Monday, February 20, 2017

Sprawl


From The Guardian article 

The post World War Two planning acts were inspired by walkers. Beveridge, founder of the National Insurance, and the aristocratic socialists, the Trevelyans (joined by others such as author and Irish Independence fighter Erskine Childers) went out of London pre World War One to 'walk and talk' around the nearest countryside at hand. Between them they founded the Welfare State in principal. A feature of this concept were arts and leisure. The 19th century 'Satanic Mills' that crushed impoverished people in slums were on their minds as much as employment, health and education. They shaped the way Britain's society thought and acted up to 1979 and the Thatcher Revolution.

Sprawl was the besetting sin of Britain's unregulated house building. These environmental concerns were shared by many outside the circle of well placed people out on jaunt. They crop up in George Orwell's novel Coming Up For Air (1939). Housing was creeping out over the green fields of England particularly without any care for either common standards, suitability or amenity. The post war 1945 re-construction was planned; new housing based on existing patterns of living, with bomb sites in cities cleared and new forms (as far as Britain knew) of architecture rising up. Alongside these initiatives the legacy of the walkers was to be found in the famous Green Belt legislation protecting access to open lanscapes. Our great cities and towns had to provide green spaces for recreation, seen as crucial for physical and mental well being.

Today all the Green Belts are under pressure and some have already been 're-developed' as pressure for new housing grows year on year (ignoring the hundreds of thousands of empty properties around the country and brownfield within easy reach of populations). Now the quality of such quick money schemes is coming into focus. Many of the mass housing builders have a poor record when it comes to quality, with often more thought spent on superficial details than solidity; the timber frame and plastic decoration approach. This is piling up problems for the future.

A report in today's Guardian highlights these building issues with Bovis in the middle of a developing scandal (where are the building inspectors or were they done away with?); but in truth, other big names keep coming up in connection to shoddy work and quick profits, much of which stems from the premium that can be added to the selling price when selling houses built in 'leafy locations'.

The article in full here.

Some of the comments below the article are worth quoting:

"I used to work for one of the biggest housebuilders in the UK and there is absolutely no chance that I would ever buy a new build from any of the main players. A small, local builder, maybe, but Bovis, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, Barratt, Bellway etc - no chance."

The same commenter replies to a request for detail to support her (his, their) claims with this:

"Because they are all about volume and speed. They're usually predominantly timber framed, dry lined wooden boxes. I don't believe they'll stand the test of time. They bang them up as quickly as possible and the perception is that there's more money in doing that and sorting out the inevitable snagging problems later than there is in taking the time to do it properly in the first place.
The rooms are too small - did you know they use furniture that is smaller than standard in the show homes to give the illusion of space? When you put your own double bed in the biggest bedroom there'll barely be room to walk round it. Land is a valuable asset so your garden will barely be big enough for a swingball. There are also now stories about homes being sold leasehold with the freeholds being sold on to third parties and not made available to the homeowners so that remortgaging or selling after a few years requires a new lease which the freeholders can charge a mint for."

I once met a professional photographer who told me he had just been out on an assignment for a new build project providing shots of furnished interiors for the sales brochure. He had had to use wide angles lenses to make the rooms seem much larger. He also told me (confirmed years after by another friend) that the furniture was specially designed to be assembled indoors because it would be impossible to buy furniture and get it delivered through the narrow doors or up tight staircases. These were not cheap houses either.

This is a very bad way to go about building homes for living. We have been here before and the outcomes were bad news, but I suspect we are staying this time.
 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ghetto. It's 'official'

Some years ago – well before the current 'gold rush' of student developments swept over this part of Newcastle, a correspondent criticised my use of the word 'ghetto' in connection with student housing. I took the point, and the negatives are all there to be fair.

What concerned me was the effect of this 'zoning' on visual variety social diversity and interaction. When anywhere becomes so exclusive to a single limited purpose it loses a great deal. Zoning was popular with town planners fifty years ago. Living here within this zone or circle on a map; then shopping here in another circle drawn on a map; and an industrial zone. The results were dire, the worst example of all time being Milton Keynes.

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle has tripped over the 'g' word now and obvious discontent with what looks like a jerry built environment running like a rash over Shieldfield has made it into the local press. Read here. (Page has pop ups and advertising. Be warned.)

I heard the 'castle' building on Shieldfield Lane, one of the last quirky bits left has been bought and is going to come down. This will replace it:


 Flair much? Budget hotel? Students must be really dull people; or least finance companies and Uni's p.l.c. must think so. Having seen a couple of Vice Chancellors close up (not so close I was worried for my wallet) I would plumb for the latter explanation.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What did I just say?

Two posts in one day! But this is apposite to the last. More updates on attempts to concrete over the Green Belt from the ever hopeful and hard working Rachel Locke and John Urquhart of Save Newcastle Wildlife

By e-mail:

"Dear all,

The door of the New Year is still ajar, so there is still time to wish you a Happy New Year – Chinese style! – and to enlist your support in protecting green space in and around Newcastle.

