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Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Breaking: supercasino for Manchester
That was a curveball - with everyone putting bets on Blackpool or London (at the Dome), Manchester took everyone by surprise. Apparently Howard Bernstein was just too convincing. Greenwich’s bid partner was Anschutz Entertainment Group, owned by US billionaire and Prescott-schmoozing Philip Anchutz, who said in advance that it would take legal action against the government if it lost the bid. Blackpool will also fight on, reports said.

The winning bid group said it would regenerate a poor area of east Manchester, promising a £265m investment and 2,700 direct and indirect jobs. The casino would be based at Sportcity in the Beswick area of Manchester, close to the City of Manchester Stadium.

The Casino Advisory Panel recommended that large casinos should be licensed at Great Yarmouth, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Newham, Solihull and Southampton. Small casinos are to be located in the following areas: Bath and North East Somerset; Dumfries and Galloway; East Lindsey; Luton, Scarborough; Swansea, Torbay and Wolverhampton.
WorldChanging posts
I have a couple of new things on WC - belated, I know.

Here is the write-up of when I met Mark Shorrock, CEO of the Low Carbon Accelerator investment fund. I have to say I found his energy totally inspiring and had a bit of a reality distortion field moment. Luckily it's worn off and I can be a bit more measured!

And here's a quick piece on Zedfactory's Jubilee Wharf in Cornwall - an example of what every town probably needs.
Monday, January 29, 2007
In brief: greenwash doesn't work, tall buildings, EP investment, expo, DfL
Hmm. the much-vaunted wind turbines on top of Palestra (now home to the LDA and TfL) have gone missing, actually removed at the manufacturer's request after a fault was found with a turbine elsewhere.

CABE and English Heritage have launched their draft tall buildings strategy.

EP reckons it could raise £10bn from institutional City investors once it merges with the Housing Corp. Nick Ebbs, director of the regeneration investment fund Blueprint, said there was a large appetite in the City for housing and regeneration investment. “The Treasury has come to the conclusion that there’s a huge weight of money that wants to find ways of investing in property. It’s the way forward."

Newcastle wants to host one of those very C20 events, a housing expo. Get ready for a retro-fest.

And Peter Bishop, new head of Design for London, gave an interview where he unsurprisingly said that he was going to take a fresh look at all the programmes that the AUU has been running. Because BD doesn't have anything better to do, it decided to headline the article with "100 public spaces halved" when of course, he only suggested that a few might get scrapped...

...while his boss Ken is living it up in Davos and even getting into this blogging malarkey. At least, if you call Comment is Free a blog, which I have my doubts about.
Zero-carbon and the end of freehold?
This is an interesting one: it is suggested that the need to develop local renewable energy networks and to ensure that householders use them may spell the end of freeholds, as only a clause in a lease may be enough to prevent owners from switching to non-renewable energy. Brian Mark, director of Fulcrum Consulting, said the onus on housebuilders was to ensure that electricity came from renewable sources to meet the zero carbon homes target by 2016. “Developers will have to set up their own distribution networks to bring electricity from renewable sources into the project, but EU energy rules dictate that once a system is set up, the owner is obliged to offer its use to other suppliers. This means that any electricity supplier could use the network to supply residents on the zero carbon development with non-renewable electricity.”

However, this would only apply to electric energy, not heat if that was supplied via district heating which is a closed-loop system. I think there may be other ways round this but it will be interesting to see how this works at, for instance, Elephant and Castle where they are setting up a local utilities company.
Green Belt, planning and how crazy the Policy Exchange can really get
The Policy Exchange's recent paper [pdf], show their pronouncements have gone from a bit over-zealous to just plain mad. If it was the Onion, or Private Eye, I might accept their latest 'findings' as good satire: "the planning system" is apparently to blame for everything from being muscled off your restaurant table for a second sitting to the loss of manufacturing jobs to interest rate rises to lack of consumer choice. No, seriously. And in conclusion, get rid of the green belt, decide big things by acts of Parliament and small things by incentivising local communities to say yes through glorified bribery, and introduce zones where only outline permission would be required.

I don't want to go into all the detail of why this paper has got it so wrong - I'll leave that to the RTPI instead. The trouble is, I don't believe in the green belt much either, and I'm all in favour of ecological low-density rural development. But I do care about quality - quality of the built and natural environment, and I'm not at all convinced that the 'optimism' that the authors purport to hold will really deliver more integrated communities, with more cycle paths, or public spaces, or shops that might serve local needs. Our planning system is still a lugubrious behemoth, with many badly-trained and often petty-minded people, but actually, slowly it might be getting better. Environmental impact assessments, compulsory design statements, green travel plans, affordable housing policy, public realm guidance; these things are actually about improving quality of life and the environment, not just hurdles for developers to waste money on.

