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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Thursday, 29 June 2017

"More bad news from Battersea" - Oh, really? what a massive surprise

Is that some affordable housing going up just to the south of the rebuilt Battersea Power Station? Probably not. The developers have just been given the OK by Wandsworth Council to cut the numbers of affordable homes in the development from 636 to 389. That's a 250 home shortfall on the promised total. Meanwhile some of the poorest people in the borough continue to suffer the disruption, the pollution and the congested roads caused by this absurd development, aimed at an international super-rich market which has already moved on. 

It has been a terrible few weeks for London, but a fascinating time to observe how the London Evening Standard, under the new editor George Osborne, has been covering the successive disasters and tragedies.

No opportunity has been missed to ridicule the prime ministerial qualities of Theresa May. That is entirely as expected. Slightly more surprising is its more cogently critical approach to residential property developers, and this recent headline - "More bad news from Battersea"  - is a case in point.

I've written lots - maybe too much - about the damage this unnecessary and vulgar development is causing, how it is blighting the lives of thousands of local residents from Vauxhall right through to Battersea. I used to prefix these entries with "Nine Elms disease" - but not any more, as that suggests a natural disaster, unavoidable. In fact it's a very human disaster, caused by human greed, and so highly avoidable.

The long-suspected impact on air quality of so much construction work in one area is given added credence by research published last month (see: South Bank construction boom sends London air pollution soaring, London Evening Standard, May 8 2017). There's also the noise, the congestion caused by endless roadworks and closures and the convoys of ready-mix trucks doing the circuits from Silverthorne Road to Vauxhall and back again. The chewed-up streets, the spilling of pebbles so dangerous to the eyes of cyclists, the way these bulky vehicles dominate the road space, just as the new buildings colonise the sky above us.

Now parts of the development are nearing completion, we get an influx of estate agents with their stupid pennants fluttering outside their "marketing suites". Of course they had some bad news too: in March 2016, well before the EU referendum, demand for the sky-high-priced flats (aka safety deposit boxes in the sky) fell back and prices slumped by 20 per cent and more. Demand is said to have recovered a bit since then due to the weaker pound, but it's still far from the 2015 level.

And this week there's further damning news about this place, again reported in the Standard: the developers now want to cut the number of "affordable" flats from 636 to 389, just 9 per cent of the total. This is because their profit expectations have fallen and they need to prop them up - presumably to keep shareholders happy.

They say the other 250 affordable properties could still be built later on - depending on the future state of the market.

Meanwhile they are still using the fact they have rescued a crumbling national icon - Battersea Power Station - as justification for their greed. Well, they might have rebuilt the chimneys very nicely, but unfortunately the whole building is now walled in by such massive banks of apartment blocks that its impact on the surrounding urban environment is totally lost.

The building of high-rise residential towers has gained a painful new topicality since the Grenfell Tower  fire. Last week the people building and buying apartments in the new "luxury" developments were the target of an excoriating attack by novelist Will Self, on BBC Radio 4's A Point of View.

Self, who lives in the Stockwell area, was audibly trembling with rage throughout his 10-minute talk. But he never let the anger get the better of the precision of his speech. Architecture, he said, was unique among the arts in that it had a direct social impact - and thus a moral dimension.

He saved some of his most deliciously withering language for the Nine Elms development: "The very sight of these infantile-looking structures being doodled into being now turns my stomach" he said.

The majority of  these new residential towers, he said, were "as ugly as they are bad, enshrining as they do not the civic virtue of providing housing for people on low incomes, but the corporate vice of profit maximisation".

Well said, Will Self!