Monday, 5 December 2016

Design Museum: are we sacrificing our legacy to Mammon?

Photo of EDC at the Design Museum, by Dave Mullen Jnr
It is very difficult to write about a building that feels like a family friend.  I have visited the Commonwealth Institute throughout my life, starting with regular primary school trips. We would traipse up Earl’s Court Road in twos, to the inspiring building where our very international mix of pupils felt entirely at home. We even used the theatre for school plays. Later I took my children there, we giggled at the cow milking exhibit and admired beautiful and strange artefacts from around the globe. Later still I campaigned with the Docomomo-UK Working Group to save the building from dereliction and demolition. Finally as a Councillor I sat on the Planning Committee that approved the application to accommodate the Design Museum (though I voted against), and there could hardly be a more worthy tenant. But how would I cope with the ‘re-purposing’ of this icon?

The best approach to the building is through the park. The beautiful sweep of the roof, and the renewed exterior cladding, is tastily updated without being compromised. The courtyard when entered from the park is pretty and welcoming. And then you enter, and it all changes. In place of the processional route past the flag court via the famous loggia and lobby, into the exhibition hall with its sweeping stairs and galleries, you are smacked in the face by the awesome wood-cladded atrium rising far above you. There are few clues as to its purpose. The first impression is more of a prestigious hotel cum conference centre. In Dubai.

Legibility has been sacrificed on the altar of architecture. Circulation space is generous, if not excessive, but it is also very confusing. Some visitors quickly got lost. ‘There’s a lovely library, where IS the library?’, ‘Is this the way to a basement car park, or another gallery?’. Anonymous  doors may lead to a private office, meeting space, gallery, auditorium or – eventually – a library, but the building keeps its secrets and some found this annoying.  If this is deliberate, a public building is not the place to mess with people’s minds.

Spaces such as course rooms, the library I eventually managed to find,  and most other public spaces are generously located on the outside of the building with lovely views of Kensington.  There are cafes where we will all feel blessed and privileged to be seen, if we can afford it. There will be a lot of sponsored exhibitions, for which the justification, to some, may be questionable. But that is the sad and inevitable path taken by many modern cultural institutions. Students will of course flock to the exhibitions, which needless to say will be intelligent and inspiring, and they will love it.
Others more qualified than I have written at length about the building itself, so I will turn to how it works within its physical location, and how it might change the dynamics of the neighbourhood. As a Planning  Councillor  I have been involved from the ‘game-keeping’ end of this story, which began in 2011. I was unsure then about the placement of the three OMA blocks – and I was right. In essence the original courtyard has been sacrificed to Mammon. The housing blocks completely obscure the view from the street of the well-loved Commonwealth Institute building, infuriating local people who have to look at them every day. The blocks are heavy on architecture and light on sensitivity in relation to the street, more like funky battery chargers keeping the old building  going, than any kind of urban improvement. Paving stones carved with the names of Commonwealth countries – a tribute to the former flag court – are a graveyard to our imperial ambitions.

From the street it is, frankly, joyless.

I left the building and walked down Kensington High Street with visitors who hadn’t been in the area for a while. They were truly shocked at the state of the formerly vibrant High Street, barely clinging onto life with its empty, charity and pop-up shops, looking more and more like Edgware Road, but without the buzz. I explained to the visitors that the Council is gambling the entire future of the High Street on the success of the Design Museum. This reactive rather than proactive position is a frustration to those of us who have seen Ken High Street decline over the past decade. School or uni students will be looking for McDonalds not The Ivy, and I’m unconvinced that the better heeled evening and weekend visitors will spend enough to sustain a bright new future for central Kensington. A  Planning ‘fail’ in my opinion; time will tell.

