Friday, February 3, 2017

Preservation vs housing targets.

I head a lot these days about political pledges to build X amount of house by a certain date. How there is a housing crisis, we need more homes, more affordable homes etc. But at the same time I read everyday about the outrage over planned developments in preservation, conservation, and other sorts of land and properties.

There is a slight issue here, especially when in some cases it is the same people bleating on about needing more housing, who are chaining themselves to railings outside properties and pieces of land that they feel should be protected. Usually because 200 years ago a King stayed there overnight (apparently), or that the views are of outstanding beauty.

Now sure we all have different opinions on these things, and one mans beauty is another mans eyesore. However most will agree that falsely pushing up the prices of available housing, because everyone is bickering about if a piece of land should or should not have apartments built on it is not helping anyone.

Private money seems to speak loudest. You only have to take a drive along the now dark and overhung Nine Elms Lane in Battersea to realise that if the money is there, planning kinda goes out of the window, and the demand for expensive housing is met in a flash. Usually because people in these walks of life are willing to look the other way for the right sum of money.

Don't get me wrong, I think what is happening in Battersea is stunning, some amazing buildings going up. But the Thames has disappeared from view from the streets, and apartments in the new developments are going in droves for £8m , yes EIGHT MILLION POUNDS !
Just have a look on www.rightmove.co.uk and search Nine Elms Lane, it is shocking.

Anyway, back to smaller stuff. Years ago a long strip of properties were bought up under a CPO by the Tories, to widen and free up the flow of the traffic along the Westway. Labour took power and scrapped it, but not before all the houses had been flattened.
Today, over a decade later, most of it just sits there, empty land, doing nothing. Why is it not being built on.
20+ years ago two houses on my street were demolished with the intention of rebuilding. It never happened. 20 years later, the empty, overgrown plot just sits there, doing nothing. I don't get it. Sure you can't demand someone builds on their empty land. But surely after X time some sort of compulsory purchase can be set in place, to at least encourage some movement by the owner. There are plots like this all over the place, some probably with no one sure who owns them anymore. I can't believe for one minute during the last housing booms we have had, that someone would not sell such a plot to a developer.

Then there is preservation and conservation. Something I don't get sometimes. Sure there are buildings of significance, and historic importance. There are pieces of groundbreaking architectural design, one of a kind or first of their kind that need preserving to maintain that chain of history and development.
But protecting something just because it was built by someone who was once locally relevant, and no one outside the tight knit world of historic architecture would know.... Is it really important we protect every piece of that persons work, especially when they fall into disrepair, or have changed so much that they are no longer period relevant?

Should such a property stand in the way of redevelopment, in which 3 times as many places to live could be created on the same footprint? Where somewhere that can be bought and demolished to provide affordable local housing, is protected because someone  locally relevant built the house?

Recently a small group of properties in W1 were demolished. On a little known road called Park Crescent. I am of course being sarcastic. The properties in mind were / are of huge significance, and have stood as a landmark in their own right for decades. Designed by the same architect as Buckingham Palace, the tall white facades, and columned exterior stood boldly in London's historic architecture. However after interest in knocking it all down was raised, it was decided that during the war the buildings had been damaged and not repaired to the correct period standard. Therefore the OK was given to sell them for £103m and flatten them. The plan is to build them to a more period correct standard.

So you can take a building which is 60% original, repair it not to quite the original standard, but to a standard to which no one will complain for 60+ years, but when the money shows up, it becomes substandard, and rebuilding the whole thing would be MORE period correct?

I guess what I am trying to say all along here is, there is a housing shortage, there are PC people who on one hand stand in the way of sensible, small local projects to increase housing on an incremental scale, opening opportunities slowly and steadily. But at the same time, other groups with apparently the same considerations will open up the flood gates for massive, unaffordable housing explosions.
I don't get it.

Sure open spaces are nice, clean air etc. Historic buildings need to be preserved. But HISTORIC buildings, not ones which have little bearing on the future, and teach us nothing about the past. I know I sound like a miserable old sod, but I am just sick of seeing things caught up in an over complicated, unnecessarily painful and time consuming process, only to be blocked sometimes by what I can only describe as people who have an air of self importance about them. I completely appreciate that some applications are blocked. God only knows what our streets would be full of if anyone could just build anything.

But when you take a look at the inconsistencies of things, and how modern regularly clashes with historic, but then other times something fitting is blocked because we have grown used to an open space, and the new plan is too high. Demands for certain more expensive materials to be used, making a plan prohibitively expensive, so the plan is cancelled. A certain roof tile,  window frames of set materials, even how a garden should appear. I don't get it. Why small groups of people get such a say.

Something has to give, something needs to get the land and property prices under control so developers can get on with making new homes which the average person in London can even dream of affording, because right now, just thinking about the repayments on a mortgage to buy a 2 bed flat on the 11th floor with no lift, is more a nightmare than a dream.

I don't have the answers, I'm not sure anyone does right now. But I am sick of hearing the line "affordable housing" when it is completely unrealistic. The Mayor of London blowing his own trumpet about achieving goals in all walks of life. But right now, none of them matter if people can't afford to live in the damn city in the first place.

Rant over.

Build some bloody houses, and stop whining about pointless shit!

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