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Friday, September 29, 2006
City Development Companies come on stream
We've had UDCs and URCs, so now get ready for CDCs. The new regeneration companies are set to be included in the overdue local government white paper that is due out this autumn. They will be city-wide organisations with a focus on economic rather than physical regeneration, and are supposedly based on Creative Sheffield, the body set up when the Sheffield URC and investment agencies merged. Apparently they will be asset-owning but apart from that, work in a similar way to URCs.

Meanwhile, Ruth Kelly endorsed Greater Manchester's plans for a city-regional governmental structure with a cabinet, which will also go into the white paper.
Gateway round-up: it's not all going green.
It has emerged that only 2% of Stratford City's energy needs will be met by renewables on-site, as compared to the 10% required by the London Plan. They got away with it because the scheme was submitted for planning permission before the Plan came into force in 2004. Newham, which was allowed to retain control over the Stratford area, is now pushing Westfield to up its targets, as it submitted a new planning application this May, but I'm sure it won't be easy.

Quintain have selected Bellway Homes, with Stock Woolstencroft and Whitelaw Turkington landscape architects, as their residential partner for the Greenwich Peninsula first phase - 229 flats on the southern part of the site.

While out in Ashford, CPRE is stirring up trouble again, claiming that jobs growht has not been fast enough to justify the housing numbers proposed, which will therefore become "an enormous, sprawling hosing estate, all of whose population trawl up to work each day on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link." Or rather, get in their cars and drive, seeing as Eurostar is cutting back its Ashford services in favour of Ebbsfleet. Of course the council claim nothing is wrong and both sides quote competing statistics to back themselves up.
CABE 's latest maulings
Ooh, CABE get tough with MAKE architects. Their Cube project in Birmingham has been labelled 'claustrophobic' and 'uncomfortable' in its attempts to make a large genuinely mixed-use building actually work. They've ended up with lots of single-aspect apartments in their very deep plan.

And a proposed 36 storey tower by Mersey Property on the Liverpool waterfront has been slammed for being 'joyless'. The quango also added that the site may not be suitable for a tall building: "the northern cluster may be adjacent to the site, but it is cut off physically...it will not be understood the same way at street level." But MP is still confident of getting planning.
Eco-friendliness everywhere
Conference season has seen an outpouring of love for going green. From the gushingly green David Cameron, to the pragmatically green Lib Dems, to Ken's bold announcement about only funding carbon-neutral housing in London, to Miliband's speech which again raised the prospect of Meyer Hillman-style personal carbon credit cards, to the TCPA and Friends of the Earth's mock Planning Policy Statement on climate change (backed by - oh, most everyone, as lending 'support' is such an easy thing to do) which promptly meant that Yvette Cooper announced that she would bring out a real one, it's all over us like a rash.

Cooper also said that all housing 'must' move to be zero-carbon - "it is going to be a challenge but ultimately we don't have much of a choice" - although craftily gave no timetable. Jon Rouse said that improvement were needed over a 8-10 year period.

So basically, it doesn't take Ken to tell us that the environment will dominate the next election. All this means for our sector is that developers are going to have to bite the bullet no matter which way it swings.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Goings-on at Battersea
And I don't mean the collapse of the crane at the huge and ugly Barratts development down there. Last week it emerged that Parkview are in talks to sell a controlling stake in the power station development to Treasury Holdings, an Irish developer. Treasury has apparently been getting Foster & Partners to draw up alternative plans for the site, with more housing to make it commercially viable. Meanwhile, Richard Rogers had an 'informal' meeting with Parkview recently. Watch this space.
Stop press: Design for London director announced
And it's not Will Alsop & Paul Finch.

Nor Ricky Burdett - losing his place at the top of the GLA design tree.

Its Peter Bishop - currently Camden's director of culture and environment, all round nice guy, and the hot tip since last week.

He's expected to take up position in December.
Monday, September 25, 2006
East London round-up
The shortlist for the development partner at Stratford (after L&CR took back control of the non-retail areas) is down to two: Bougyues (with Barratt) and Lend Lease (with East Thmaes Group and First Base). The winner will be announced in the next two months.

Herzog and de Meuron have received planning permission for their first housing scheme in the UKK. After Greengate House in Plaistow fell through rather disastrously last year, Poplar HARCA contacted H&dM and now they've got planning for four buildings totalling 36 residential units and a medical centre.

The shortlist for Ken's model zero-carbon development at Gallion's Reach has been announced:
L&Q Group; Guinness Trust with Gallions Housing; Crest/Bioregional/Quintain (my hot tip?); Metropolitan/J Leon (who?); Bellway/Genesis Housing Group; and Lend Lease/First Base (another hot tip, I would have thought).

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Ken and green housing
Look out, housing associations! Or, as may be, look out, people in need of affordable housing!