Right across the road from this hothouse of education and design idolatry sits another casualty of Mammon, our beautiful Art Deco Kensington Odeon, boarded up and awaiting its outcome. On the table is an execrable Ritblat/Minerva plan to wrap a mere vestige of the façade in luxury flats. This application was so unsympathetic that it was thrown out by a usually developer-friendly Planning committee, but sadly it won on Appeal. An alternative scheme preserves the current building and its gorgeous marbled lobby and stairs, and turns it into a mixed-use arts centre, which has the support of 20,000 residents and a shed-load of money. In another Planning ‘fail’ however, the Council has controversially refused applications to designate the building as an Asset of Community Value so the alternative plans can be drawn up. The good people of Kensington are enraged.

The irony is that the OMA flats that have supposedly saved the Commonwealth Institute building from demolition have made the area so insanely expensive that positive and trip-generating ventures, such as reinvigorating the High Street with independent shops and the proposed arts centre, could lose out to yet more luxuriously empty flats.

All this brings us to the attitude of Kensington and Chelsea Council to the conservation of the borough. We are currently undergoing a Review of our Local Plan, and I am charged with coordinating the response from the Labour Group of Councillors (numbering 11, for you disbelievers). 

So we have Policy CF 7 on Arts and Cultural Uses, and we have Strategic Objective CO5 on Renewing the Legacy. Their relationship is somewhat tortured. CO5 reads thus, and is pretty encouraging: ‘Our strategic objective to renew the legacy is not simply to ensure no diminution in the excellence we have inherited, but to pass to the next generation a borough that is better than today, of the highest quality and inclusive for all. This will be achieved by taking great care to maintain, conserve and enhance the glorious built heritage we have inherited and to ensure that where new development takes place, it enhances the borough.’

This is all very reassuring as an objective, but the actual policy, on which Planning Councillors have to base their determinations,  is antithetical, and sets up a conflict around the lurking gremlin of ‘enabling development’.  There have been more hotly contested debates on this issue at committee than any other, and unless we get this right, now, it will continue to allow vested interests to triumph while our built legacy is sacrificed on the altar of developers’ 20% profit margins. 

Versions of this article have appeared in Building Design, K&C News, and will be published in Docomomo-UK Newsletter. Copyright EDC

Friday, 2 September 2016


I first visited Carnival in 1980. It seemed wild and exciting. I came with a black male friend with shared tastes in music and dancing. He was not my boyfriend, but as he took my hand to guide me through the crowd in All Saints Road a group of Rasta elders nodded approval, one saying, ‘now THAT’s the spirit of Carnival’. I will never forget that moment.

The freedom of dancing and drinking in the street was new to me and exhilarating, and the atmosphere of pure joy – and love – was uplifting.

Then suddenly, when it was dark (Carnival ended late those days) my friend panicked and shouted ‘run this way NOW!’. As he grabbed my hand again I peered over the peaceful dancing crowd to see a row of policemen, arms linked, charging at us.

Six years later I moved to North Kensington. I didn’t have to go to Carnival. It came to me. I have always loved those few days (it used to be three), the neighbourhood transformed with no traffic, people sitting and chatting on their front steps, everyone taking time to talk to neighbours and strangers, the fantastic goodwill – and love – of a massive street party. The food, the music, the dancing, the costumes. You can’t beat it.

My children all went to Carnival from tiny babies, and still do. There are obvious places it’s sensible to avoid with a baby in a buggy, otherwise it’s a truly family friendly event.

There have been good years and great years, and years blemished by the criminals who sadly come to steal, sell drugs and cause trouble. This happens at large events, you can only work to control it. It also happens at other times. We had five stabbings in Golborne Ward last Boxing Day. No one said we should ban Boxing Day. There was a 50-strong riot outside Boujis nightclub in South Kensington six months ago. It’s still open. There was a major incident in Hyde Park when an end of term water-fight turned violent. Hyde Park prevails. Epsom Derby this year … the list continues.

And yet, criminality disrupting Carnival is being used as an excuse to ban, move or drastically change it.

