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The Ragged School Blog Deptford

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Deptford Lives

At the last episode of 'The Tower' on BBC1, the programme announcer said 'Deptford Lives' will appear on the Community Channel. Watch them online or if you have digital TV here are the programme numbers Sky 539 • Virgin TV 233 • Freeview 87 (6-9am) and show times.

The programme is billed as - "A series of short films set in one of London's most diverse boroughs: Deptford. Four very different characters celebrate the area while exploring the tensions as the developers move in." The short films will show Patricio and Julian from Artmongers, recycling hero Chris Carey, Ernie and Barrie from Witcomb Cycles and Caffy St Luce from Music Tourist Board.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Britain's Bad Developers

I have tried hard to understand why so much bad building is 'allowed' ever since my architectural tutors began to educate me in the matter 16 years ago. Back then the subject I pondered was an aesthetic one about the built environment as 'fit for purpose'. This naturally was economic, ergonomic and visual in nature. Since I had been labouring under the impression that historical and ecological sites of importance were 'protected' I had not at that time taken a serious interest in the 'politics' of urban development, I was then too naive to realise that building had politics, my fault for studying Interior Design rather than Architecture. This situation was subsequently rectified at The University Of North London where the Interior Design course was a subset of the Faculty of Environmental and Social Studies. This resulted in teaching of both architecture and design as a social act first albeit within the context of an engineering or technological framework. This distinction will provide social historians with plenty of research material about the changing role of universities (in transacting an ethical purpose above and beyond an immediate strategic and economic one).

When Polytechnics were able to become universities they widened the range of courses available so they could net more students to capture any available funding. This radically altered the demographic intake of students, and the subject matter being studied. Without sufficient forward planning there has arose a chronic lack of science graduates and skilled trades people, which has had terrible consequences on the building industry, and a brain drain on scientists - a heavy price to our economy, but the new (easier to get into) universities have created a massive shift in social mobility. It is now possible (perhaps necessary even) for traditional demographics to implode as institutions and positions of responsibility are now peopled through an idealistically meritocratic system modelled on the American one. In an interview for a top job today you are more likely to be ruled out after a psychometric test than for wearing the wrong school tie. This is not yet proportionately reflected in the ownership of wealth, despite gradual shifts in Britain's top 100 rich list, if anything the subject of wealth ownership has shifted from individual ownership to complex transnational ownership as the worlds richest people devise ever more complex tax avoidance schemes. This in turn has created a new dimension in social class in Britain, go to Chelsea today and your more likely to find the Russians !

At the other end of the spectrum the lowest paid and most unregulated work is being snapped up by economic migrants who are 'grateful', whilst Britain's 'traditional' lower and middle income families who have relied on lesser and semi skilled work (but once semi secure) jobs which are disappearing all the time are busy numbing themselves - forgoing financial planning, nutritious meals and exercise to pay for flat screen TVs, ready meals and expensive clothes and cars with credit, and if they can get a mortgage, one that may not ever be repaid.

Move across the block to Imperial Wharf (previously Fulham Gasworks) and you will find the central focus of an excellent documentary by Andrew Gilligan broadcast on Channel 4's Dispatches entitled Briatin's Bad Housing, Monday 30th July which appeared in The Evening Standard the same day, of which I can refer. A story about Imperial Wharf written in The Evening Standard in 2002 captures the schemes ambitions to create a sort of super complex which got planning permission by creating 50% 'affordable' housing where a two bedroom flat could cost £425,000 instead of the cheapest 'market housing' side where a 2 bed flat is £600,000. In the current market these preposterous sums still represent speculative investments and many will be purchased as houses to be sold on later. Remember the couple in BBC's The Tower who had purchased with the help of the brides mother a new 'luxury' apartment. The camera caught their concerns about whether the area was right for them when they dismissed Deptford 'not regenerating fast enough' by saying "don't worry we will be selling the flat and moving in 2 years".

It turns out that a PR company little known outside the building industry called PPS has carved out a highly successful niche in winning developers planning permission for unpopular schemes by lobbying councils in the same way the American political system allows the lobbying of politicians. Except here in Britain its all done in a very British and discreet way. They have infiltrated local campaigns with a brief to neutralise antipathy towards controversial schemes. The Channel 4 programme and article in the Standard detail specific evidence which is too long to quote verbatim for this already long blog posting, and for liability reasons I cannot paraphrase it. When the Standard contacted PPS about their work to help the developers St.George win planning permission from Hammersmith and Fulham Council, they claimed to have destroyed their files from 10 years ago 'in accordance with normal company practice'.

As much as I was repulsed at this expose I can at last rest that my initial hypothesis about 'Stealth Developers Stealth Campaigners' was in the right ball park.