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Brace yourselves for your next neighbourhood forum

Hugh Pearman

… because you might meet Pontius Pikestaff

With the aim of hearing views from outside my echo chamber, I maintain sometimes strained social media contact with people way off on the libertarian fringe whose views radically differ from mine. These are not quite the ones who use Union Flags for avatars but almost.  So let me introduce you to Pontius Pikestaff. He is an amalgam of several like-minded people, all of them real and not all of them male.

Pikestaff is by no means stupid, though more than somewhat obsessive. He is a hard Brexiteer who thinks any deal with the EU is tantamount to treason. He is vehemently anti-immigration. He admires Trump Farage and Boris Johnson among politicians, James Delingpole and Katie Hopkins among commentators. Climate change denial is part of the deal with Pikestaff, because he sees environmentalism as inimical to free trade and unfettered capitalism. He has no truck with the postwar consensus from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s, and holds, for instance, that all the problems with council estates are the fault of socialism. 

You need to be prepared to find Pikestaffs on the planning committee or neighbourhood forum. And to prove them wrong

In vain do you point out that council estates were built by authorities of both left and right, that the Macmillan government built more than any other, that despite well-known problems of some, many are fine and successful buildings, several are listed and indeed – because of Right to Buy which he enthusiastically supports – flats in them sell for large sums of money. For him, council estates must be either hideous environments that betrayed the working classes by destroying their traditional streets, and/or places where refugees and criminals get free homes at the expense of taxpayers like him.

You get the picture. Pikestaff is not big on nuance or detail or inconvenient facts, though he is very big on stereotypes. And I think you know what is coming. He’s no great fan of contemporary architecture, either. 

He thinks architects are an elite bunch (‘elite’ is a term of abuse now). He takes the mid 1970s view that architects are privileged types who live in nice old houses while inflicting those hideous environments on ordinary people. You have to try to separate his taste from his vivid political stance, which is not easy, but he’s not keen on anything much postwar. This goes with his nostalgia for the past, his keen sense of a lost national greatness. He has strong NIMBY tendencies that sit oddly with his libertarian views, which oblige him to favour a development free-for-all, build over the countryside, etc. 

You may think I am joking, or exaggerating wildly. I am not. Pikestaffs may be a minority but they exist in considerable numbers, they are firm in their often contradictory beliefs, and tend to be vociferous. Why am I telling you this?  Because you need to be prepared to find them on the planning committee or neighbourhood forum. The only way to prove Pikestaff wrong is by designing delightful, clearly successful places and then pointing to them. It’s that simple, and that difficult. Because ideology is never objective.