But Carnival doesn’t create crime. Criminals attend Carnival.

Sadly, some of these criminals are very young and their lives must be desperate and hopeless indeed for them to engage in such violent behaviour.

Now, those politicians who ruthlessly agreed to cut youth services and destroyed community policing by voting for cuts to police funding, wish to punish those they have failed.

This is leading to a very serious and unpleasant threat to eviscerate our massive and joyful street party. Those with no understanding whatever of the importance and value to local people of the second largest cultural event on earth wish to destroy what they don’t understand. This campaign seeks to ‘civilise’ Carnival.

Last year there were two public surveys on Carnival, which set alarm bells ringing. The Council survey was, despite local fears, a genuine attempt to review arrangements and run things better. The Council – to date – seems to ‘get’ Carnival, as the second largest cultural event on earth, which brings £94m into London every year. For their £500k input into funding, the Council makes their best efforts every year to control those elements they are responsible for – mainly placement of wee, collection of rubbish, closing of roads, local policing, event and stall licensing and noise nuisance abatement. We truly underestimate the time and care they put into this, and their close work with the London Notting Hill Carnival Enterprise Trust, police, residents’ groups and all other services.

Here is the response to the Council’s survey from Carnival Village Trust, the development agency for Carnival Arts, which puts things neatly into perspective:

‘Carnival is both an event that happens in a public space and an art form.
As both an art form and a street festival, Carnival has three main modalities:
1.   A ritual of resistance
2.   A festival of otherness and
3.   Performance Art.

However, for many, the Carnival is also a street party; the annual Bank Holiday festival whose popularity and appeal is participating in a joyous, care free celebration with very few inhibitions.’

The other survey, from the office of our parliamentary representative (not wishing to get personal here), was an ill-judged effort with highly deterministic questions, that resulted in polarising and inflaming opinion.

This is hugely disappointing. We expected better.

Kelso Cochrane, the first victim
of racist murder, 1959
It is ironic that an event set up by local people to heal the community -  after the appalling Notting Hill race riots, leading to the first racist murder, of Antiguan carpenter and law student Kelso Cochrane, by neo-Nazi Blackshirts in 1959 - is now under threat by an arguably racist and undoubtedly anti-community campaign. 

Let's not forget those days of 'No Irish, no blacks, no dogs'. 

In 2009 the community put up a plaque where Kelso fell; seven years later some have determined to erase our history.

One suggestion arising from the second survey is to move the sound systems to Little Scrubbs. This is laughable. The sound systems that brought the music of the Caribbean to our shores, and changed the British music scene forever, cannot be disconnected from the event that created them.

Would you go to the opera, with no singing?

Another proposal has been to move Carnival to Hyde Park and charge for tickets. But Carnival is not a show, it’s a participatory event. This may be confusing to those who don’t wish to see people whose costumes and physicality don’t conform to white cultural norms of classical beauty. Hyde Park was the venue for the Great Exhibition, where ‘colonial tribes-people’ were put on show to amaze and amuse the paying public. Is this what they want?

Among many other things, Carnival is a celebration of our wonderful North Ken melting pot, on our doorsteps. You can have a beer at home, go out and have a brilliant time, for nothing, in an area of London that is still shockingly, and inexcusably, poor (despite increasing gentrification) - Golborne and Colville wards where Carnival is focussed are among the poorest wards in London. It is a wide-reaching community relations exercise whose social and community value, at a time of rising hate crime, goes far beyond its financial cost. And frankly, while all our communities in North Ken feel they are being squeezed out – by estate development, rising rents, CPOs, Pay to Stay, Bedroom Tax, property prices – it’s needed more than ever.

It’s a necessary counter to what many see as the attempted ‘bleaching’ of Kensington.

Currently Carnival is classed as a community event so the policing costs aren’t chargeable to the organisers. Ticketing would turn it into a commercial event; the £6m policing costs then payable would destroy the event forever. Job done for the haters.

