Development on shaky foundations

Pay TV show of the week: Kevin's Grand Design, LifeStyle, Thursday, 8.30pm

AFTER so many series of Grand Designs you'd think Kevin McCloud would have learnt from the mistakes of all the people whose building projects he has so thoroughly documented.

But as he sets out on his own ambitious, eco-friendly, socially progressive housing-estate development, he's nowhere near having all his ducks in a row. In fact, his waterfowl seem dispersed across several counties. When filming of this two-part series began in 2006, McCloud was annoyed - as he presumably still is - with the standard of houses developers had been building across Britain. They leak heat, McCloud says, they have tiny rooms and low ceilings, and lack windows and a sense of space.

McCloud wants to show us a better way with an attractive, energy-efficient, community-conducive development in which you can snap up a three-bedroom house for just £160,000 ($240,000). That's if you're actually buying one - McCloud envisions a scenario in which half the homes will be occupied by ''social housing'' tenants, including families now in emergency homeless accommodation.

But as McCloud sets out tonight, we're quickly reminded he is not actually an architect, nor has he ever built anything.

He begins, bizarrely enough, by going on a radio show to ask if anyone has a lot of spare land he can use.

When this fails to yield the desired result, he asks a local council to give him some land, only to be told, quite politely, that it can't really give him any until he at least draws up some sort of business plan.

Yes, it's a bit weird. And that's without mentioning the scene in which McCloud reveals his secret love of pebble-dash. Or the one in which he professes to be inspired by a row of ordinary-looking Victorian terrace houses in Swindon (they might have been designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but still).

McCloud eventually secures a site in Swindon, 130 kilometres west of London, only for the global financial crisis to strike, the housing market to collapse and McCloud to realise he has to build 44 houses instead of 36 to make the project financially viable.

Making matters much worse is the bitter opposition from many locals. Oh well, maybe everything will turn out OK next week.

The story Development on shaky foundations first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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