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Friday, March 31, 2006
The iPad, and other Friday links
I love the idea of the iPad microflat but in reality it might be a bit grim, given it's being developed by housebuilder Barratt. Not as beautiful as the classic mini-flats at Lawn Road, featured in the AJ today. How much I would love to live there...

Gordon Brown and Ruth Kelly just love the construction skills academy at the Battersea Power station site (a joint venture between developers Parkview International, their construction manager Bovis Lend Lease, the Learning and Skills Council and Lambeth College).

Lingham Court in Stockwell wins a prize for being innovative regarding cross-subsidy. It's already won a Housing Design Award for its design last year.

Final allocation announce for £135m to go into making our planners work harder, or better, or to hire more of them, or something. But guaranteed, everyone will still be complaining about them in a year's time. Especially as weirdly, the ones who get the most money are the one's who've already improved the most. A bit like the way they give successful schools the most money and threaten the failing ones with closure, which I always thought was dead logical.
Allies and Morrisson and CZWG scheme slammed
Designs by CZWG, Allies & Morrison and Carey Jones for a canal-side development by Isis in Leeds have been branded "staggeringly insensitive" in a last-ditch attempt to stop them getting through planning.

The Leeds Civic Trust fumed: "It is shocking that council officers are recommending approval of such a staggeringly insensitive and inappropriate scheme which in its physical impact is directly at odds with all the strategy documents produced by the council for the Canal Basin and the Dark Arches in the past 10 years."

Wowee. When was the last time that uber-safe Allies and Morrisson got panned for anything? I'm rather excited. And what are the Dark Arches? Sounds like something from Harry Potter.
Regional casino news
Southend is bidding for the regional casino pilot. So presumably that means that Great Yarmouth will be spared? Other bidding locations are Birmingham (at the NEC), Middlesbrough, Bedford (like, why?), Blackpool (surprise), Cardiff, Rainham (please, no...), Glasgow, and many other weird and wonderful places who somehow think (like a complusive gambler) that their fortunes will be revived at one turn of the roulette wheel.

I'm not so sure. Having seen what happened to the floating casinos in lower Mississippi? It made those towns pretty sad places, and that was before Katrina came along and wiped out the entire economy at one fell swoop, because they had no economic diversity. Putting all your chips on one number ain't that smart.
2006 Sustainable Communities Award launched
The ODPM/Academy for Sustainable Communities 'flagship' award is open for entries. Read about it all here.
Terry Farrell masterplans Leeds
The Leeds Partnership - a joint venture between Hammerson and Town Centre Securities - has 'revealed' that it had asked Farrell to mastermind the £500 million mixed-use redevelopment of the city’s Eastgate and Harewood quarters. The proposals, which go on public display tomorrow, will create 93,000m2 of new retail space, as well as 600 homes, a medical centre and a church. There are also plans for two department stores on the 8.5ha split site, including a flagship building for retailer John Lewis.

I love the idea of 'unveiling' Farrell as the mastermind the day before the plans go out for public comment but actually this is the tail-end of a fairly long process of 'consultation' and negotiation and everyone's known about Farrell's involvement for ages. In fact, he prepared a masterplan for the area as long ago as 1990 according to the supplementary planning document (pdf from October 2005. There's a long and quite dull (but interesting if you're a local) discussion of all the controversy here on skyscrapercity.
From Kamiichi to Notting Hill: Peter Salter
A slightly premature but welcome article from Ellis Woodman in this week's BD regarding a development by architect Peter Salter in Notting Hill. The project, which has not yet received planning, is for Baylight Properties, the developer headed by AA-grad and former student of Peter's, Crispin Kelly.

The development, for 4 dwellings on a compact and complex site, is exciting as it will be the first permanent building in the UK by one of our most sensitive and virtuoso architects. Previously Peter, who has completed several works in Japan including the Kamiichi mountain pavilion, has until now in the UK been known most for his teaching at Bath and the AA, and as former head of the UEL school.
CABE refuses to back Rogers over Cambridge masterplan
Richard Rogers Partnership's controversial masterplan for a key site near Cmabridge station came under fire last week from local residents at a meeting with the developer Ashwell. The first phase, which will include 1,400 new homes, a hotel and 10-storey buildings on the 8.5ha site, won planning permission, but the second is meeting opposition.

Now CABE's design review panel have also refused to back the £725 million regeneration scheme because of concerns about the height of the project and the possible overdevelopment of the site. A report from the design review panel states: ‘We are not convinced that the right building type has been chosen to provide high density at an appropriate scale.

‘While we accept the premise that high-density development is desirable at major transport hubs, we consider that the quantum, scale and massing of the development is too great for the character of the area.’ The report continues: ‘We are particularly concerned about the height of the proposed buildings opposite the station and feel the massing strategy of stepping up towards the station is not successful.’

However, CABE admitted the scheme should be applauded for its approach to landscape design and its urban structure. (from AJ, subscribers only)
Nick Serota on the role of CABE
Of course, just after I write a minorly stinging post about CABE in the Gateway, I read Serota's interesting piece in BD (subscribers only) about the role of CABE. I will just quote the whole lot rather than post comment:

It is the lot of advisory bodies, especially those funded by government, to be on the receiving end of accusations that they are either not toeing the line by slavishly praising the latest government policy initiative, or that they are supine recipients of taxpayer largesse, content to do the government's bidding.

As is widely known, much of what we do on specific projects is pre-planning, and does not, therefore, make the sort of shock-horror headlines that are BD's stock-in-trade. That work is not something we brag about. We have no desire to expose to criticism architects, clients and planning authorities who are trying to improve significant projects by involving Cabe at a stage when design is fluid, and change is still economical in terms of both time and money.

However, the design review spectrum is not, on its own, a sufficient model by which to assess Cabe's performance. In our enabling or regional programmes, for instance, we are not behaving as watchdogs, but as constructive contributors to what we hope will be a better built environment.

Cabe Space has campaigned for better public realm, not from the stance of an aesthetics police officer, but from a basis of experience and commitment to helping local authorities and others provide better environments for all. Parkforce, our campaign for on-site park staff, has inspired people to rethink the way they manage their public spaces. In many areas, dedicated teams now welcome the public to safe and well-managed parks, and 110 councils have signed a pledge to follow their lead.

At the level of public policy, we find quiet diplomacy can often be rather more effective than headline-grabbing grandstanding. So, for example, our own efforts to encourage the idea of "smart PFI" (a phrase coined by Cabe's deputy chairman) have been far from negligible, and we are delighted that the RIBA's parallel efforts have found success. We can claim to have paved the way on this, though the journey to come is likely to be long and arduous.

Cabe's media critics have condemned us for not opposing John Prescott's housing demolition policies root and branch - from the assumption that we oppose them really, but are too frightened to say. Having conducted a number of visits to the relevant cities, we understand only too well why the policy has been introduced, and believe that, at a strategic level, it has merit. The way it is implemented is another matter, as Cabe design review reports are beginning to show.

Cabe has influenced more than £20 billion of government spending on building projects, and 20 million people will pass each year just through the hospitals and primary care buildings with which we have been involved. Our new campaign for better neighbourhood healthcare buildings, Designed with Care, involves country-wide workshops during the summer and autumn to educate health professionals and Lift companies on the contribution of design quality to the health of communities.

Ellen Bennett, author of last week's feature, confessed she was unable to find outspoken critics of Cabe, and attributes this to a cosy establishment network. Could it be instead that a young organisation that champions excellent design is seen to deserve support, by architects and far-sighted local authorities and developers?
Tate is frontrunner to host creativity centre
The Tate Modern in London has emerged as the hot favourite to house the soon-to-be-created National Centre for Creativity & Innovation. Other London contenders include the Argent's King's Cross development, Paddington and even the Thames Gateway, although this would probably be considered too remote. A northern centre will also be established, on the Quayside in Gateshead, between the Sage building and the Baltic.

The London Development Agency has commissioned a feasibility study from the Whetstone Group, and will be advised by an panel of experts - including Norman Foster, Tate director Nicholas Serota, Terence Conran and Design Council chief executive David Kester.

Tate Modern, which is to significantly extend its empire to designs by Herzog & de Meuron, is also tipped to house a new Design Museum, which will be moving out of its Thameside home on Butler's Wharf by 2012. The Design Council is likely to merge with the new centre, to create a significant new design centre for London. With the Architecture Foundation due to move into its Zaha Hadid-designed headquarters on nearby Southwark Street in 2007, this would create a new cultural hub on the south bank of the Thames.