Let’s put that £6m cost into perspective. Protecting Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge – from extradition to Sweden for alleged rape - has cost £11m. Nobody is threatening to evict him for this unpaid bill.

The cost of unpaid parking fines by embassies in K&C and Westminster is £87m; nobody impounds their cars. The amount owed by the Russian embassy in Notting Hill Gate alone would just about cover the full cost of policing Carnival.

Protecting the Royal family, whether on official business, their endless holidays, or nights out clubbing, costs £103m a year. Nobody sends these billionaires a bill.

So here we are. One rule for the rich, another for the poor, clear as day.

CVT also said in their response to the Council: ‘Carnival is .. a barometer of British society’.

Sadly true.

We’ve come a long way since that police charge I saw on All Saints Road in 1980. Let’s not turn back the clock.

As the Black Eyed Peas said it: ‘Where is the love?’.

Monday, 22 August 2016


Welcome to the playground. Not the friendly, welcoming, properly managed space with quiet and active areas, buddy benches, high expectations of conduct and behaviour, and trained play-workers empowered to keep benign order.

Not that one.

This playground has little supervision, few rules imposed rarely and only in extremis,  and is therefore a place of bullying, intimidation, forced isolation and name-calling of the worst possible kind. They work in packs, wear clothes to identify their allegiance, and mock anyone not of their ‘kind’, a combination of – let’s say it - class snobbery and fashion despotism.

You know what I’m referring to.

What kind of example does this set the next generation of voters? How can we expect them to learn respect? And why on earth would anyone want to support, let alone join this hostile and anti-democratic system?

Somebody once spoke thus against democracy: “..since the system demanded that a majority be obtained, anyone intent on capturing the system had to make certain he gathered a majority of the votes – if need be by stealing them from the other parties. To this end, he had to slander the other parties without hesitation, to bombard them with the vilest insults, to resort to deliberate lies, to waste not a single ploy of falsehood and vilification … [bringing] the ruin of a people’s spiritual unity” (my emphasis).

Of course I don’t share José-Antonio Primo de Rivera’s solution – a Dictatorship run by the Spanish Falange – but it seems little has improved since 1933.

Up against this shameful ‘Mean Girls’ bombardment of – well, hatred – and standing up for democracy against MSM and ‘establishment’ attacks, Jeremy Corbyn is a people's hero if ever there was one. Corbyn doesn’t do personal abuse. He simply refuses to engage in the daily barrage of vilification, accusations and downright ‘untruths’ and nastiness. And the more he refuses to play, the more they prod, provoke and bully. It’s a shameful episode in political history, and surely the end game of something?  

Let us turn for a moment to the petty comments about how our democratically elected Leader dresses. A highly intelligent and educated person of my acquaintance has become obsessed with how Corbyn dresses, calling him a ‘scarecrow’, or ‘charity shop mannequin’. They even said his house was ‘horrible’. Corbyn’s anti-Trident position has driven this person to extremes, stating on social media that he should be ‘pushed under a bus’.

Now I don't mind if you wish to dress like a banker. But I do mind when you denigrate people who do not do the same. Labour politicians who dress like bankers and think everyone should do the same, are undermined by someone who refuses to play their game. They stole this refrain from Tories ‘put on a proper suit, do up your tie, and sing the National Anthem’, an actual ‘Your Mum’ comment, which reached a new low in parliamentary insults. And yet some of our own senior politicians repeat this.

I for one was disappointed when Sandy Olsson in ‘Grease’ dolled herself up for Danny Zuko. She betrayed us all. Why would we want Corbyn to dress like a banker? Reducing political discourse to the level of what people wear lowers the debate to a level that in our multi-cultural society, is risky at best. And this demeans us all.

It’s not really about the clothes, of course, it’s what Corbyn stands for that truly offends them.