Ken got so bowled over by being next to Bill Clinton that he said that he won't fund any more 'polluting public sector homes', ever. That is to say, when he gets control of London's housing budget (set to be approved by Parliament soon) he is going to demand new homes that are as near carbon-neutral as possible.

"I intend to bring the architects and the housing association people in and say we're not going to allocate that money to any new home for construction that isn't absolutely state of the art. If you want a commitment from me at this conference it's that that three billion dollars won't subsidise another polluting public sector home in London."

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Friday, September 22, 2006
Worldchanging meetup
Late notice I know, but executive editor of Worldchanging.com (where I write nearly as infrequently as here right now!) Alex Steffen is in London at the moment and we're having a meetup of readers, potential writers and anyone else who's curious this Sunday.

We'll be drinking-in-residence at the Crown on Clerkenwell Green from around 2-6, so please come along! Any questions, leave me a comment.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
David at the Venice Biennale
Now that the British Pavilion has run out of 'Pride of Sheffield' real ale, the Japanese pavilion has run out of its exquisite catalogues, and most of the original builders/occupants of the French Pavilion have packed their bags and left, it seems like a good time to ponder the highlights and low-points of this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.

I was there last weekend. I missed the Japanese catalogue, drank the last of Britain's real ale supply, and had dinner with the French. I imagine that the various pavilions and exhibitions are seen in a rather different light after the superstars and the press have decamped than how they are seen during the frenzy of the opening weekend: The AF/MoMa's 'venice super blog' http://www.venicesuperblog.net would have us believe that the festival of celebrating white-haired men and getting sloshed whilst talking in very serious tones about population destiny continues apace, but the truth is that the two sites, Arsenale and Giardini, have become quiet, contemplative places where it is possible to spend a whole afternoon in one of the more hidden away pavilions without any disturbance whatsoever. So- highlights...

I very much enjoyed the Cities, Architecture, Society exhibit in the Corderia, the centrepiece of the event directed by our very own Ricky Burdett. The popular argument (see Ellis Woodman in BD, for example) that this material would be better read in the sunshine in the pages of a book misses the point; I have both a professional and personal interest in the material presented there and even I would flinch at wading properly through a book filled with the hard data and assembled material shown. The exhibition has been designed to induce a sense of urgency and calm, perhaps best exemplified by the free Illy coffee stall halfway through, and once I had entered, I felt that I couldn't leave until I had done the material justice and drawn my own conclusions. It's a real injection in the arm of contemporary information, and I came away feeling informed and rejuvenated (after another coffee). I can't agree with another popular criticism, that the exhibition offers little critique of which of the cities presented are good or bad, either. What we are shown is facts, and context, in a 'state of the world' way which leads us to our own conclusions. Stimulating.

The Romanian Pavilion is exemplary in its absolute honesty about Romania's urban context. Attendees are invited to play a fun game (with big soft cubes on a grid) wherein they decide their lifestyle, home, and urbanism priorities, only to be handed a print out which states what 'a future Romania' would be if founded upon their chosen principles. Holistic and thought provoking. The Hungarian Pavilion offers a series of installations based around mass-produced chinese toys and artefacts, and forms a witty and playful critique of international trade, the migration of objects and materials. I'm not quite sure what I was supposed to conclude from it, however. The traditional Italian pavlion was this year packed to the roof with a variety of research projects from the likes of OMA/AMO, the RCA and MIT. The RCA's Babylon:don exhibit showed more technical, intellectual, and humane qualities than most, and as a result perhaps the most realistic, yet ambitious, presentation of any one city across the exhibition. The usual trappings of sex'n'politics'n'neon colours were here in full abundance but freed from the usual end-of-year show setting it was all rather refreshing. Meanwhile, the Spanish Pavilionpresented urban projects by, for, and used by women, accompanied by audiovisual recordings of women across the same spectrum. I imagine that this show was drowned out during the opening weekend but on a quiet Monday morning it seemed humble and genuine- and displayed some very pretty, if de-contextualised, models. Much has been written about the situationist/Paris '68 occupation of the French Pavilion so I'll just add that their wine supply was terrific, as were the quiches.

I came away feeling that the data is there for meaningful change, that no two countries can quite agree on a consensus of what to do with it, and that some are not that interested in the first place. Interesting times are on the way, and this year's Biennale gives a stimulating, though not always successful, overview on how the world might deal with them.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Housing in the Thames Gateway
The Housing Corporation has launched a new initiative for design quality in the Gateway by appointing Tim Williams (former adviser to Miliband and ex-chief exec of the LTGSP) to chair a commission. He's going to collaborate with CABE, local authorities and everyone else to provide a 'guide to the Corporation's expectations' of quality for homes they will fund.

This is linked to a fundamental review of the Corp's Scheme Development Standards, the space and design standards to which every HC-funded development must adhere and so this initiative may actually be pretty useful, coming a day after CABE said yet again that almost all new housing in this country is badly designed.

