empty

Forty years ago I did my first few self generated radio programmes and one of them was about housing stock standing empty and lack of affordable housing.   It’s still a problem. 

As in so many cases, those who can scare up the money are housed – and the rest can whistle.   There are blocks and blocks of flats near me, I doubt if a fifth are occupied, and most are far beyond the means of most of us.   I look at those upmarket eggboxes and I see funny money. 

Came Covid, and all sorts of businesses and endeavours looked at the disconnect between rent and  income, recognised the Devil’s bookkeeping  – all out, none in –

and gave up.  We have every kind of property waiting to see whether the future will mean a place of work, or work from home, or an accommodation between the two which will make full occupancy unlikely.  

Why then, would a Conservative borough, wave through the redevelopment of a site designated light industrial from two storeys to ten, reducing the number of parking places, on a two year build which can only upset air quality, light, traffic, safety and so on ?

The small group querying the developers and the planning department of the local authority met and I was there.  Three Americans, a French woman and me.   In deepest south London.  One of the Americans is an architect (I’ll call him Brad) and his French wife is a conservationist.   And they have  thank heaven kept track of this, from the project in question to the general scheme of things in the area. 

Brad showed us what is already agreed for development, pointing out that arguing about this new build – however much trouble it’s going to be – is pointless because the local authority has the power to go ahead and it will – so what is much more important is to look at what is missing, what can be done to safeguard the human element, and to begin to negotiate.     

With the aid of his maps and drawings, he showed us what was going up where over a much bigger area than the street we were ostensibly concerned with , how it could be ameliorated with a much longer view in mind but it was a chillingly perfect example of “we don’t ask so they don’t tell us”. 

A New Yorker in IT has just exchanged on a house which will be deep in disruption for the first couple of years she is in it (husband and two children). She said they would never have gone ahead if they had known the extent of the development.

The third American is the co-ordinator of the objection to the plan. She has worked in another borough but that might as well be another country.

And then the Times featured a piece on possible changes to the laws governing building while (it is alleged) senior Tories are warning that pushing ahead with a programme of building risks alienating loyal voters.   (And that’s before you mention building on green belt).  

But what are we building and for whom ?

According to our friendly neighbourhood architect, the local authority will collect the community charge from the developers if they don’t let the units.   And if that is true of work space, it might be equally true of domestic space ?  If it isn’t let or sold because it is too expensive, the developer or the landlord will have to shell out .  The local authority doesn’t care how the money comes as long as the money comes. 

Which leaves us with people who can’t find a place to live.    There is a great deal of empty accommodation and prevailing wisdom says that it is more expensive to refurb than to tear down and build again.  Really ?   Are you sure ??   New brooms sweeping clean and all that …

While the Prime Minister  is considering  planning reforms designed to trigger a house building boom via a bill designating  zones for growth or protection and limiting home owners’ ability to object to new developments.   So the boom risks being for the buildings rather than anybody who might live in them.  

Annalog is all about discussion, so feel free to leave a comment!

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