Ponteland

Ponteland is currently besieged by planning applications set to further erode the green belt.

The Banks Group has its sights set on churning up more green belt with 400 houses by Rotary Way (16/04408/OUT), while Lugano’s plans for a 2,000 house ‘Dissington Garden Village’, north west of Darras Hall (16/04672/OUTES), is still being considered, despite Northumberland County Council’s failed submission to central government for backing for this proposal. Only 14 Garden Villages were announced by the government and Dissington Garden Village was NOT one of them.

Northumberland County Council has not yet finalised its local plan, which is due for public examination in Summer. To allow these applications to proceed before a consistent plan is approved would be premature and would result in disproportionate loss of green belt.  

Both applications have attracted hundreds of objections already.

To object to the Banks application please register here to make a comment: http://ow.ly/qnKw308tSSW

To object to the Lugano application please register here to make a comment: http://ow.ly/HIQ3308tTw7

Alternatively you can object to both applications by emailing planningcomments@northumberland.gov.uk quoting the individual planning references on each email. 

Save Our Green

The Save Our Green group is urging people to support the campaign against building on the last green space on the Montagu Estate, in Kenton.

The planning committee will meet this Thursday, 2nd February, at 9.30am in Newcastle Civic Centre, where the application (2016/1703/01/DET) will be considered. Please attend if you can.

If you can’t make the meeting, it looks like you can still object to the application here http://ow.ly/y7gR308tVrh

Havannah Nature Reserve

We are still awaiting the planning application for Cell A, adjacent to Havannah Nature Reserve, which could see 1,200 houses, some of them just 30 metres from the reserve. We were advised the application would be submitted before Christmas and then that it would be in last week, so it must be due imminently. In the meantime, we are still encouraging people to sign the Don’t Hem in Havannah petition http://ow.ly/2TUF308tVOg

Gosforth Park Nature Reserve

We are still awaiting confirmation as to when the Persimmon application for 238 houses opposite Gosforth Park Nature Reserve (16/01304/FUL) will go before committee. It would appear that North Tyneside Council is still resolving some issues with this application. You can still comment on the application here http://ow.ly/cej8308u0hW

Thanks you for your continuing support.

 Best wishes,

Rachel Locke & John Urquhart

Save Newcastle Wildlife 

The Housing Crisis (contd.)

Much to think about in this article in today's Guardian newspaper. It must be said that the author's  point about a shortage of brownfield sites applies to the south east of England. But the point he makes about the kind of new housing that developers prefer is wasteful of land is helpful.

Read the article here.

I have seen schemes in the near Continent that provide well designed high density housing that are a new look at an old idea – the tenements of Scotland. In a 'market led' industry these would not sell as well (f at all) in many places; but stylish 'loft apartments' in trendy places do. There is much scope for imagination; or, if that is in short supply a visit to neighbourhoods in Holland, Germany and Denmark would be instructive.

Meanwhile, Newcastle strides ahead with developing its Green Belt. What's this I hear?


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Looking back on 2016

I have tried to keep the bloig active despite something of a sea change in the fortunes of the open space I call 'Battlefield'.

So it was at the turn of the last century. A space to be fought for and against appalling plans. These began (as far as I was concerned; there may have been others before my time ...) with plans to build a huge car park over the running track and 'stadium', a car park to service blocks of offices to be built on the old paint factory site adjacent. When I pointed out to the city planners that there were numerous empty office blocks across the city a Council spokesperson told me these were "... the wrong sort of offices."

Nothing came of that gimcrack scheme. Next on offer were 350 assorted apartments. A housing crash put an end to those, though widespread soil contamination by heavy metal deposits were also a factor apparently ... Not that that little nugget of information presented an obstacle to the next iteration of 'What to do with the old paint factory site?' saga. Student housing, now called 'Student Village', ... city ... ghetto ... whatever.

And that's what we got. What we didn't get thankfully were the proposed playing fields (doubtless private) and embrace of one or other of the corporate education providers (formerly Universities) and their goon squad employees policing the whole area. Well, not yet.

What we did get instead though was a cycle track. I was initially appalled by this, particularly by the tree felling and prospect of dicing with death cyclists, belting along, heads down, 'Wiggins is God' types. This has not happened! A by product (just maybe) has been the recognition of the purpose of the green space as both a safe route and a, well, green space. That tree felling might be a good quid pro quo in the long run if it means no one will try to build a car park over Battlefield.

My work might be said to be done. I don't think so. Not until I see a sign like this displayed:

LOWER OUSEBURN PARK

Meanwhile, a glance back (off site link below) to one of last autumn's 'Indian Summer' days and a stroll through another once severely blighted space, Summerhill Square, now one of this city's gems thanks to dedicated local activists.

http://dunlin.jalbum.net/Summerhill Square/

Best wishes for 2017.