LDA head of creative industries Graham Hitchen said: "The feasibility work at this stage is looking at what the centre could and should look like, what its relationship would be with the regional centres and agencies such as the Design Council, the Design Museum and other agencies in London, and the extent to which it might link up them." (via BD, subscribers only)
South Kensington Energy Strategy
A consortium of museums and academic institutions in South Kensington have been granted £3m in the Budget to pro-actively reduce carbon emissions. Businesses in the area will apparently be fitted with meters that will measure energy consumption, and this data will be used "to develop a more integrated strategy for the whole area. We want to put in district systems for the area such as aqua-thermal storage systems." The project will be monitored by the Treasury, and hopefully evolve into a best practice model.

Good news joined-up thinking-wise. Shame that this morning I woke up to 'Today' on Radio 4 telling us that we're all doomed and it's far too late to do anything about it.

Via today's Building.
More reaction to the Environmental Audit Committee
Everyone's been piling in to the Commons all-party Environmental Audit Committee report that yesterday gave virtually every lobby some tasty quotes to play with regarding the lack of infrastructure provision for the South-East housing growth areas. The best bit was their assessment of a "ODPM's reluctance to take on the building sector but also of a fundamental lack of urgency in the Government's approach to ensuring that new housing and new communities are truly sustainable" by not paying attention to the risks of drought and water shortages and the extra traffic and strain on services that an expanding population will bring.

So the Countryside Alliance weigh in here. Prescott's reaction is here (quote: "The idea the government is going slow on infrastructure or the environment is absurd when we are increasing energy efficiency in new homes by 40 per cent this April and investing billions already in the Thames Gateway and other areas to support new homes" - and other politico-speak). CPRE launches a new report at a cannily similar time here calling the South-East 'England's California' (less a warning than a juicy promise, I would have thought! Endless sunshine and surfer boys?). BBC comment here.
CABE to work on identity of the Thames Gateway?
We all love CABE, in the same way as we all love Marks and Spencer. It's aims are laudable and its full of some lovely people, but inside we all know its slightly ineffectual, hung up on due process and lacking flair.

But when Yvette Cooper announces that she's asked CABE to "carry out a review on the identity of the Thames Gateway to provide a starting point for developing a strategic approach to design" I'm afraid we do all heave a sigh. To be honest, this is simply not CABE's job. CABE is good at design review, reasonable at some forms of training, and its good practice publications are often quite nice if a bit safe (in the M&S knickers way) and have a tendency to pile up on the desks of local authority officers who think that they don't offer enough specific advice (especially in rural areas). But vision? identity? I think not.

But then, seeing as she thinks that The Bridge, Dartford " will encapsulate what the Thames Gateway is about - creating the sort of places where we all want to live and work with the right infrastructure to support them." - maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the really visionary ideas about the identity of the TG fall on stony ground.
Olympics warnings
A new report by Davis Langdon has warned that the Olympics will be a drain on the construction skills market and may have a significant impact on the rest of the UK, causing other projects to potentially fail. It adds that the Olympics will add a further 1-2% to current inflation trends, with an overall rate of 6% from 2008 onwards, the risk of price spikes in certain locations during 2007/08 and 2010 as projects come on stream, and that projects unattractive to contractors would struggle to achieve competitive or properly resourced bids. (via Building, subscribers only)

Meanwhile after intense speculation this week, Building also reports that Stanhope have sold their stake in Stratford City. This is expected to lead to a bidding war between Westfield and the Reuben Brothers for each other's stake, in order to gain total control of the lucrative development.

This all comes at the same time as sources close to the Olympic Delivery Authority are leaking news that it is facing a substantial cash shortfall on the 2012 construction programme and that it might have to prune the bid, leading to fears that some of the more progressive aspects could be axed.

ODA chairman Jack Lemley and chief executive David Higgins are undertaking a review of the masterplan that should lead to a definite costing for the facilities. This is thought likely to be substantially more than the £3.7bn in the bid althouth of course their 'official spokepeople' are saying "It is far too early to start saying we're going to ‘de-spec'. As far as we are concerned we are on schedule."
Kings Cross and unprivatised public space
Several people asked me yesterday about the article in the Guardian about a RICS report on the increasing privatisation of what used to be public spaces, by developers hiring private security guards and policing the streets and spaces. Unfortunately one of the images used, and the first paragraph, mentioned the recently-approved Kings Cross Central development, which we worked on as public realm strategists. Needless to say, we were rather surprised to see the connection being made as Kings Cross is actually not going to be policed privately and is going to produce (pace the local authority planners) "genuinely public streets and squares" for which the scheme has been applauded.

If you do manage to read down to the bottom of the article, you will see that in fact, Kings Cross is singled out as the one large development which is taking a different attitude. "Camden council, north London, appears to have bucked the privatisation trend. It has struck a deal with Argent to retain responsibility for managing the streets in King's Cross Central". There are also some very articulate quotes from Roger Madelin, the head of Argent, about the historical aspects of this debate, and calling for an "urgent public debate about the cities we want to live in.

"It is right to be alarmist," he says. "As we speak, there will be developers scheming, and local authorities happy to get rid of problems." In fact, the other main point of the RICS report - that development specifically put aside space for independent local businesses - is also a cornerstone of the Kings Cross scheme, which is not going to have any chain stores apart from a supermarket and some shops around the station area (and what kind of station doesn't have a WHSmith or Boots?)

I do think it is a little bit irresponsible of the RICS to put, on their press release, Kings Cross into the category of "areas earmarked to come under private control" when this is really factually wrong. I know I'm biased, but when we put an awful lot of work, in collaboration with Argent who were completely in favour of more urban vitality, into ensuring that the public realm was accessible, un-elitist and genuinely public, it does grate to have our work so misrepresented.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
New Islington, mixed communities and other news in brief
Work has started on the 'eco-park' at the centre of the New Islington development, Urban Splash's high-profile scheme in Manchester which features controversial house designs by FAT and some masterplanning by Will Alsop. Obviously they all say it will be great.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Housing Corporation have launched yet another guide to creating mixed 'sustainable' communities. I haven't read it but I know what it will say. Mixed tenure, mixed economy, schools and parks and youth clubs are good things, being able to access public transport is also a good thing, and hey, all will be well.

Apparently Neighbourhood Management Pathfinders are successful. Well, anything that actually gets the different providers of social and public services talking to each other has got to be an improvement on the current situation where I constantly find no-one ever knows what the next department over is doing.

There's a new regeneration company in Harlow. "The principal focus of this local delivery vehicle will be on making things happen," said a spokesperson for the new company. No, really?

English Partnerships has spent £100m on a bit of land near Cambridge to build a new town called Northstowe. Apparently it will be our first 'sustainable' new town because all its homes will meet the ecohomes standard and apparently use micro-renewable energy.
'Decent homes' - much improved or some way to go?
The English House Condition Survey, out today, reports that social housing conditions are much improved since the last ten years. It claims there has been an overall reduction of one million social homes and 400 thousand vulnerable private sector households living in dwellings failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard since 1996. Well, things may be better but in 2004 there were still a fairly shocking 6 million (29%) officially non-decent homes as measured by the standards.

And on the same day, it was announced that another £29m was going to the East Midlands to bring homes up to the Decent Homes Standard. It's actually not much money, I don't think. The average cost of making a home decent is £7,028 totalling over £47 billion for all non-decent stock. And the DHS is very much a basic level of housing, meaning that homes have adequate insulation, a working heating system and other pretty basic things, though the insulation standards are difficult to meet for older homes, especially in the private sector, where incentives to insulate your Victorian terrace with 9 inch brick walls are not very high.
Theme-park skyscraper
In another guise, this would be a proposal from Rem Koolhaas, in line with all he's written about Delirious New York and other crazy stuff. But actually, it's a developer-led, and very real, project to build a skyscraper in Birmingham that will house a freefall parachute drop the outside of the tower, a flight trainer taking thrill-seekers over the edge of the tower terrace 300 feet up, a gyro tower ride which will take up to 50 passengers to the highest point where they can enjoy a panoramic view, a bungee drop ride, an eight seat giant drop, and a high level seesaw ride. It will be illuminated with laser lighting, making it visible for miles around and accentuating the iconic nature of the development. Two storeys at the top of the building will comprise a restaurant and integral bar, observation area with bar/cafe, three ride lifts and one service lift.

It's just been submitted for planning permission and as it has been developed very much in partnership with the city council, I'm sure there are some powerful backers within the elected members and indeed the planning department. What the residents of the city think, I have no idea. It's scheduled to be sited in the 170ha Eastside regeneration area to the east of the new Bullring, which is meant to have 'heritage' at its heart - the industrial relics of canals, warehouses and viaducts. It's really very central indeed. They've just announced the tender for the design of the park itself which will be at the heart of the area.
David Cameron's emerging agenda
David Cameron is very much in the news right now with his emerging views abou regeneration, housing and other related issues. Central is his assertion that housebuilding to solve social inequalities is the way forward, and those who oppose new development are "bananas" - people who want to 'Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone'.