"By agreeing with providers and planners the expectations of the Housing Corporation upfront, we will ensure we get quality affordable housing across the board rather than the regular trickle of average schemes through section 106s that seek waivers from our standards."

Quite right too. But LAs might see this as threatening their capacity to meet high output targets for new housing in the growth area, by putting off developers. It will be interesting to see how stringent the Guide becomes.
Tall buildings in the City
My walk to work is really going to change over the next few years.

Allies and Morrison have released images of their new skyscraper for Great Portland Estates, which has just gone in for planning. It will be on Bishopsgate just south of Camomile St, replacing some existing stuff, and includes a nice corporate plaza which they claim will be an "active public realm".

And Hammerson are moving forward with Foster & Partners to develop yet more of the north side of the City, actually breaking the boundary by buying some land off cash-strapped Hackney to add to their Norton Folgate sites. They've stuck with Fosters (who designed their controversial Bishops Square development just down the road). Expect a 40 storey tower which, interestingly, will have not only offices, but a hotel and apartments on top. They've also got the Bishopsgate Goodsyard to come, to complete their monopoly over the northern City Fringe.
Olympics news
Phew! There's going to be a Waitrose in Statford City. Sighs of relief from estate agents all round. And a John Lewis too, so all those new residents can stock up on good quality basics for their flats without going to IKEA at Brent Cross. How convenient.

On to more serious news. The ODA has formally assumed its role as planning authority for the Olympic zone. But Newham has won the right to determine the first phase of Stratford City despite it being within the Olympic Park, and is still 'negotiating' with the ODA about the second phase. I saw some drawings the other day of the Park and it seems to have shrunk rather a lot from the glorious panoramas that we saw around the time of the bid.

There's been a huge furore over Eurostar's decision to massivly cut services that stop at Ashford in favour of Ebbsfleet, and also to not stop at Stratford when St Pancras becomes operational next year. I'll go more into detail in another post, but basically everyone's having kittens.

And finally...George Galloway has written to Ruth Kelly about a radioactive dump in West Ham that he's worried about. He reckons the Games may become known as the 'toxic Olympics', which has quite a ring about it but goes against the happy green vibe that the GLA-sponsored Future London exhibition (currently in Galloway's patch on Brick Lane) tries so hard to project. Sadly the exhibition is really terrible to the point of embarrassment - sheepish attendants trying to foist tasters of organic fruit on you and numerous reminders to turn off the taps while you brush your teeth, if you want to save the planet. And the final room is all about the 'green Olympics'. Hmm.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Annoying lack of posts
For some reason two long-ish draft posts got deleted by my system. Suffice to say I can't be bothered to research and write them again. Ephemera that was probably boring anyway.

Well, today's round-up contains:

Ruth Kelly has challenged developers to beat the standards of Scandinavian housing within the decade, with regard to energy efficiency and carbon neutrality. Well, maybe they'll beat the Scandis standards of today in ten years...but by that time the original energy-saving blondes will have moved onto houses that probably eat carbon for breakfast, rather than emitting any.

Is it groundhog day? CABE says that housebuilders are still failing on quality but get planning permission anyway. Apparently just six percent of new housing is 'good' or 'very good' under their measures and despite some design champions being appointed, they are "not being listened too", which comes as a shock. Meanwhile CABE itself has been missing targets: BD reports that it has not met 43% of its quantitative targets, which apparently are the fault of moving to new offices.

And according to a Knight Frank study for the British Property Federation and others, Gordon Brown's proposed planning gain supplement will raise less money that the s106 system unless it ran at over 30%. The study will be published next week. Personally I think the PGS is probably a good idea anyway, because developers won't be able to wriggle out of it and it won't be subject to the failure of local authorities to collect as it will be handled nationally. But I think s106 will still have to survive in some form to make up the balance. We'll see.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Back from holiday
I've been away for ten days to a place without email, where regeneration starts sounding like the silly word it really is and where the local village (of 60 people) has been trying to get a project to build a new shop off the ground for about a decade. Where the local post office is totally unsigned, and run out of a freezing room in a decaying stone mansion by the batty maiden survivor of the dynasty, alongside her dogs, rabbits and birds. Yet, because this is the British Isles, in the pub people discuss how they can get broadband, and the local smokehouse sells to Harrods. The face of rural Scotland.

There was only one really significant piece of 'real news' while I was away in what the Guardina calls the "booming Highlands". Us Londoners have a newly Ken-ized Overground rail service (why, oh why, not just call it a tube? it will run every 8 mins, just like the Circle line) which will actually help people in London get around. And I will be able to get from my flat to the Arsenal game with much less hassle (in five years time).

Other than that, lots of chatter on the newsfeeds about various wholly pointless initiatives and lots of money being spent on things that no-one outside the 'sector' is aware of. And which I will now continue to feed to your screens and pretend is extremely vitally important and meaningful. Damn holidays, giving one a sense of perspective...