He doesn’t use the militaristic language that is the norm of just about every politician in the land, which can whip up violent reactions, and is off-putting to many (especially, perhaps, to women). He chooses content over form, and nuance over bombast, doggedly bringing the debate back to issues and leaving the empty rhetoric to others. He is honest. He has values. He's a socialist.
So while the bunker is inward-looking and fighting among themselves, the actual membership of the Labour Party, to whom they are accountable, is determined to engage in meaningful, open and progressive debate.

So please, do not tell me or the people I represent that they are Trots, dogs or groupies. They aren’t.

Do not attempt to discredit or dehumanise our democratically elected Leader’s followers.

Do not tell them they need to ‘grow up’ and are in need of authority, when your side are trading playground insults.

This ‘otherisation’ of Corbyn’s supporters, is, sad to say, text-book fascism. Albeit mainly rhetorical for now, and – thank heavens – without the charismatic Leader that fascism relies upon.

So, a ‘soft fascism’, if you will.

It’s time to recognise that Corbyn has flipped the script. He has done this in such an understated manner that those who dress like bankers (male or female) or Mean Girls (female or male) have missed it. But THIS is the kind of politician that 100s of 1000s of members – and we believe, millions of voters – really want.

Not Corbyn-lite in a banker’s suit.

And if you truly cannot reconcile yourself to Labour’s return to socialism, it seems you have an option. Turn your face to the sun: ‘Labour Tomorrow’ belongs to you.


‘Soft fascism is a process of anti-democratic governing that is not as overtly totalitarian or authoritarian as more historically memorable fascist states. Soft fascist governing has features like: corrupt electoral processes. legislative tactics that undermine democratic engagement. warrantless monitoring of citizens.’

Sunday, 22 May 2016

REPUBLIC ANYONE? Why this IS the time to discuss it

At the February AGM, Kensington CLP voted by a large majority to affiliate to Republic: campaign for an elected Head of State. This was six months after they had agreed two Motions to Conference: one to scrap Trident, and the other to Stop Taxpayer Funding of the Monarchy (the Trident Motion was chosen to go to Conference).

There was almost unanimous support for the Motion to Conference, and a very large majority of members supported the affiliation to Republic. There was also a small but articulate group insisting that ‘this is not the time’ to support a campaign for an elected Head of State under a Republic.

I wholeheartedly disagree.
The image that made me
 join 'Republic'

This is the perfect moment to discuss the iniquities and inequalities of the hereditary principle, and how one of the richest families in the country is also subsidised by the State via our taxes, to the tune of £300m a year. We have the most expensive monarchy in Europe. They own billions of pounds-worth of assets, from which they receive tens of millions in income. While *some* tax is paid, like savvy landlords they set this against costs that improve the value of their properties so pay little tax. So when Mrs Windsor (aka Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) states rather crustily that the repairs to Buckingham Palace will be paid out of income from visitors, there are major tax savings to be enjoyed.

One for the family album
Don’t cry for me Little England.

To be clear, and to anticipate the usual (snore!) criticisms of this position: I do not *hate* the Royal Family. I don’t know them. I am entirely indifferent to them. But to my mind the combination of Kardashian family-style worship, dodgy uncles allegedly involved in shady deals with dubious governments and other unsavoury behaviour, evident racism, considerable power and authority, with extreme wealth and influence - is a blight on our society. The entire system of monarchy and the hereditary principle is at fault. And I don’t want their money either.

Andrew Windsor and pal

Here are a few issues that have hit a nerve in past years:

-      - The Queen asking if she could apply for help with heating bills for Buckingham palace, via government grants aimed at people in fuel poverty
-      - Charles Windsor accruing £3m from intestate wills in Cornwall
-      - Tax breaks for Charles Windsor’s ‘charities’, that include his repellent Architecture Foundation and building toy town Poundbury
-     -  The outrageous sums paid from the public purse to protect the Playboy Princes while they were out clubbing
-      - The outrageous sums paid from the public purse to give the Playboy Princes hobbies in the army (when they feel like it) and keep them out of nightclubs.
-      - Fashion mags praising 'thrifty Kate' for 'only' spending £35,000 on her wardrobe for a five-day visit to India, while we have four Food Banks in Kensington and Chelsea

    In effect we have our own disfunctional Kardashians, subsidised from the public purse.