The authors write "The system is seen as overly concerned with matters of detail, to the extent that the discussion of detail of the operation of the planning system, as well as of matters of principle, results in delay." Well, detail is what makes a Barratt home uglier than the Georgian one that it apes. And after all, this is our built environment - something that no-one can avoid, that affects every citizen of this country. Design - of buildings and public spaces - is important, and while there certainly is no accounting for taste, creativity, genuine public engagement and a real effort to understand local identity can go a long way to ensuring that our places continue to be inclusive, and to have a sense of place and community.

I also loathe the delays that mean a simple, well-designed application sits in planning for weeks while officers come up with lame excuses, but there are cases of exemplary partnership, when developers decide to work with, rather than against, the public authority, and get things through quicker. And that's the main problem with this donkey of an argument: it reverts to the old stereotype of developer and LA in eternal conflict, circling each other and trying to get away with as much as possible in an absurd game of bluff. The simple fact is that nothing ever gets done well through this kind of antagonism; a few good developers (and good LAs) are starting to understand the virtues of dialogue and quality, and if the bad continue to landbank and moan about the planning system; well, they could easily save themselves time and money by chucking out some of their dinosaur long-lunchers and entering the 21st century.

Planning should be strategic, locally responsive and democratic; all things that this report claims to have the answers to. But this wolf in sheeps clothing dismisses the possibility of bad design, the potential that a community might rather have a green field than half a million quid, the need for long-term vision, the requirement to maintain a balance of work, homes and play in every community in order to achieve any measure of sustainability. It makes me sad that they even get airtime, though it seems this time they've gone too far even for the Tories, who hurriedly came out defending the green belt and claiming that it was under threat from Gordon Brown and big business. Politics, as usual.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
A bit late, but better than never...
I'm just discovered that my previously failsafe blogging software has in fact not been posting stuff up for the last week. Hence a spate of posts. This is just a round-up of various small ut

In a situation that would never have happened a decade ago before density became an excuse for developers to up their profits, CABE has warned BDP that it risks repeating the mistakes of the past unless it revises its plans for a huge residential-led project in the Lee Valley, north-east London. The scheme for developer Lee Valley Estates, which CABE has now seen twice, would create around 1,250 new homes, student housing, offices, a hotel, shops, a health centre, a crèche, and a new primary school. The developer wants to cash in on the nearby tube, bus and rail links by building a high-density development. CABE is not convinced that the plot is suitable for such a large scheme.

The Twentieth Century Society has launched a survey of 1970s buildings to reveal those from the era that should be listed. Buildings cannot be listed unless they are older than 30 years – a rule that has opened up 1970s architecture for consideration. The first of the iconic buildings likely to find itself on the statutory protected list is Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s Building in London.

The zero carbon taskforce steering group has apparently been agreed, and it is to include Yvette Cooper, Stuart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, Paul King, director of campaigns at the WWF, John Callcutt, who is heading the government’s housing sustainability taskforce, Michael Ankers, chief executive of the Construction Projects Association, and a local government official.

Barking Riverside announced it will hold a competition for housing design team which will result in the appointment of a design team not in the selection of specific designs — will be advertised in the next few weeks.
In brief: 2012 blogging, and other headlines
The Grand Olympic Project now has a "behind-the-scenes" blog, which last week even featured the on-site chaplain writing about his role.

It seems that 'locals' just love Gehry's controversial new scheme for Hove, after a poll by "independent research group ICM" but commissioned by the developers Karis found that for every opponent in their 1000-strong sample, there were three supporters.

After the government announced a competition for a new embassy in Tblisi, Georgia, here comes another one - well, a high commission anyway, and for Abuja, capital of Nigeria. It's on OJEU at www.ted.europa.eu, reference: OJEU 2007/S 14-016171.

And lastly, rare mushrooms have stopped development near Cardiff. No, not those ones, whoever's sniggering at the back...
Greening the Olympics?
The Olympic Delivery Authority last week unveiled its plans to stage the ‘greenest’ Olympics to date, with conveniently 2,012 days to go until the London 2012 Games. It is launching the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, which will ‘monitor and verify’ London’s pledge to host the ‘most sustainable games ever’, was also unveiled. It will be chaired by sustainable business expert Shaun McCarthy.

But it has not been without the inevitable accusations of greenwash. In a late surge of enthusiasm, Jack Pringle (RIBA president) has castigated them for not going far enough, with a few dodgy sporting metaphors.

Pringle said: ‘The ODA should be going for gold with its green targets for the Olympic Village. This is a perfect opportunity to provide the most environmentally friendly homes possible, and show what Britain is capable of.

‘Instead, the government and the ODA have been lapped by their own targets. They’re not even in the race.’ The ODA sustainability strategy states that the Olympic Village will be 25 per cent more energy efficient than buildings built today. However, Pringle points out that the government is aiming to meet that target by 2010, while at any rate, the government is proposing that all new homes be 44 per cent more energy efficient by 2013, and carbon neutral by 2016.