"How can we bridge the widening gulf in our society between those who benefit from being on the property ladder and those who are kept off? This is a challenge that goes to the heart of the sort of society we want to build. For pressing reasons of social justice, and economic efficiency, Britain needs to spread the benefits of ownership more widely."

Ideas include rewards for areas that welcome new development (surely a strange sort of bribery?), changes to planning law to apparently 'build beauty in' to new housing (how on earth do you define beauty?), and environmental sustainability measures. He's also advocating new ways for communities to have a say in planning, apparently - another example of really leaping on a Labour policy which has been seen as generally unfulfilled despite the new community planning process that has been introduced.

Inevitably the likes of CPRE have 'urged' Cameron not to endorse a more liberal approach to planning and development, accusing him of portraying the planning system as an obstacle to development rather than the positive force that they consider it. I'm not really sure that's what he meant, but clearly the idea of deregulting development would be a very Tory idea even if he is dressing it up in new and community-minded clothes by saying things like "Our planning system doesn't give people a proper say in how their communities should grow organically."

Visiting various housing estates in London, he's also commented on the concept of 'designing out crime' (but haven't we had this concept around for years?) by advocating such nice little English features such as private front gardens and driveways. Hmmm. I remember living in Notting Hill for a while and everyone was rather scared of the front gardens, as it was in their dark bushes that the muggers would hide, waiting for the ealthy owners to return home and then attacking them as they were unlocking their doors. Unfortunately, design is just not that simple.

Like most of Cameron's ideas, none of this seems like news to me. I've yet to hear something genuinely radical. If he really meant what he says about community planning, of course it would be a good thing. But I'm sure his pronouncements are understood by the development sector as the invitation they are: a clear message that by backing him, they are going to get to build on more sites, make more money, and open up markets that are still inaccessible to them.
Friday, March 24, 2006
New housebuilder design champions
I really wonder if initiatives like this make the foggiest bit of difference, or whether they are the design equivalent of greenwashing in the CSR/environmental field. Maybe we need a new term - design-washing doesn't really work - anyone got any ideas? It's all well and good to be a 'design champion' but if all it means is more crap 'modernist' blocks rather than crap noddy boxes, it really doesn't cut the mustard. How are these guys going to be trained to know what they are talking about? and it's not as though many people have that much faith in CABE's training schemes either...

Senior executives at six of the country's biggest housebuilders have joined CABE's design champions initiative. CABE has challenged every publicly quoted volume housebuilder to follow by appointing a board-level design champion with responsibility for delivering design quality.

David Pretty and Stephen Stone, the chief executives of Barratt and Crest Nicholson respectively, are joined by Paul Pedley, executive deputy chairman of Redrow, Graeme McCallum, the operations director of Taylor Woodrow, James Wilson, David Wilson Homes' group development director, and Tony Pidgley, managing director of the Berkeley Group. The six have promised to champion good design in their businesses in the year ahead.

Pedley has pledged to set up an Urban Design centre at Redrow's Northampton office, and Wilson says managers at David Wilson Homes will assess the designs of all the company's housing layouts.

(via Building
Richard Rogers quits Birmingham
In a classic case of party political wrangling destroying the possibility of decent regeneration schemes, and wasting huge amounts of public money in the process, the Richard Rogers Partnership has decided to sever all links with its work in Birmingham.

RRP is abandoning its work on the City Park Gate scheme (after how much money on fees has been spent?) and to sever its links with the city. Rogers' decision was prompted by three years of political wrangling at Birmingham council, which culminated in the scrapping of his £180m Centenary Library on the City Park Gate site.

RRP's exit could adversely affect the £6bn Masshouse regeneration project in the Eastside district of the city centre. A report by Gardiner & Theobald last July concluded that RRP would help the council secure government and external funding, as it would deliver an iconic building of international importance. A spokesperson for RRP added: "The Park Gate scheme was based around the library and the designs reflected that. There was a sense of ensemble in the street layout and massing. With the loss of the library, the scheme as it stands is no longer relevant. Countryside is now planning a revision to the original scheme. We feel it would be more appropriate for another practice to take it forward."

Rogers has been caught in the middle of a political battle in Birmingham over the future of the city's Central Library. His firm proposed a £180m one-site option in 2002, but it is thought that Conservative council leader Mike Whitby regarded Rogers' scheme as too expensive. The council, which is controlled by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, voted in favour of the split site on Monday. This will create a lending library costing £105m in the city centre at Centenary Square and an archive and history centre at Millennium Point in Eastside. Rogers' scheme is still backed by the Labour councillors, and may be revived if they regain control of the city. (via Building, subscription needed)
Miliband blogs
David Miliband, our Minister for Communities [yeuch to the job title] has a blog. This is interesting in its own right but one post was particularly pertinent to my own concerns:

Here he writes:

I have been sent a thoughtful book called Transforming Cities: Revival in the Square by Nick Corbett, which takes this simple idea - pride in the public realm - and applies the concept to public space.
A lot of the excitement about modern urban renewal is focused on new buildings - the Sage in Gateshead; the Bullring in Birmingham...
But the argument of the book is that healthy communities depend on shared space and not just shared buildings. (By contrast tyrannical regimes tend to hate the idea of public shared space: the book points out that General Franco placed strict rules and control over the use of public squares).
Public space creates community - from public art to cafe culture.
The planning system gives Local Authorities the power to make a difference, and they need to use it.

Yes, David, and...? This is shorthand for 'I'm really interested in this area but I don't know how to make it into policy-speak'. But he has hit the nail on the head, although he doesn't know how to make it happen. Genuinely public spaces don't just come into being as soon as you make a square. They need integrating with the local context, they need programming and sensitized design processes. And of course if he really wanted, he could come and talk to us about how we'd do it...
Banksy on graffitti
Great piece in the Guardian today by Banksy about the literal whitewashing of Melbourne's vibrant graffitti scene before the Commonwealth Games, and a cautionary, well-articulated message for London:

The precedent set by Melbourne does not bode well for London in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics. The games will be set in east London, where Hackney is one of the few remaining parts of the city where affordable studio space for artists still exists. After the warehouses have been flattened by compulsory purchase orders, the pots of grey paint will be opened and an area rich in street culture and frontier spirit will disappear. Factory doors whose flaked layers of Hammerite reveal history like the rings in a tree stump will be thrown on the fire. Disused cranes perched on top of foundries like skeletal crows will be torn down.[...]

This is not to say that every city should aim to look like the south Bronx, or that regeneration cannot be a good thing, but society's headlong march into bland conformity should not necessarily be welcomed with such open arms. In the 1990s, large sections of football grounds were demolished to make way for executive boxes - only then did people start to complain about the lack of atmosphere.

Melbourne and London are genuine epicentres of the skewed human touch that can bring a little sparkle into the drudgery of public space. A feat that is of immense value, despite its apparent worthlessness. And a feat that is not so easily achieved by trying to run around a track in under four minutes.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
The Man From Below
A little light amusement: check out the new blog from The Man from Below - a dangerously funny satire on the development of the Thames Gateway.

I am the man from below. Current location: 15 feet below the forest surface, busy digging a tunnel, I must keep on going down for another twenty feet before I start going horizontal. Destination: near to the Thames Gateway, London. A place apparently for the future of housing as we know it, I've seen the plans, they don't look so good. My concept, my mission is to turn this around to make the Thames Gateway a sign of the future of living.

We aim to build underground homes that are safe and hidden, to make a place that has its own fence, its own thing, its own personality, a new way of living, a new chapter for an old city, populated by likemided people, a one stop shop for ideas, no pylons, no wires going in, this place will have its own wires, its own government, my organization will make sure of that, a new future for us all will be here soon. Destination TTGW, method of getting there: small trowel and spade, on arrival I will begin immediately digging below. Come join my organization, come join me, let the changes begin from below.

His mission is to return the Thames Gateway to how it was in Dickens' time, with the companion of a home-made version of Pip (from Great Expecations). And check out the first episode of The Man From Below TV:

Insanely brilliant, and terrifying. The line between satire and self-delusion is getting dangerously thin.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Crest Nicholson and RRP chosen for shipyard
Bit late noticing this one - but it's been announced that Crest Nicholson, with a masterplan by Richard Rogers Partnership, has been picked by the South East England Development Agency to regenerate Southampton's former Vospers shipyard. The masterplan includes 1500 homes and retail and leisure facilities on a site that has been used for shipbuilding for more than a century.
Croydon compulsory purchase order
The fight over the key Croydon Gateway site continues. The back story: Stanhope and Schroders own the land and want to do a scheme they are developing, but Croydon has chosen Arrowcroft as their development partner for the site, but their scheme was called in last week by the Government office for London for inquiry.