In the run-up to the local elections in 2014 I looked up various indicators for Kensington and Chelsea, and found what I feared: K&C is the most unequal borough in Britain. We supposedly have ‘the richest borough in the universe’ (according to a senior Tory). We house some of the richest people in the world (Sultan of Brunei) and some of the poorest in the country (Golborne being the joint poorest ward in London with Northumberland Park in Haringey.

So let’s spell it out. If trickle-down worked, we would have no poor people in Kensington and Chelsea. No Food Banks, no rickets, no TB, and a fighting chance for everyone to survive, healthy and lucid, to 90 years old.

Trickle-down is a fallacy. And this is a disgrace.

So our new Mayor of London may or may not be able to tackle the problem of non-doms, tax avoiders and evaders, money launderers, plutocrats and deposed dictators settling in the borough, while the Council allows it to become a Disney toy town theme park based on a picture-book idea of what it was. We will wait and see, work with the communities we can work with, and lobby till we drop.

Elizabeth Windsor’s birthday is not just a rich and cosseted old lady’s special day. It is a symbol of so much that is so wrong in a country accustomed to deference and subservience to those ‘higher up’ the social scale. A country where very few have the chance to reach 90 at all, let alone hale, hearty, marbles intact, and with no concerns about their care when they need it.

So I say, this is precisely the time to talk about a Republic and creating a more egalitarian society. A society that listens if you are wearing a hijab, a headwrap, or a jumper knitted by your Mum rather than the £2,000 Savile Row suit that is your passport to everywhere. Where you don’t have to look rich or royal to be taken seriously, where your humanity is prized above all else.

So come to the People’s Picnic, Sunday 12 June, 12 noon to 4pm (or later if fine), Kensington Gardens, off Dial Walk, just south of Kensington Palace.

Come and mix, mingle and communicate with other plebs, at our People’s Picnic. Bring your tea, home-made cakes, (or whatever you wish to eat and drink and it won't be tea for me), rugs, park toys, children, neighbours and celebrate being human.

Who knows? We might start something. Or just have a lovely time with new friends.

‘My most flattering outfit is my humanity’

Saturday, 5 March 2016

OUR FRANKENSTEIN DEMOCRACY: Pernicious petitions, controversial consultations and sneaky surveys

The national media are currently obsessed with stories about politics and party loyalty. In uncertain times, when we are engaging in wide-ranging debate about issues of long-term national importance, any divergence from the ‘norm’ is considered disloyal.

There seem to be two kinds of loyalty at work here. There is the loyalty some exhibit when, despite not being huge fans of their Leaders of the moment, they vent their frustrations with friends in the pub, and find a way to work for the long-term benefit of whichever party they support. This is disinterested loyalty.

Then there is the other kind of loyalty, where the backing of patrons – and matrons – in the form of financial support, preferment, sharing personal contacts, giving references – comes with a repayment schedule. ‘Loyalty’ to the patron is expected at a future and unspecified date. As in the mafia, you owe your dues. This is interested loyalty, or rather, a bribe.

The 'cake' of influence
Political parties are bandying around the words ‘loyalty’ and ‘disloyalty’ in reference to the various debates of national importance that are being played out in the media: EU; the economy; inequality; welfare.  The problem with working to this particular programme is that this ‘exchange of favours’, like a Pacific Island potlatch, does not favour talent, skills or competence. It is in essence a ceremonial performance, with attention focussed on one person.

