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Archive for March, 2011

The Government is currently doing “public consultation” on its proposed sell off of some publicly owned land. Ultimately it’s to save money as DEFRA (Dept for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs) has been tasked with cutting its budget significantly.

Polls are showing that 75% of us are against this and I am not going to echo all the well put arguments against that are in the public domain but I have got a couple of things to say.

There are disastrous precedents for selling off the nations “crown jewels”, the coastline being a prime example. I have lost count of the times when I am out running or cycling and have to take a detour inland because of a stretch of privatised coast. I abhor the fact that we can’t walk along the boundary of our country and it is taking the National Trust many millions of pounds and decades to buy our, and I stress our coastline back.

We don’t seem to learn. We are still in a financial hole caused by excessive and irresponsible mortgage lending that led to unsustainable over inflated house prices, a repeat of a “bubble” that had caused similar problems in the 80s. We all witness “planning creep”, whereby land that should never be built on gets change of use by stealth and sharp lawyers. We bemoan the loss of independent retailers and corner shops in our towns and cities, whilst allowing (and frequenting) the big chains to supplant them. Councils moan about the homogenisation of their town centres and loss of serendipity, yet it is often as a result of councils selling off property and land to pension funds who are one iota about contributing to “clone town Britain”.

In the long run any money saved now will quite likely be spent, and more, to buy back the woodlands as they are failed to be looked after. Britain has “previous”.

We are going to need laws and legal agreements more thorough than history often shows governments are capable of establishing if this isn’t going to end in another “weren’t we stupid”, in the way that weren’t we stupid to let Beecham close all those railways in the 60s.

Some things should be for the public good and our woodlands are one of those things.

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I SHOULD know: fashion can be a double-edged sword. Quite often, it is human nature not to appreciate something until it’s  almost too late or it’s gone. My mum wishes she’d said more nice stuff to my Nan before she died and there are  things you’d have loved to have done in life, but you didn’t. You do it with human beings and you also do it with possessions and with buildings.  Frequently, there’s a rush for newness, a thinking that a new way is  better.

So in the Sixties we had slum clearances that paved the way for concrete tower blocks that didn’t work. At the time, people thought it was  a brave new world, but actually it was about greed: knock down one house and  build three or four properties in its place. Although the experiment  failed, it was repeated in the Eighties and Nineties when policy makers and architects again thought any kind of high density housing was the only solution to an urban renaissance. The policy was exploited by  developers and abetted by banks and their ridiculous 125 per cent mortgages. The effect was an unsustainable housing bubble and that caused the mess we find ourselves in now. So in Liverpool and elsewhere, thanks to short-sighted and often stupid planning authorities, we  have perfectly lovely streets that are earmarked for demolition.

We’re in  danger of repeating past mistakes. Just about  everything, including the Welsh Streets where Ringo Starr was  born, and those noble streets around Anfield is  sustainably salvageable—particularly in this  economic climate when building new rarely makes money. It’s been absolutely proved that most people – young and old  – would prefer to live in a house than a flat. So in Liverpool, we have  houses on a street with an outside space: the basics of  liveability are in place. The historic system for salvaging these  properties was via the council, but because town halls no longer have money,  we need to look at alternatives.  We need mortgage companies to really  support housing renovation and for the government to back their efforts. My wife, Gerardine, and I wouldn’t be where we are now without the help we  received and the work we put into our first house in Wembley, north  London. We stretched ourselves and got on to the housing ladder. That was  back in 1982. That house was also a Victorian terrace and it was practically uninhabitable: it had had no Tender Loving Care since the turn of the  century. It didn’t have any lights, the roof was a disaster, it had no heating, the chimneys were all blocked off, there were no proper bathrooms,  the plumbing was a nightmare and the electrics were completely unsafe. But  when we bought it, Brent council was giving 90 per cent grants to do that work  to kick start these streets back to life. We  brought that house back to life. I go past it regularly and it is a thriving,  lovely little street. So it worked. It took us 18 months. We were just  normal young couple and there are tens of thousands of normal young couples now like we were then who are willing to put in the effort. They would do  exactly what we did if given the chance. But the problem is funding. We’re  not talking about vast sums though. Liverpool City Council says the houses in  the Welsh Streets are worth at most £50,000 and that it would cost another  £75,000 to renovate each one. I just don’t believe that. That might be what  someone is quoting the council, but doing it yourself with the right builder would cost a maximum of £35,000 in my view.

The irony is that banks would  lend a young couple £100,000 for a new flat, but not £50,000 for an old house and a further £35,000 for renovation. I understand why: there’s a risk the  couple would just pocket the £35,000. So what we need is draw-down  mortgages where banks release funds for each stage of repair. Yes, it would  be hard work for the banks, but it would be worth it. The same applies to  the young couple. Putting that effort into your own home is part of  learning to grow up and settle down in life. Most couples would jump at the  chance of giving up a couple of nights out a week  to work hard on getting a good home. Not only would it bring streets back  to life, it would also create communities. Investing sweat into your home is a  shared experience; you make friends and you help each other out. When you  put that much into something, its human nature to love it  and cherish it. What’s more, it creates bonds and longevity in a  relationship. I know it cemented mine. It all sounds Utopian, but it’s not  impossible.

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We get some uplifting letters and this was one is worth sharing. Many of us like the idea of building homes, many of us like the idea of building low energy homes, not enough of us are brave enough to have a go, this guy was very brave.

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As my kids have grown into adults and I have seen them and their friends mix and matching clothes from previous decade , have seen them “borrow” from Gerardine and my wardrobes and have seen them and their contemporaries re edit great dance tracks from before they were born, I realise more and more the value in vintage and the how “looking back to look forward” is a progressive way of making sure that great music, fashion, design and culture never dies, stays available for future generations and is re-evaluated like all great things should be.

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In January 2011 we entered the next stage of community consultation with the Hillington Square project.

Hillington Square was built in the late 60s and was formerly owned by King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Council. The design of the square was seen as revolutionary when it was built with its ideals of communal living spaces. There are a lot of places like this around the UK where supposedly somebody came up with good ideas in the 60s and the 70s and got it wrong. At the time I think residents were quite happy because old so called  “slum streets” were knocked down – streets of houses that had outdoor loos, no kitchens and probably some of them didn’t have running water – and so it was seen as an advancement.

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There has been a lot written by architecture critics recently about there being too much bog standard, generic public buildings being built. At the same time there are calls from within public service and from outside for good design and thoughtful, intelligent, forward thinking and creative designers to be recruited to help design a better public service and better public service buildings and infrastructure. I wholeheartedly support these calls and know that if the creative community were allowed to be let loose on a public service that in many cases need some creative TLC that we would all be better off. However there are barriers in the way, that make it impossible for small and most medium size creative companies to win work with the public service. I know from bitter experience that when we receive a bid document from most parts of the public service our hearts sink. There are so many pointless hoops to jump through, so many irrelevant British Standards and qualifications that bidders need. If we spent time jumping through all the hoops we wouldn’t have time to design and earn a living. And don’t get me started on the OJEU and OJEC procurement process! (more…)

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I hadn’t been to the Anfield area of Liverpool for a while and this week had a look round and left in a state of shock, anger but also with a mid racing of what can be. Anfield is, or in some cases now, was an area of proud looking solid mid 19th century houses build for merchants and traders.

Like a number of areas of old housing that had low values in that daft and damaging time of pre downturn housing boom, Anfield,was declared a Pathfinder area   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housing_Market_Renewal_Initiative

What a bloody travesty this happened.

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