Then on Monday night, Croydon Council decided to go ahead with a compulsory purchase order for Stanhope and Schroders' land. This would give the council the land next to East Croydon station, and allow it to implement Arrowcroft's arena-led mixed-use scheme.

It is expected that the planning aspects of the project and the CPO will be heard at a combined inquiry now. Stanhope and Schroders promised to press on with their rival scheme despite the threat to their land. A spokesman for both companies said: ‘We've taken legal advice, which said that the CPO is not likely to succeed and we'll fight it all the way.' (via PW, again.)
Another Budget initiative - third sector review
Cor blimey, you spend a day out of the office on a job and you come back to a stack of things to blog up about. Sigh.

Well, there's yet another Budget initiative here - "a review of the third sector’s role in regeneration backed up by the largest ever consultation of voluntary and community organisations." Yet another study, yet another hefty report - why can't Gordon do an actual project? We all know that the third sector is important in regeneration. Do you really need to spend stacks on a bunch of consultants doing yet more questionaires? and a new 'office of charity and third sector finance' within the Treasury? Well, maybe that's the only interesting bit.

We all know that GB totally believes in delivery via volunteering and other things that he doesn't have to pay for. If/when he becomes PM we can expect to see a lot more of this so at least this initiative will be close to his heart. But I would rather see him giving proper funding to some of these organisations rather than just asking them what they want, again.

Here are the full details, lifted from New Start, if you can be arsed to read more:

The review was announced by chancellor Gordon Brown in this week’s budget, together with the creation of a new unit within the Treasury designed to engender a more joined-up approach to third sector issues. The office of charity and third sector finance will work closely with the active communities directorate in the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry’s social enterprise unit and the charities unit at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. A third sector advisory panel, including young volunteers, representatives of third sector umbrella bodies and members of different faith communities, will be established to advise the new office on third sector issues.

The Treasury will lead a review of the sector’s future role in social and economic regeneration, overseen by a cross-departmental ministerial group, designed to feed into the comprehensive spending review. It will look at the long term priorities for voluntary and community organisations, using evidence from a consultation which will be launched in May. It will also advise on financial issues affecting charities, including gift aid and Futurebuilders.

Campbell Robb, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, will play a leading advisory role in the review.
Budget paper on city-regions
One of the associated Budget documents is a new paper on the economic importance of city-regions. I can't be arsed to read it, I'm afraid, but if anyone else does and feels like summarising it, please leave a comment. From the blurb:

As well as highlighting the importance of cities as drivers of economic growth and employment within regions, the document draws attention to the importance of the interaction between different strands of sub-national governance in maximising the economic potential of cities and regions.

Blah blah. Doesn't it sound boring?
British Land wins Ropemaker Place
One of the most sought-after sites in the City, Ropemaker Place, has gone to British Land after a bidding war. It has planning permission for a Gensler-designed 23 storey tower. The company is expected to complete development in 2009 to fit in between the completion dates of its two other big City office developments. The other two are the scheme at 201 Bishopsgate (currently on site) and the Broadgate Tower, and the Leadenhall Building. (via PW)
John Ritblat to join London Business School
A side note: our friend John Ritblat, head of British Land, is to be the new chairman of the London Business School, Property Week report [subscription only]. He's got a pretty varied range of non-commercial roles, as a member of the board of governors of The Weizmann Institute of Science, deputy chairman of the Royal Academy of Music, vice president of the Tennis & Rackets Association, and president of Snowsport UK, formerly The British Ski & Snowboard Federation.

Well, one of us was skiing with him over New Years so can certainly vouch for his skill in that department.
Planning gain and other budget news
Various development news coming out of the budget today and if I find time I will comment properly on it later. Gordon Brown confirmed plans to introduce a new planning gain supplement and real estate investment trusts in today's budget speech although he gave no further details on the plans to introduce the two schemes by the lunchtime news. Brown also pledged £970m to support shared equity schemes, which he said would help 35,000 first-time buyers onto the housing ladder. The housing benefit that was currently paid into shared equity schemes would be used to pay for further housebuilding.

He also pledged an investment of £50m in electricity microgeneration technology to create renewable sources of energy such as wind turbines and photovoltaic panels for schools, businesses and local authority tenants. Other energy measures include a pledge to insulate a further 250,000 homes over the next two years and a new £1bn environmental and energy institute in the UK. Brown also revealed plans for a £30bn sell-off of government assets by 2010, including the sale of Westinghouse, the Tote, and the government's stake in British Energy.

Despite media speculation, the chancellor said nothing about PFI in his speech, or the health service. However, he promised £34bn of new investment in schools over the coming five years, with the aim of raising spending per pupil in state schools to the same level as in the private sector. He said that this would include spending on teachers, facilities and buildings.

On the Olympics, Brown announced plans to set up PPPs across the country that would build facilities to encourage grassroots sports. A memorial is also to be built to the victims of last year's July 7 terror attacks. In general business-related taxes, corporation tax will not change. (via Building MAgazine)
City growth strategy announced
Ten new strategies have been launched to help bring major investment and jobs to cities. The City Growth strategy, which puts business and business leaders at the heart of urban revitalisation, aims to generate enterprise in some of the most disadvantaged areas and under-represented communities.

The DTI supported strategies are based on a model developed in the US by Harvard Professor Michael Porter and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), and is led by private sector champions working in collaboration with various local sector bodies. The ten areas where a City Growth strategy have been launched are: Derby, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Portsmouth, London South (Deptford/New Cross), Heart of South London, and London Western Arc (Park Royal/Wembley/White City).

Industry and Regions Minister Alun Michael said: "These ten new City Growth Strategies will help create the "can do" attitude needed to drive entrepreneurial activity in our cities and help ensure that that the UK continues to be one of the most enterprising countries in the world."

City Growth views disadvantaged communities as untapped sources of enterprise with big economic advantages, such as an available workforce, strategic locations and under-served retail markets. The strategies bring business, government and community leaders together around an evidence-based strategy that focuses on private, for-profit business growth.

So far City Growth Liverpool has led to the appointment of the leader of the Council, Warren Bradley, as a new "business champion" for the city, ensuring that business issues are prioritised within the Council and challenging the public sector agencies to adopt business friendly strategies; City Growth Luton is launching new action teams for priority sectors such as aerospace and ICT drawing in expertise from the University of Luton; and City Growth Manchester - has drawn up implementation plans for exploiting the potential of a developing "live music" scene, to contribute to regeneration, cultural diversity and inclusion strategies. (via GNN)

I have to say, this sounds like more 'action plans' and 'champions' without any real action so far - but let's see what happens over the next year. I don't know why, for instance, it takes this for Liverpool Council to ensure that business issues are prioritised.
Elephant and Castle schemes gain planning consent
Elephant and Castle's £1.5bn regeneration took a step forward last night with Southwark council approving two key developments.

The decision gives the go-ahead for two mixed-use schemes by Multiplex with its joint venture partner, private equity firm Espalier, and developer Oakmayne Properties. Multiplex and Espalier are to develop a 147-metre, 42-storey residential tower at Castle House, 2-20 Walworth Road, London SE1. The 247,500 sq ft (22,993 sq m) scheme will include 408 flats, 30% of which will be affordable housing. Oakmayne is to develop a 458,000 sq ft (42,549 sq m) mixed-use scheme including three buildings. It will comprise 219 homes, a 219-room hotel, a five-screen arts cinema, 15 shops, a supermarket, three restaurants and a market square for 100 traders.

The schemes represent around £200m of investment into Southwark and construction on both will start by the end of the year. (via Property Week[subscription needed])
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Ken gossip
Londonist is reporting (via Harry's Place) that Ken's had a foot in mouth moment regarding the (very much Jewish) Reuben Brothers (of Stratford City fingers-in-pies) which allegedly included the statement "If they're not happy here perhaps they could go back to Iran." Hmm. You might have thought our Ken had learnt not to make those Jewish 'jokes'. And they come from an Iraqi Jewish family anyway, so he got his facts wrong too.

Though bad race jokes are a trait he shares with other local authority top dogs: a nameless (Jewish this time) head of regeneration at a nameless borough recently called a senior German urban designer 'my little Fraulein', which wasn't really a smart move seeing as she works for the people who are basically his bosses these days. He also tried to play on being Jewish with another member of the same organisation, only to look a bit stupid when the other guy turned round and told him that actually, he had served in the Israeli army, so there was no need for that. He's on his way down and out, you'll be pleased to know.

(And that's without all the comments he made about certain colleagues of yours truly being female and therefore, presumably, incapable of rational thought.)
Monday, March 20, 2006
The AA hits the Gateway
News of an upcoming exhibition; the Thames Gateway Assembly at the Architectural Association. The exhibition will be a combined effort by AA Council members, current and past students and associated architects.
Ken told off
Our beloved Mayor has been told off for not being 'transparent' enough regarding his planning decisions, by the London Assembly's environment committee. It sounds like what they objected to was not enough consideration of 'environmental considerations' in relation to other planning requirements and targets for development.