In a world of personality politics, integrity and competence are left hanging in the wardrobe like an old-fashioned suit. By giving ‘preferment’ to those who are ‘agreeable’, we engage in a cycle of replication that ensures compliance and obedience. This demeans the democratic process and we deserve better.

In such a world it is not the cream that rises to the top – it is the scum.

There is a narrow and self-serving world view that supposes that residents will always vote for self-interest. In RBKC our annual residents’ survey proves precisely the opposite. This self-selecting group votes year on year on how the Council spends its money, and is clearly shifting towards a preference of paying more Council Tax, not less, to support our most vulnerable neighbours. Year on year, however, the Council proposes a freeze on Council Tax, assuming that the electorate thinks as selfishly as they do. They are wrong.

The good people of Chelsea are fighting on two fronts to preserve what they hold dear. A petition to save the Sutton Estate attracted 10,000 signatures and the support of the Chelsea Society, the Victorian Society, various MPs and architects, and Create Streets. Despite this their petition has been dishonoured and ignored. The No Crossrail in Chelsea campaign has also gathered 10,000 signatures. They have been called NIMBYs, ‘selfish’, and signatures found to be ineligible.  It’s the same story with the Westway 23 group, fighting to have some meaningful input into the Westway Trust’s development plans.

Petitions are regularly undermined by the assertion that signatories do not live in the area they concern. But if you shop, work, study, visit relatives or health facilities in the borough, the future of services may be more relevant than those of someone who only sleeps here. And surely, in these days of tri-borough working, residents from our neighbouring boroughs should also have a say?

The consultation process can be difficult to engage with, and is also open to abuse. Percentages are often used to mask the actual numbers of respondents. Questions can be confusing or opaque. Sometimes this is not deliberate.

The ‘Local Plan Issues and Options Review’ might as well be written in Latin. If you can read Latin it makes perfect sense, if not it is utterly confusing. But this process is quite simply a review of the planning rules, regs, guidelines and ‘visions’ that will shape our borough in years to come. How far you have to walk to catch a bus, post a letter, buy milk, visit the doctor, go to school or work, and have advice or help on a range of issues – plus where to squeeze in more housing of various kinds – this is all it is. It is the rulebook that governs the everyday functioning of our everyday life.  And yet the interface with those most affected – you and me – is not user-friendly. Result: very few people bother to engage.

The future of Carnival?

Surveys offer yet another means to mould, subvert and side-step public opinion. Two current examples: bizarrely, both the Council and the Kensington MP have sent out surveys about the future of Carnival. Many have stated that they are both deterministic and do not allow comments – that both are aimed at getting a pseudo-consensus to sanitise, control, monetise, commodify or even stop the Carnival. Those ‘on high’ see only the end-of-Carnival trouble that blights everyone’s enjoyment, and the costs of policing they do not believe to be justifiable.

When 50 people rioted outside Boujis nightclub in South Kensington, resulting in arrests and hospital admissions, nobody said the gilded youth of South Ken should have their club shut down. When the costs of protecting Julian Assange, an alleged rapist (from what? I’ve never been sure) in the Ecuadorian Embassy rose to £11m, nobody intervened to stop his protest. When embassies in K&C and Westminster rack up unpaid parking and congestion zone fees of £87m, nobody impounds their cars. And when the protection of the Royal family reaches a staggering £103m a year, nobody suggests they should walk around like normal human beings or the Queen of Denmark.

The ‘Royal Bank of Kensington and Chelsea’ is a monopoly game, but the dice are loaded, and we all know who is more likely to ‘Go to Jail’. So there is one form of democracy for the rich, and another for the poor. The rich can play, misbehave and break the rules at our expense, but the poor must behave like circus performers and not get drunk or out of order at Carnival. If not, they could be sent for trial by survey.

Accountability and transparency is at stake, as what passes for democracy is cobbled together, manipulated, dishonest and abused. Until we recognise this, our Frankenstein democracy will make fools of us all.  

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 façade 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.