Archive for the ‘2011’ Category

There are a number of historical social housing estates, built philanthropically that I have had the pleasure to visit, Lever’s (as in soap) Port Sunlight, Joseph Rowntree’s (as in sweets) New Earswick Estate in York and Bournville (as in chocolate) in Birmingham.

All are wonderfully liveable estates that have stood the test of time, been well maintained and are without doubt desirable.

They show how it is possible to do “social housing” and to avoid the pitfalls that result in vast sums being spent on regeneration. Housing providers and planners need to regularly visit these precedents to remind themselves to stop delivering the dross that has become commonplace over the past few decades.

It was heartening to hear that Kraft (the new American owners of Cadbury) have understood Cadbury’s heritage an decided to make its “global chocolate centre” at its historical home, Bournville.

Great decision and I am sure that the Cadbury employees are going to enjoy working in this environment that the founders of the brand left as a wonderful housing legacy…

For more information on Bournville click here
And here are some pics…


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See full article in The Independent here

Club culture in the UK is now a multi-million-pound industry, with the likes of once-underground club Ministry of Sound appearing all over our tellies selling the distinctly non underground Running Trax CDs to the fitness community, while DJs and dance producers who have grown out of a clubbing background contribute to the UK’s balance of payments by performing and producing internationally.

As we enter the final decade of the first 100 years of British club culture, I thought we should celebrate the contribution that this culture has made to our lives, at the Vintage at Southbank Centre festival at the end of this month, and attempt to assemble the most complete collection of seminal DJs ever. (more…)

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The Dutch and the Danish have “got it” for a long time. Urban areas that are pedestrian and cyclist friendly are happier, healthier, safer, cleaner places to live. But Britain with its powerful pro car lobby and with its sad addiction to bloomin Top Gear has been lagging behind. But we may be reaching the tipping point. Car use in Britain is on the decline and I have a hunch that it’s not just that cash is tight and folk are being careful. (more…)

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I realise that times have been and are still tough for most housebuilders and they have had to reign in and batten down the hatches (but they were hoisted by their own petard, see previous blogs), but they also seem to have put blinkers on and are burying themselves in the sand… a record number of sayings in one sentence here but they all do illustrate an industry that is shooting itself in the foot!

Britain is building the lowest number of homes since before the war; demand for new homes is at its highest since the war. Mortgages for first time buyers are difficult to say the least and some housebuilders are responding by building fewer homes for first time buyers and by building larger homes for those well established in the housing market.

Something has to give. I have a hunch that what will give is the desire from this and future generations to own a house (but maybe this will prevent more damaging, greed led, false economy, boom and busts in the housing market).

In Germany, which as we know has a much more stable economy than ours, and has a growing economy, home ownership is not a priority for most with only just over 40% owning. The rest rent from  a rental stock that on the whole is much  better maintained and presented than UK rental stock.  In the UK owner occupation has dropped in the past 5 years from over 70% to less than 68%.  A long way to go to reach German levels but with confidence in the housing market at a record low, with mortgages difficult to obtain, with unemployment fears and  with evidence that “having a good time” in terms of travel, eating and entertainment remains a priority and with housebuilders seemingly doing little to counter this trend we could well be in for a seismic shift in the industry.

The house building industry is going to need some wonderfully attractive product,  some clever ways of helping first time buyers and is going to need to be very smart indeed on all fronts if it is to not end up a shadow of its former self, and terminally so. They may come up with some novel financial model but few of them are capable of competing with Apple, Waitrose, Amazon and Last Minute for our money. Few of them understand design, few of them understand marketing. Few of them will ever recover from their current woes.

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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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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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