They are playing at politics, of course, as Ken isn't all about letting developers build with no respect for green spaces or other environmental factors - witness his recent statement about green building standards. And really, do any of us care about what the London Assembly members say?
Callcut to head up EP
Forgot to blog this last week (slap on wrist!) but the former chief exec of Crest Nicholson has been appointed to be the new chief exec of English Partnerships. Callcutt headed up Crest for 14 years, steering their transformation from a relatively unremarkable housebuilder to one that wins lots of awards (despite, I might say, some pretty dubious 'design' still being churned out), and recently retired. He became their deputy chairman, but will give up that post when he takes up his new job in May.

He was originally a solicitor and I was interested to see that he is also a director of the BRE Trust, a member of the Law Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Will Alsop to sell up?
After the financial crisis at Alsop Architects in 2004, and the collapse of the Public project (his largest current job) earlier this month it now looks like he's thinking about selling to the AIM-listed SMC Group. The difficulties of keeping a 'radical' architecture firm going - or some might say, a badly mis-managed one, having lost a lot of key staff after the last crisis.
How to build a pub?
A feature in today's Estates Gazette discusses current trends in the public house industry.

The potential property impact of the smoking ban gets a significant mention - highlighting the notion that pubs without gardens, particularly of course those urban corner boozers - will face dramatic falls in value after the ban comes into force.

Meanwhile the developer Pathfinder is gearing up to invest £25m in 20 newbuild public houses - many next to new housing estates. On the evidence of the newly-built 'Crow's Nest' in Seaham, one of the first of this programme, we can expect a flurry of twee many-gabled fancies garlanded with white picket fences. I recall a project initiated by the AR in the 1950's which led to a competition to 'design a 20th Century pub' - the results (from twee repro-trad to spidery festival of britain frameworks) were most peculiar. The chairman of the AR's parent company, Hubert de Cronin Hastings, was so disappointed by the results that he built a pub himself in the basement of the AR's Queen Anne's Gate premises, named 'The Bride of Denmark'. I could blather about the B of D for a very long time. Suffice to say that it was built out of the ruins of a dozen junked/bombed London pubs - apparently history has to be imported. Might now be a good time to reconsider the social roles that pubs play / have played?

I feel a research study coming on. First proposal: Intermediary indoor/outdoor rooms that clamp onto existing pubs in the form of terraces or balconies to keep the smokers happy...
Friday, March 17, 2006
Fresh attack on Prescott's demolitions
The controversial and thinly-veiled ODPM plan to basically demolish thousands of terraced houses in the North under the guise of 'Housing Market Renewal' has come in for fresh criticism after new figures from the Office of National Statistics show that growth areas in the North and Midlands will need 20,000 extra homes a year on top of the current rate of build.

For any of you who aren't familiar with this whole caboodle, the idea is that terraced mill-worker houses a la Coronation St aren't suitable for today's housing market and by demolishing them you make the prices of the stuff you keep shoot up, 'adding value'. Whereas there is clearly another argument that asks why demolish lots of perfectly sound, historically interesting, and highly adaptable houses at the same time as you are advocating massive new housebuilding in other areas.

There was, you may remember, that moment a year or two ago when the government was debating moving a lot of its offices up North - that didn't happen, but many of us asked why not, given the pressures on affordability in the South-East and the major need for an economic boost, not to mention probably lower wage bills, in other areas. But the debate hasn't really gone away - the whole idea of the housing renewal pathfinders continues to vex, as does the government's relentless centralisation (despite the talk) and refusal to understand what the regions are all about. The number of times I meet officials from outside London who crack bitter joke after joke about Prescott and how he can't see outside the great metropolis is really pretty depressing.
Stricter sustainability regs agreed
It has been a source of puzzlement to me that in developing the new Code for Sustainable Homes, the ODPM has found itself arguing for lower standards while the building industry, the environmental lobby and just about everyone else has been arguing for higher standards. But finally whatever illogical brain in Whitehall that's behind all this has seen sense and the ODPM have announced that they will be including tougher standards.

All for the best, although the debate over it was really necessary to replace the Ecohomes rating with a new code will continue. The new code will be mandatory for all publicly-funded homes, i.e. most social housing.
Joining the Dots: Barking Riverside
The Barking Riverside development, famously vetoed by London Mayor Ken Livingstone last year on the grounds that it was not supported by public transport infrastructure, has had a boost this week with the announcement of approval for a DLR extension runnng from Beckton to Dagenham Docks - and right through the proposed scheme.

This move was optimistically lauded as an example of Government beginning to invest in the Thames Gateway...

From today's Building Magazine.
Ken's new green advisers
...are Bill Dunster of BedZed fame and PRP architects, he announced at MIPIM. He want to use their 12-unit key worker scheme in Brixton as an exemplar project and recommend that the same kind of technology be used across the city. How this works within a legislative framework is of course to be decided. But Ken really is taking the whole thing pretty seriously - I think he has not only got genuine concern for environmental issues but sees it as another area in which he could leave his mark on the city and ensure his legacy. So be prepared for some pretty radical new guidelines coming up.
Elephant and Castle first phase shortlist
My old colleagues at Haworth Tompkins are in the shortlist for 200 homes as part of the first phase of the massive Elephant and Castle regeneration. Southwark have done quite an interesting thing by drawing up a panel of sixteen firms for the various parcels of the first phase, including a lot of relatively young and interesting practices as well as some safe pairs of hands.

In other news down there, our friends at Lend Lease and the other big boys have been given till September to submit their bids for the main chunk of the masterplan - a major time extension as they were meant to be chosen around now. Southwark council also revealed that Elephant & Castle will be the first regeneration project in London to establish a major off-grid energy scheme, with a proposal for combined heat and power and other renewable technologies going to the council executive next week.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Our spy in MIPIM checked in with us this morning suffering from a cocktail-induced hangover and with plenty to tell. Most of it is unprintable if I want to stay out of the courts. But s/he has gatecrashed £400 ticket parties, nearly gotten thrown out of a party that she legitimately attended, chased after various powerful and somewhat lecherous men in search of new work, had some really good meetings, some really bad meetings, and has been asked to give an impromptu speech 'on-stand' for which the hangover is not really helping. But my ability to describe the trials and tribulations of MIPIM is nothing compared to the comic genius of Ian Martin in today's BD. It's not been uploaded to their online version yet but take it from me, he tells it like it is.
TIPPL is abbreviated French for "Exchange of Ideas Between Creators of Epic Space". But if you run it through the online translator you get "International Confluence of Drinking and Property and Immobilised Professionals."
More Ken news
Ken likes Kingston for it being the first borough to produce a plan to implement the Mayor's Transport Strategy. "Key areas of the LIP include extra road safety and cycling initiatives as well as improving accessibility and journey times." Yawn. Bless.
Planet of Slums
I haven't read the new book from Mike Davis (of City of Quartz fame) - but Salon.com has. From their review, it sounds like pretty doom-laden stuff - and of course, in a lot of ways he's right: slums are growing faster than the cities that they surround; by 2020, the world will have around 1.5 billion slum dwellers and 'solutions' to lifting these hordes out of desperate poverty are pretty thin on the ground. But it is very Davis to posit that Baghdad today is the city of the future - a kind of LA on (even more) crack, "with the police helicopters of the first world's gated communities perpetually hovering over the permanent low-grade conflict of the Third World's smoldering slums." Not inevitable, I don't think.

There are other futures out there for the new megacities which aren't necessarily the archi-chic of Koolhaas's 'analysis' of Lagos which Salon posits as its alternative. I'm not sure whether a "giant hive of recombinant, sometimes cannibalistic creative energy" which depends on mass logging of rainforest timber is my kinda future, either, but he's definitely got a point about the immense energy and creativity that exist in 'slum' areas. As the Indian engineer Himanshu Parikh one of the people who has most influenced my thinking on this subject said, 'You think slum dwellers are poor, but they are not. They are incredibly rich, it's just that everyone assumes they have nothing'. In the mean time, if you want to prepare yourself for the worst, read Mike Davis.
Ken at Mipim
Yesterday at Mipim Ken vowed to stamp down on 'renegade' boroughs who dare to disobey his plans.

Livingstone revealed that there had been a recent "surge" in planning rejections among London borough councils, citing Lambeth as one of the worst examples, where some 44% of applications were rejected last year.

"There is a proposed scheme at Clapham Park in Lambeth, which we think would go a long way towards regenerating that area, but it's being held up because the council is afraid about the noise and disruption to local neighbourhoods," he said.