The ODA claims that 20 per cent of the energy needed will be generated by on-site renewable sources; already the minimum that will probably come in to the London Plan amendments this year.

Meanwhile the parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport select committee today said that the Treasury “could and should” have publicised its concerns about potential cost overruns before the original London bid was submitted.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Olympics Village fails carbon target
None of the flats and houses in Stratford City will meet the government’s proposed upper standards for sustainable homes.
Westfield’s planning application last week makes it clear that the project will fall short of the government’s carbon reduction targets within six months of its completion. The present designs for Stratford City will meet the 25% reduction standard in 2012, when the Games are held, but within months will fall nearly 20% behind targets that have been put in place to meet total carbon-neutrality by 2016.

Westfield had previously pledged to unveil stringent environmental targets in the strategy in order to counter criticism of its low renewable energy target on the development. A spokesperson for Westfield said: “We are building to current Part L standards and to what the planning application requires.”

Private schemes are not obliged to meet the carbon reduction targets. However, Tessa Jowell has said that greater public funding for the Olympic village needs to be secured. If this is the case, and if the Code for Sustainable Homes is introduced, Stratford City may have to meet its requirements.

The green credentials of the Games were placed in further doubt this week after London assembly members wrote to the ODA to criticise its sustainability performance. It said: “The contract on the athletes’ village requires 2% of energy to be locally sourced renewable energy, as opposed to the energy self-sufficiency that was set out in the bid document."
Friday, January 19, 2007
Croydon: the next battle
Well: it was always going to happen: after issuing high court proceedings and many other political machinations, Croydon Council have gone nuclear and issued a CPO for the Stanhope/Schroders land at Croydon Gateway so they can keep their strange 20 year dream alive, of building an arena with their development partner Arrowcroft.

This saga has been one of the strangest and longest running in the capital. Croydon own none of the land: but have signed up with Arrowcroft and committed to the arena scheme a long time ago. They've awarded themselves planning permission, rejected Stanhope's scheme, seen the latter pushed through by an inquiry and central government, etc, etc. The strangest move was that recently, Croydon pulled the plug on their funding for the leading fringe Warehouse Theatre on the site: allegedly politically motivated, because it is written into Stanhope's redevelopment plans but incompatible with the arena scheme.

William Hill, Head of Property at Schroders said “I do not know whether to laugh or cry. This must be a first. A CPO brought by a Council to stop the immediate regeneration of derelict land by a willing, able and fully funded developer with construction scheduled to start in a matter of weeks.” David Camp, chief executive of Stanhope, said that the CPO would at least put the Arrowcroft arena proposals under the spotlight. “As baffling as this all may seem, the benefit of the CPO starting is at long last the Arrowcroft arena proposals will be subject to some impartial and proper scrutiny.”

“Over five years on from the submission of the arena scheme for planning we still do not know who the arena operator is, where the funding for the scheme is coming from and the basis of the viability assessment carried out."
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
In brief: Athletics, takeovers, oak and Cornish ZED
On the site of the ill-fated Picketts' Lock scheme, the £16m Lee Valley Athletics Centre has finally opened.

Crest Nicholson is recommending to its shareholders the takeover bid from Castle Bidco of £713m.

Apparently Grand Designs is to blame for an oak shortage in Britain, as now everyone wants timber-framed houses and wooden floors. We're having to import it from the dreaded Continent.

Comment on Bill Dunster's latest development in Cornwall.
Finally: Communities England takes a step
DCLG made an announcement.

"The proposed agency - Communities England - will bring together the functions of English Partnerships, the Housing Corporation, and a range of work carried out by the Department, including delivery in the areas of decent homes, housing market renewal, housing PFI, housing growth and urban regeneration."

It will have around £4bn to spend per annum.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Tesco builds homes for staff
This really brings a new meaning to 'living above the shop'.

Tesco has long been building housing above its big-box stores in London, and had been building affordable housing too, as required by the Mayor. But now it's going a step further and allocating some of the flats above its new store in Streatham to its staff.

Tesco has historically been under-represented in London and the move to create for homes for its staff is part of the strategy to counter this. Tesco hope the scheme will be "beneficial for staff retention" in London, where they suffer from a fast turnover of workers. It is certainly interesting that they feel the need to trial this approach. Are their staff really leaving them because they can't find an affordable house to live in? I presume it will be only management-level staff who get to live in these flats, as those are they only ones Tesco will be keen to retain.

The flats will be sold to a housing association and staff will not be treated differently to other tenants, retaining the right to stay in the property even if they stop working for the supermarket. However, if flats become vacant, staff will be offered them first.
In brief: Communities England, London bits, CABE row.
This week we finally expect the launch of the EP/Housing Corp merged body, likely to be named Communities England. Decent Guardian comment here.

