessed on its merits and shouldn't become an emotive issue.” (1)

Are merits and emotive issues exclusive? Certainly when the States were deciding on funding for the National Trust to buy Plemont, the arguments were very emotive. And why shouldn’t an objection both be well-founded and emotive.

I’ve been looking through the objections, and while factual issues – road safety, lack of parking, density and scale of buildings also occur, the aesthetic merits of something over-large and out of scale with the area have also been put forward.

Now aesthetic considerations are often emotive, or at least, involve emotions. How we respond to a beautiful coastline, or a coastline marred by large ugly buildings (as at Portelet) is always going to be in part an emotive response. Not wholly so, because in seeing the bigger picture, something large which stands out will unbalance the architecture that is already in place. But even that, the way the old harbour has charm, is an emotive matter. We are human beings; we have an emotional reaction to beauty, and we can see when something does not fit.

Of course, there are also artists like Francis Bacon, who buck the trend, and present paintings of unmitigated ugliness. They want to reflect life, and they see life as, by and large, unpleasant and ugly. But they are themselves reacting against an aesthetic which prizes beauty – they do not say that their own paintings are items of beauty and a joy forever.

When it comes to architecture, the aesthetic is harder to judge. I personally tend to like buildings that fit well with their surroundings. In a London milieu, the art deco style of the block of flats seen in the TV series “Poirot” are right for their locale. Placed on Plemont, they clearly would be out of place. So my own aesthetic judgement does not see architecture in term of universals, but in terms of situations.

But however one judges architecture, any judgement on scale, for example, is at heart, an emotional judgement. There are no hard and fast rules. And so the Planning Minister really shouldn’t come out with such false dichotomies.

To suppress emotions, or to try and put them on one side, is really as much a fable: we cannot exclude the aesthetic from planning decisions. We are not machines, following rules mindlessly.

In “Doctor Who”, the monsters who do this are the Cybermen, who have suppressed emotions, and are often guided by a Cyberplanner. And there is something very monstrous about them precisely because they have lost touch with what is important in humanity by turning themselves into logical machines who regard emotions as weakness.

Like G.K. Chesterton, I’m a great believer in the “horse sense” of the common man and woman. The fact that thousands of Islanders have lodged objections is worthy of consideration, and to brush it to one side (as the CTV report suggests) displays a degree of contempt for those people and their own aesthetic judgements.


1 comment:

Nick Palmer said...

"But the Planning Minister says the development will be assessed on its merits and shouldn't become an emotive issue.”

"Are merits and emotive issues exclusive?"

You're being a troublemaker by pointing that out, Tony! The poor Planning Minister has just started in the job and already you are pointing out the big holes in the rhetoric. Have you no shame?