"But honestly, do people really come to London expecting the stillness and calm of the Cairngorms?"
Classic Ken. (Let's ignore the bit in the State of the Cities report where it said that over half of London's population would actually rather live in a rural idyll) He also took on the government a little bit, and David Miliband has reason to be scared:

Referring to the current planning review, he said: "Now is the best time we will have in a generation to improve the present planning system, and I urge builders and developers to beat a path to David Milliband's door, telling him exactly what needs to change."

He also warned developers that they will need to spend money on making buildings greener as the GLA gets more demanding about energy efficiency and other green measures.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Where's my soul gone?
More culture schmulture. Don't get me wrong, I spend my days preaching about the value of culture. I just don't mean quite the same thing by that word as everyone else.

Whereas the lovely EEDA thinks "Without culture, a community is bereft of a soul and can never be considered sustainable." Ah, poor unsustainable communities, bereft of 'culture'. Does it never occur to any of these idiots that 'culture' exists everywhere there are human beings, not just where there's a EEDA-funded National Centre for Carnival Arts. (I joke not. In Luton. Anyone see that doing a Public in a year's time?)

Wake up - culture isn't about art and 'creative industries quarters' full of sub-standard potters and watercolour galleries. Culture is the fact that people like to go skateboarding and play football, as well as learn the clarinet or go to dance classes. It's learning that Canning Town is actually a major centre of pigeon-racing in the south-east, but definitely doesn't want a 'National Pigeon Centre' to kill it for ever more. Culture is hippies living in communes in the Dorset valleys, mad drag-racers, or committees that are crazy about corrugated iron - something to be cherished and loved, not killed off by a bunch of patronising jobsworths, deemed 'anti-social' or going against 'brand values'. Again, damn Richard Florida - for not making it clearer that what he meant wasn't 'let's bring in the gay designers' but rather 'let's allow people to be creative in any way they want' - which goes with my idea of culture and utterly against the cultural regeneration cant of the day.
Manchester rejects 'clone towns' for 'creative hubs'
Another report from New Start. Apparently Manchester is going to "break the clone towns mould by creating thriving hubs of independent businesses in disadvantaged communities. Details of the ‘creative hubs’, comprising independent facilities such as restaurants, food shops, bars and art galleries, will be included in Manchester’s city growth strategy next week."

Oh, the originality. Bars and art galleries will definitely save the "16 wards south of the city centre in which almost a third of adults have no qualifications and more than half those of working age are either unemployed or economically inactive." Instead of 'clone towns' you get clone creative quarters - pockets of graphic designers who relish the urban grit of working in the ghetto but go home at night to their comfortable semi or loft conversion. I wish that Richard Florida had never written that bloody book - it's actually pretty good, but has been horrendously misinterpreted by dumb city planners.

Really, who comes up with these ideas? "Longsight will be partnered with Rusholme, home of the ‘curry mile’ to develop an ‘Asian brand’. South Levenshulme will be developed as a centre for the antiques and architectural salvage trade." Since when has anyone found that architectural salvage is really a core enough industry that it can drive the regeneration of a whole area? and what do the unemployed and ill-educated of Levenshulme think about all this? Oh, maybe that's someone's idea of a joke - everyone's already into the breaking and entering business, because that's what unemployed scallies do, so going into salvage is a natural step. Really witty.
The invisible hand of Scottish regeneration
Apparently Scots lack interest in regeneration. Well, I'm tempted to say, I can understand why. All those acronyms, meaningless quangos, complicated funding mechanisms, annoying consultants running all over the place. Who would want the dreaded R-word on their patch?

But seriously. Some professor of cities in Glasgow has criticised the Scottish establishment for not doing enough work in 'deprived areas'. ‘Scottish Enterprise will go on about people and business but places will fall down the agenda. Scottish Enterprise tends to view regeneration as a back door to welfare policy.’ The counterpost from Scottish Enterprise was that "We want to link disadvantaged areas to the growth agenda rather than tackling the problems of need in that community. The problems of deprived areas will not be solved in those areas." - which all seems sensible enough. And very Adam Smith too, at the risk of making a bad Scottish joke. Link up the poor to the bits that are 'growing' and they should all be able to get jobs as cleaners or something, right?
Named and shamed
Deciding to have a quick glance at the Thurrock UDC's website today just to see what they've been up to, I happened to look at their new masterplan [pdf] for Purfleet, one of the areas that we looked at in detail on our project in the borough. When we presented the work from our project, which was commissioned by the borough council and various other agencies, the UDC (then in its early stages) told us in no uncertain terms that they weren't interested in any of our ideas despite the wide consensus among other local stakeholders supporting them - that they would do all their own work, thank-you-very-much, and that basically we weren't ever going to be able to influence their masterplanning so our project was a waste of space.

So imagine my surprise to find, on pages 59, 61 and 75, some drawings that I personally drew for our project, used without any credit whatseoever in their document. You really might think they had more respect than to go to our website, download the maps, ignore the fact that they are under copyright and not even bother asking us for our permission before dumping them into their ugly masterplan document.

The irony is, we drew the maps because there was an existing lack of information about the borough and we wanted to make an accessible resource for all. If they had asked, we would have gladly given them our permission, and asked for nothing apart from a small credit. We believe in open-source and the exchange of knowledge. It's just really sad that one of our public bodies doesn't know how to play the game with any sort of respect.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Toilet troubles
I love the seriousness with which only a Brit can address the subject of public lavatories. Yes indeed, today's Guardian contains 565 words on the subject by one of our revered London Assembly members - how the state of the nation's loos are a national embarrassment, a threat to public health and a major threat to our quality of life.

I shouldn't mock. Of course, I believe whole-heartedly that we should have a revival of good old-fashioned municipal loos complete with semi-grumpy attendants. But a whole raft of initiatives and policy-talk that ends with the statement "And finally there should be twice as many women's toilets as men's to cut down on the queues. And when planning new toilets we want baby-changing facilities in men's toilets as well as women's - men change nappies too!" -the revelation! surely a little merriment is allowed.

Petitions in parliament soon, I hope.
Monday, March 13, 2006
High-rise living in Tokyo
Interesting article in the Washington Post about the increasing income disparities and need for social housing in Tokyo at the same time as developments like the famous Roppongi Hills - 'compact cities' within the city, with high-rise luxury apartments and retail, offering a complete lifestyle, are becoming more and more common and successful.

"We are seeing our society divided up by income," said Masahiro Yamada, a sociologist at Tokyo Gakugei University. "If we keep going like this, we will see the creation of slums in Tokyo even as more places like Roppongi Hills go up for those with extraordinary incomes."...Over the past five years, the number of Tokyo's 100-yen shops -- akin to dollar stores in the United States -- has nearly doubled. Yet over the same period, the number of local outlets of the French fashion house Chanel has jumped from 24 to 37.

Roppongi Hills is an extraordinary development in both its absolutely astronomical expense and also its interesting mix of open-to-all retail, culture and open public spaces. Tourists from the poor suburbs come to gawp; but it is crucially not a gated development. I still don't know whether this makes it 'good' or not - socially or architecturally - and the development has invited bilious critique as much as praise. There was certainly no pretense towards a 'democratic', 'consultative' process - it is about money and hubris - but the concept and results are so extraordinary and bizarre, really, that it can't be simply condemned.
New skyscrapers in London
Londonist reports on two new proposed skyscrapers - one at Fenchurch Street by LandSecs (replacing what I think is a fairly elegant if not world-beating 1960s highrise with a rather ugly Vinoly building shaped weirdly like a 1980s mobile phone - see picture) and another on the Isle of Dogs by Rowan Asset Management, developers of the nearby Glengall Bridge, which apparently will have a lot of 'affordable housing' in it.

This also has a rather dubious shape by Sheppard Robson. It really is not pretty but also goes right against the development framework set out by the local authority so will need a lot of negotiation to get it through (hence the affordable housing sweetener, I would think).
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Lord Tarzan
Today's Guardian has a profile of Michael Heseltine, back in the public eye as he heads up Cameron's new urban task force. He mentions the Docklands and the nascence of the Thames Gateway, as well as walking Liverpool during the Toxteth riots. The profile makes him a man from another time, talking of 'noblesse oblige' and reclining on antique sofas surrounded by Quinlan Terry-designed bookshelves. A long way from the bogey figure he once was - but I'm sure we shouldn't be swayed by the image of the ageing, 'elegant' millionaire. It'll be interesting to see his ideas after ten years of Labour policies that have adopted the concepts that he created, taking the idea of public-private partnerships in urban renewal to the heart of their agenda.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Building Magazine tidbits
A quick news round-up (so you don't have to read the damn thing) of this week's Building Magazine. Nothing that exciting to report this week, I'm afraid.