Last week Arup finally submitted their planning application for Stratford City.

Inner Court, Joseph Rykwert's last remaining building in the UK, is being threatened with demolition - to make way for a development designed by Norman Foster. The luxury development of 22 flats would replace the modernist housing.

The mega-practice Gensler has accused CABE of not being able to understand its designs - in a row over its proposals for the Blackpool supercasino.

Kensington and Chelsea is set to rethink its controversial 'locals only' policy towards new houses in the borough, after the 'local homes only option' only garnered 24% support in a recent consultation. They recently proposed that all new dewllings could only be inhabited by people who already live in the borough, or who have a connection to it.
Housebuilders' zero-carbon challenge
Last week a well-publicised 'summit' took place between the Home Builders Federation and Yvette Cooper to discuss how housebuilders will meet her demands for all housebuilding becoming zero-carbon within ten years. The housebuilders big demand was for action to develop local energy markets. These would involve local renewable sources, the management of local plants and their regulation.

I think they are actually entirely right. As anyone who has tried to meet even the current 10% on-site renewables demand in London will know, dealing with renewable energy on a site-by-site basis is virtually impossible for small urban sites. On the other hand, the kind of radical thinking that Southwark is demonstrating with its creation of a Multi-Utility Service Company for Elephant and Castle, seems to be the way to get the cost down and provide the infrastructure needed for mass-market zero-carbon homes that even the small local developers can plug into.

And just to up the ante, the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, has said the government needs to set tougher targets for green homes, bringing forward the deadline for carbon-neutral housing to 2012. Let's just say that sounds ambitious, to say the least, but it's always good to see someone pushing in that direction.
Monday, January 08, 2007
In brief: Canning Town, BSF, Ken, competitions
Erick van Egeraat has won the masterplanning job for Canning Town Centre. I worked on stuff there for the UDC a while back, and I have to say I am a bit disappointed by the choice. Not that I would have rather EDAW et al got the job, but the perma-tanned E is - well - a bit too flash.

Surprise, surprise, BSF is behind schedule.

Ken is using his powers to stop Tory-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham approving a scheme without sufficient affordable housing. In a typically good bit of rhetoric, he said "This Christmas H&F has had more than 2,000 homeless families living in temporary accommodation, yet it has decided to cut back on...homes for these families. Hammersmith's actions have the stench of Shirley Porter's regime at Westminster Council in the 1980s." Lovely local journalism about this here.

And in a spate of competitions for the new year, there's one for a new British Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, and the one I want to do - new homes for Letchworth Garden City.
Floodplain ideas
The government has announced funding for Barker and Coutts Architects' [who?] schemes for floodplain housing after having seen what they've been up to as part of their LiFE project. This project has apparently been done with BRE, English Partnerships, LDA Design, Fulcrum Consulting, HR Wallingford and Cyrill Sweett to "devise and disseminate a set of principles for an integrated approach to planning and design that can be replicated in a range of conditions around the UK and are potentially transferable to other parts of the world." I have to admit that this is the first I've heard about this project (although it was featured in one of the RIBA's exhibitions last year). The designs aren't particularly my style, but the ideas are certainly interesting.

This scheme will be one of six pilots as part of the Making Space for Water Innovation Fund - others include farming on floodplains and how woodlands can help soak up floodwaters.
Yvette Cooper: 'We need to build differently' and other green things
Well no sweat. (Sorry for the needless sarcasm.) Cooper came out talking the other day about her mission to get us to zero-carbon housing in ten years and how that means we need to do things differently.

"Whether it be turf on the roof, wind turbines in the garden, heat pumps below the basement or micro boilers, the homes of the future will need to be powered in a completely different way." Well, I'm not sure how green roofs help generate electricity, but anyway, we'll let that one slip for now.

Meanwhile Ken has commissioned Arup to produce a report on how planning in the capital should respond to the accelerating threat of global warming. The study will range from domestic generation all the way up to city-wide planning strategy and look at the feasibility of introducing various new policies into the London Plan revisions due out later this year. Should be interesting, as Ken tried to put his 'exemplar climate-change city' pledge into action.
Happy New Year
OK. It's been a long time since I posted. Apologies. But I just went back to working freelance in December and have been trying to figure out whether and/or how I might want to adapt my blogging life. I decided I wanted a bit more flexibility, to collaborate with new people and to be able to branch out a bit more (not to mention, a little time for my personal projects, writing, etc).

I'm already surprisingly busy with new projects, but if anyone has any interesting work out there, let me know! I'm also slowly revamping my personal website so take a look and see what you think.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go back to logging stuff I read and that interests me here, as much to continue compiling my own resource as for y'all. But keep reading, I like having the company!