Monday, February 20, 2017


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 a 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 landscapes. 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.