The cover story is about students not getting paid properly, or at all, by high-profile architects. It's nothing that any architect won't be aware of and that we all join in condemning round the pub on Friday nights. But I'm not really sure that Building Magazine running four pages on it will really change a thing, I'm afraid...

Ed Balls's column is a rather odd ode to how great CABE is and its role in critiquing PFI projects. Seemingly this stems from him having commissioned Irena Bauman to do his house extension, and then finding out that she's a CABE commissioner. Whatever.

Keith Clarke, head of Atkins, is trying to get EU funding for R&D into construction technology and sustainability, among other things. Sounds pretty interesting, actually - the steering group for the application includes quite a few construction figures but also the architect Ian Ritchie and Terry Hill from Arup.

Foster and Partners are back in profit, so that'll mean his salary's going back up again...
King's Cross approved!
After a total of nine hours of committee meetings, Argent's Kings Cross development (on which we have been involved) gained outline planning permission last night with no hitches. Of course this is the first hurdle crossed in the long process before actual buildings start getting built. It's now got to get the nod from Ken and all the section 106 (planning gain) agreements have to be finalised. But huge congratulations to Argent and Roger Madelin, who will now definitely be the hot stars at the MIPIM schmoozefest next week, and we're excited to see what happens next!

(Previous posts on this are here and here)
Kings Cross comment
A trickle of comment from the press is starting to filter through. I'm actually surprised there wasn't more on my newsfeeds today - the decision came through late but not that late last night, and certainly in time for web and broadcast media to post it up. But hey ho, maybe no-one else is quite so interested in a derelict patch of hidden London as me.

Here is Guardian comment mentioning that KXC will not have any chain stores in the development apart from a few around the station, and three small supermarkets. "We are doing this to make King's Cross a destination you are drawn to by the bookshop with great South American authors, or the best canoeing shop in London or the best fashion shops," said Peter Bishop, Camden council's chief planner.

The Ham and High is quick off the mark with a comment piece, a piece specifically on the opposition to the scheme which mentions one thing I didn't know - that the former chair of the planning committee is under investigation for bias against the scheme, and even a whole article on the section 106 obligations. Local newspapers evidently rock.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
New social housing policies
At a speech today, Yvette Cooper announced new policies to 'deal' with overcrowding and the lack of family housing available in the social rented sector. From the press release: "The proportion of new social housing built in London with three or more bedrooms will increase from 27% to 34% as a first step, the Minister announced today." I have to say that I'm not sure this is a big enough increase - will 5% really solve the horrendous overcrowding problems that I see in the estates around me?

She also announced the intention to consult on changing the statutory definition of overcrowding, which hasn't changed since 1935 and counts living rooms and kitchens as available sleeping accommodation, saying "It is crazy that the 1935 standards may not count families as overcrowded even in the extreme case of someone sleeping in the kitchen". Seems about time too.
Railway stations update
The Estates Gazette also contains an update on the proposed redevelopment of Euston and Victoria stations as part of Network Rail's new plans to sell off almost all station property to raise capital to mend the creaking network. At the moment they seem to be progressing fastest towards a deal with all the usual suspects (Stanhope, Development Securities, British Land, Grosvenor et al) bidding for both stations in one package. Paddington is also up for consideration but not on the market yet. Nothing, of course, about the bit I'm most interested in - the bundling of small branch line stations together that I was told was on the cards when I talked to Network Rail a few months ago. Maybe its time for another phone call.
PPS7 gains momentum
Today's AJ reports on the highly likely planning approval of Fielden Clegg Bradley's "Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired" private country house in Lincolnshire. If all goes to plan, this will be the first planning approval granted under the Planning Policy Statement 7 (PPS7), the clause established to encourage "innovative" and "ground-breaking" houses in rural areas. Though the clause is heavily weighted in favour of big houses for rich people, it may well prove useful in further spreading good contemporary design beyond our cities and into rural areas, where issues of context and public approval often become more contentious, and the debate on such issues is more vital.
Academy for Sustainable Communities programme
The much-vaunted ASC, which has been in existence for a while but has only recently appointed Gill Taylor as its chief exec, has revealed a little of what it's programme will focus on in the next period. One of its plans is to develop a new geography syllabus for teenagers which will help them learn about sustainability ‘in a more exciting way in their own communities,’ Taylor said. The ASC will also work with schools on ways to make the professions involved in sustainable communities more attractive to young people.

Given that we submitted our work on a really innovative schools project to the ASC in a funding proposal a few months ago, I do hope they haven't just nicked all our ideas and taken it in-house...
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Rising in the West
The West End as a development site has been increasingly on the agenda, at least it seems so from a browse through the Estates Gazette EG Focus on London. Alongside a report by Nadia Elghamry on the shift from the West End to the City by Middle Eastern investors, an article by Jane Roberts compares the choked - yet world famous - public spaces of W1 to the Champs-Elysees in Paris, where moves such as pushing parking underground and increasing the width of pavements have led to significant improvements in the quality of the public realm.

This is further to Hana's entry on Farrells' work on the eastern end of Oxford Street.

The New West End Company, in partnership with Transport for London, achieved a temporary closure of Oxford Street to traffic for two days before Christmas. I didn't get to see how the mess of Oxford Street was uplifted by such an exercise but I am reminded of the debates surrounding the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square and Westminster - the anti-car lobby and others who thought that at least some of the sites proposed for car removal would in fact be worse (or less animated) without traffic.

Jones Lang LaSalle and Sociovision carried out a focus group surveying exercise recently, and the results were wide-ranging, though 'places to eat and rest' were high on the agenda. It might be that a little strategic thinking would be useful here; better signposting and wayfinding, coupled with programmed green spaces and selective pedestrianisation, might alleviate the burden better than wholesale traffic removal. For those in the know, despite its difficulties and congestion, the West End does conceal buried treasures. Good places for lunch, plotting-up (to use courier-speak), book-reading, fag-smoking. I also write as a fanatical cyclist who gets a certain adrenalin rush when combatting taxis.

The NWEC is proposing to reduce the number of bus routes using the area from 24 to 2, apparently to the chagrin of TfL. This does seem a little naive when considering the influx of public transport users which will surely happen in 2012 and who will be expecting the West End to be the focus of their social lives, despite the eastern focus of the games.

All this amid ambitious and perhaps surprising proposals in last week's AJ article on the Thames Gateway, in which something called 'Eastminster' was proposed - a focal point for development centred on the Isle of Dogs and the Royal Docks. Is this an opportunity, post-Canary Wharf, for an even more established property 'vent' in the east which might allow both the City and the West End to 'relax' a little, or like Canary Wharf and Docklands, would it push the old centres into upping their game even further?
MIPIM countdown
MIPIM - the property and development world's gruesome annual fest of deal-making and heavy drinking on the sands of Cannes - is coming along next week, we are frantically trying to finish our marketing materials in time, and the journals are all running previews. In the Estates Gazette, they are looking forward to a massive and 'intricate' model of Birmingham, Wayne Hemmingway promoting Bradford and the Jones Lang LaSalle beach cocktail party. Ugh. And apparently a whole lot of Eastern European cities are appearing for the first time - Kiev, Bratislava, Warsaw, Prague, Belgrade and even some minnows like Brno and Poznan.

The winners of the MIPIM architectural awards will also be handed out - for schemes including a gated development in Doha ('indigenous architecture without being kitsch', apparently), some stuff in Scandinavia, and the Bridging the Rift facility on the Israel/Jordan border, which wins the 'innovation' category.

And can't you just bear it, waiting to hear a band called Hot Property play, who are entirely made up of Birmingham property 'professionals'? What can I say. I'm glad I'm only deputy director and I don't have to go.
Another Barker report
After Kate Barker's hard-hitting report last year for Gordon Brown on the housing market, he's commissioned her to do another one on the planning system. Bad news for Prescott, of course, seeing as the ODPM has just completed what was meant to be the major overhaul of the planning system - and, as the Estates Gazette says in its comment on the subject, Barker isn't known for recommending only minor changes.

But do we really need more changes? All the planners I meet on a daily basis are struggling to come to terms with the last round of changes, let alone the new planning gain supplement proposals and all the rest. I might say that we need a bit of stability in terms of the system, and a major increase in spending on more planning officers and massively better training for those that are currently in post, to increase their capacity to respond sensibly and imaginatively.
Farrell to work on Oxford Street
After being let loose on (undrealised) masterplans for Regent St and the Euston Road, Terry Farrell has now been called in by Land Securities to look at revamping the eastern end of Oxford Street, with his proposals then going to the Mayor's office, which has already expressed interest in various crazy ideas for the site, including an international convention centre. Hmm.
Chelsea Barracks
The fantastic site of the old Chelsea Barracks (still owned by the MoD) is back on the market and may become home to the new US Embassy. It's massive - 12.8 acres - and will surely become one of the most lucrative and prestigious new developments if this time, it manageds to get off the ground. A previous attempt to market the site fell through after the MoD attached too many complicated requirements to the site, but only after several bidders had spent up to £2m each on work to try and make it happen.

