Sunday, 17 January 2016

TRUTH AND BEAUTY: but not as you know it

Haywain, museum piece
Despite the threat of world economic crisis, property investment is still deemed to be safe here in Kensington and Chelsea, and there are many residential development projects still in the pipeline.

Athlone Gardens was a pretty park, this is its bleak future
Many residents - whether they are home-owners, mansion flat dwellers, private renters, social tenants, or indeed business people from outside the borough - know these huge developments are not for their benefit and may instead damage their neighbourhoods, forever.

So, the prospect is bleak. But the spin is sublime.

Click to read how to con residents
The language used by the developers’ highly specialised highly paid planning consultants is carefully and expensively honed. And if you decide you do not wish to embrace this development in your neighbourhood, equally expensively honed language will be used to undermine side-line or stigmatise you, your campaign, your followers and your views. They may tell others that you are unstable, unrepresentative, don’t live near enough to have an opinion – there must be a list somewhere as they all use similar tactics.

Whatever your economic status or position, if you feel inclined to trust the developer, if their planning consultants are the most engaging and friendly people on earth – don’t.

Many will say anything to persuade you to support their development. They’ve done courses, see above.

The proliferation of bland, sub-standard, bricky, blocky, lowest-common-denominator pseudo-K&C architecture being spewed out around the borough is breath-taking and testament to the planning consultants’ expertise.

We are decidedly NOT ‘renewing the legacy’. Like Chinese whispers, new proposals repeat one just completed - with reconstituted stone base cladding, bricky fa├žade with ‘stone’ window surrounds, ‘stone’ cornice and attic storey (and possibly another one on top). The archetype may have been ok, but as ‘successful’ applications repeat the style, the format becomes degraded.

Designing new developments with deliberate irregularity does not create an interesting town or cityscape that mimics evolution or history, or indeed anything of any integrity. Instead it creates a cloying uniformity that erases history and makes a mockery of architectural history and diversity.

Charles Windsor's Toy Town, Poundbury
It is pastiche. You cannot recreate authenticity.

But people, beware! They are calling this ‘Truth and Beauty’. You’ll see.

We are or are planning to lay waste, in RBKC as elsewhere, to swathes of inhabited and beautifully patinated neighbourhoods housing actual living beings and communities. Some of these are social housing estates, but 19th century schools and other public buildings are also under threat. Demolishing venerable old buildings that need a little love and care and reconfiguration, after years of deliberate managed decline, with yet another bricky blocky and banal lump of construction materials, makes no sense long-term. Sutton Estate in Chelsea comes to mind, but there are also innumerable post-war estates all over London, beautifully designed but poorly managed, that are at risk.

In their place we may end up producing set-aside property supported by a twisted tax system that benefits virtually everyone not intending to live here. We have become the safety deposit box and money laundry for every corrupt regime and tax-avoider world-wide.

And here, in Golborne ward, still the joint poorest ward in London with one in Haringey, and where health in one area is actually worsening, we have this:

Oh so alluring; the final insult in Golborne Ward
As the scaffolding comes down on ‘The Ladbroke’, at the north end of Ladbroke Grove, a new luxury apartment development is revealed in all its glory.

Splendid architecture and well-crafted brick detailing (if you like the bricky blocky thing) is focussed around a four-storey atrium with full-height light sculpture leading to an attractive courtyard garden. The 93 market flats cost around £1m for two-bedrooms, all very high spec. It was first launched at the Westin Hotel, Kuala Lumpur to the super-rich Malaysian market:

The W10 and W11 areas have become synonymous with celebrity homes, fashionable brands and trendy restaurants. The entire area has become the epitome of urban living. This cosmopolitan community is serviced by an excellent transport infrastructure.’

Across the road, social tenants who comprise 75% of Golborne ward have watched with dread as limos have drawn up, the driver emerges with umbrella, and the back seat occupant is escorted, one bodyguard each side, into the exquisite glass-fronted sales office.

That’s for private flats.

Steps to 'affordable' housing
 Down some steep and grotty steps, round the back by the car park entrance and the rather unloved end of Southern Row with its Council blocks, is what looks like a tradesman’s entrance.

Tradesman's entrance/poor door
This is the entrance to the ‘affordable’  housing.

Poor doors.

Kensal Town, North Kensington, where The Ladbroke has landed, has more than its fair share of problems. The neighbourhood lies just north of the mainline tracks, and is forced to breathe its toxic diesel discharge. The lower super-output area (cc500 households) around Southern Row is very deprived. There are good, honest, decent, hard-working people living there, but here are some very sorry stats:

-      General health is a disgraceful 12pts below K and C average, and 2pts below English average, with incapacity benefit double that of K&C

-      Only 36% are full-time employed, 6% unemployed (average for K and C), but 30% get in-work benefits, evidence of the part-time work and low rates of pay they are forced to accept

-      People working at senior management/director level comprise 9%, compared to 23% K&C average; this is lower than the English average

-      23% have no formal qualifications whatever, and reading and writing skills are below English average

-      Deprivation index is second worst for income and employment, crime and living environment, lowest third for health and education, and barriers to housing are the worst in England.

The irony is that the ‘affordable’ housing component of The Ladbroke (called Grand Union so it doesn’t sound too posh), which is to be managed by Affinity Sutton, is far from affordable to the majority of residents in North Kensington.

There are 22 shared ownership flats, but to buy a quarter share of a one-bedroom flat worth £497,500, they recommend a minimum income of £43,000 – double that of the mean average in the whole of North Ken which includes streets of large family houses beloved of the upper echelons of the current government. You would then need legal costs of cc£4,000, a deposit of cc£6,000, your mortgage would cost cc£776pcm, service charge from £150pcm and Council Tax £108pcm – that’s a total of £10,000 upfront then £16,000 housing costs a year.

That’s a good 50% of net income for someone earning £43,000pa before they buy a bag of lentils and tinned tomatoes or even consider energy bills or transport costs to get to work.

So, NOT affordable then.

Those who are eligible to buy shared ownership, who must live in Kensington and Chelsea and earn over £43,000, may be a little miffed to discover that they will be sent round the back to the Tradesman’s Entrance, have no access to the courtyard, that it is permit free (ie they can’t get a Residents’ Parking badge) and a parking space would cost them £45,000, which is pretty useless for say a junior doctor or indeed anyone working shifts.

£43,000, ‘the new poor’ in the poorest ward.

This really is the final insult.

'Truth and Beauty' at Wornington Green
And what about the 18 social rented flats? Affinity Sutton haven’t publicised this yet, but if a nearby comparison is helpful, social rent for the new flats at Wornington Green, just over the railway, may give some clues.

Despite Catalyst Housing’s pledge that new homes would be charged ‘at the same rent level’ this is far from the reality. Like for like for a one bedroom flat including rent, service charge and Council Tax, in total is up from £6,966 to £10,410. Given the average income of social tenants is £18,000, which amounts to around 65% of net income paid for housing, this is hardly ‘affordable’ either. As local shops selling food they can afford are squeezed out by rent rises, the daily insults to the local community pile up.

And all in the name of Truth and Beauty - coming to a Council estate near you.

The facts and figures I have are being compiled into a small booklet as open data. Watch this space.

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