I got this from the Estates Gazette. Yes, I am that sad.
World Urban Forum 3
UN-Habitat - the UN programme that deals with human settlements and cities - has officially launched the third World Urban Forum that will take place this June in Vancouver, Canada. Personally, I have mixed views about how much either UN-Habitat or things like the WUF achieve, although it does have a pretty useful best practice research library. But the write-ups from the Urban Forums are at least always interesting to keep a global perspective on what we are doing in urban regeneration and upgrading. If anyone's planning to go do let me know!
South-west UK rural development funds
Of interest to me mainly because we're doing a project in Dorset: the South-West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) has announced funding of £20m this year for various rural economy initiatives. From their press release:

The funding earmarked will be broken down for the following projects and initiatives:

- Rural Renaissance - £5 million
- Rural productivity and access to rural services - £6 million
- Market and Coastal Towns regeneration projects - £6.4 million
- Market and Costal Towns Association - £1 million
- Food and Drink sector development - £1.6 million

Hopefully some of this may find its way into helping set up our project...
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
State of the Cities report
The government's State of the Cities report is out today. I may write more about this in due course, but here are a few key headlines:

Much to my surprise, London ranks 23rd in a table of European cities by GDP per capita. Almost all the cities that come above us are German (what happened to their supposed recession?) headed in first place by Frankfurt, with a per capita GDP of €74,465, over double London's at €35,072.

London and the south-east continue to outperform everywhere else. The key message is that "Closing the gap across the country remains a large challenge and is not quickly achieved." In all areas, London is exceptional - population growth, growth in the inner city, growth in self-employed people and age profile. There's a clear message that London's success should not be taken as an indicator of national city performance.

In general, British cities under-perform compared to European ones and should learn from the increasing devolution of powers abroad to mayors etc - "The most successful cities in Europe have been German, which is the most decentralised country in Europe"

And we apparently don't even want to live in our cities, "The quest for the ‘rural idyll’ appears just as strong nationally as in the past, according to opinion polls and as evidenced by continued high levels of net out-migration from England’s larger cities." 37% of the national population wanted to ideally live in a village, with only 5% ideally wanting to live in a large city, which I find extraordinary. Even in London, over half the population did not want to live in a big city or its outskirts. Are we all this unhappy?

Social cohesion is improving but still needs a lot of work. "The level of deprivation is higher and more widespread in cities than in other parts of the country. There are higher levels of unemployment and worklessness. The health of the population is generally less good. The gap between poor and better-off neighbourhoods is bigger than elsewhere. Residential segregation is quite high, based on income, wealth, employment status and ethnicity. Educational attainment in schools is lower than elsewhere. The rate of recorded crime is generally higher."

Interestingly, with regard to public attitudes in urban and non-urban areas, in politics "Only one political issue, proportional representation, attracted a significantly different reaction in urban and non-urban areas, with the latter being more in favour."

In the rest of the report, the most valuable thing is that it has created a real evidence base for policy-making. Much of the findings correlate with what one would expect, but it is useful to be able to cite statistics. Policy-wise it give strong support to the idea of city regions with strong devolved leadership. I'm sure over the next few days we'll get a raft of comment from the thinktanks and commentators, which I will endeavour to keep you updated with. In the mean time, here's the BBC and the Guardian's initial reaction.
The Public goes into administration
The great white elephant of the north, The Public, a doomed project really from the start and estimated to have cost over £53m even though it's not even been finished yet, has called in the administrators. Comment from the Express and Star here which quotes the chief executive saying that the building may never open and that the project may have to pay back around £10m of EU funding that they received.

What a waste of public money on something so mismanaged and so clearly flawed. The Will Alsop-designed building (with interior design by our office neughbour Ben Kelly) was not even finished and already the organisation was employing 85 people. No wonder they've got financial problems. Yet even just last year, after the project was already well behind schedule, the Arts Council included the project in its case studies of arts and regeneration. Draw your own conclusions.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Kings Cross update
The Evening Standard reports (not available online) that the Kings Cross Railway Lands Group is threatnning legal action to force a delay on granting out line planning permission for Argent's development at Kings Cross. They want Prescott to intervene and force a planning inquiry, at what would be huge cost to the taxpayer. The inquiry into Renzo Piano's Shard apparently cost around £10m.

I'm obviously a little biased, having worked on a lot of the public realm in the new development, but the KXRLG demands can't really be met realistically, and perhaps shouldn't be. This is a site with the ultimate in good public transport access, which enables high-density, intense and truly urban development to take place in a largely car-free way - yet the group demands that buildings should be no more than seven storeys high. It's not as though the Argent scheme even includes any truly tall buildings - the maximum being 17 floors, less than half the height of the Gherkin, at 40 floors.

Argent has also carried out pretty extensive consultation and almost all the concerns of the local resident groups have been met or exceeded in the provision of new social infrastructure and high quality public and leisure spaces within the development. The Rail Lands Group has also been active participants in the process, but they have no claim to be representative of all the local residents. I am always sad when a confrontational situation emerges between local groups and developers, especially a developer as committed and engaged as Argent. But it is important that elected members aren't overly swayed by deputations from somewhat unrepresentative, hostile groups, and think strategically.

To hold a planning inquiry would delay development of the site further, keeping it as the black hole in the urban fabric that it is now, severing the communities of Camden and Islington, and fail to capitalise on the new Eurostar terminal, the crucial role of the site for the Olympics, the immense energy and potential that could be realised constructively and collaboratively in the immediate future. The site should start being repaired and sewn back into the city right now - become used and enjoyed, with temporary programmes preparing the way for the permanent programmes of social and leisure activity on the site. Do we really need to waste public money on an inquiry that will, even if it ends up changing details of the scheme, will not fundamentally alter the fact that large-scale commercial development will happen on the site on the long run? I think not.
The return of Heseltine
The man who invented the modern use of the word 'regeneration', and the idea of the Thames Gateway is back. He's been asked by David Cameron to head up a new "task force to look at the problems of the inner cities" - only ten years behind the original Urban Task Force then.

All fine and good, and trying to pre-empt the State of the Cities report due out tomorrow. But how much new thinking can the Tories really inject into this debate, to make them stand out significantly from the Labour position? Yes, our inner cities still need help. Yes, the next challenge is not city centres but the first ring of housing and estates between the centre and the suburbs. But the Guardian reports:

The Heseltine task force is expected to examine plans to back affordable housing for first-time buyers in urban areas, how to improve the quality of education in inner city schools, and a new approach to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour on council estates.

Sorry, but I really can't see the difference between this and New Labour's policies just yet.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Friday news round-up
It looks like Richard Rogers's lobbying of Ken to get a dedicated Olympics design review panel has paid off according to BD. Expect Paul Finch to be chairing yet another committee shortly. Sigh. How many committees can the man be on? does he ever do any real work?

BD also announces that a vast majority of London's planners never discuss green building or sustainable construction with anyone - their colleagues, architects, developers, applicants. Their main source of information and best practice is Google, with half saying that they had no access at all to best practice examples.

Building Awards shortlists announced (from Building - subscribers only)

Not much else to report other than Neptune's proposals for where Alsop's Fourth Grace was meant to be look phenomenally awful. Boring, boring glass office blocks given 'design quality' (or so the developer thinks) by a few funny angled rooflines. And sitting in a sea of unvarying paving (no sustainable urban drainage here) without so much as a bench. Depressing stuff.

In the world of culture and design, some gossip about the Design Museum job has reached my ears but my lips are sealed.
Kings Cross countdown
The planning decision on the major development at Kings Cross Central, on which my firm worked, comes this time next week. In advance, we are cheered that the planners report from Camden Council recommends it for approval. In particular, we are very pleased by one comment. They said that it would deliver 'a real step change in the quality of the public realm at King's Cross with high quality and genuinely public new streets and open spaces'. Well, folks, not to beat our own drum too much, but that's all our work. We did the entire public realm strategy, for open spaces, streetscape, play, schools, event spaces, and most crucially, the links and integration with the surrounding areas.

This is the re-submission of the planning application, after the initial submission attracted a lot of criticism. The biggest difference between the first and second versions? I have to say: our work. From the Camden planners website:

"Major changes to the application include:

- more public open space
- new designs for streets and squares
- new health, education, sports and other community facilities
- changes to the road layout and introduction of home zones

All our work. If this gets through (as we hope) next week, I think it proves something: that caring about the public realm is not only a 'nice' thing to do, but actually, is essential for getting planning permission. (And, of course, that we are the people who can do this for you!)