The Regeneration Games

By Mark Saunders, 12 September 2007

Originally published by Mute Magazine

Whatever the overruns on time and cost, one thing the London 2012 Olympics is certain to deliver is a huge public debt. The enormous bill for two weeks of telematic sport is legitimated by promises of urban regeneration but in reality the games are a corporate landgrab facilitating the looting of nature and labour as prices go up and people are pushed out, argues Mark Saunders


On the 6 July 2005, crowds of Londoners gathered on Trafalgar Square for an Olympic ‘decision day’ event. With no real expectation of winning, the Olympic Bid Team had billed it as a ‘Thank You London, Thank You UK’ day. Crowds could watch on giant screens the International Olympic Committee’s decision on the host city for 2012. It would probably be Paris.

Up on the platform, a host of London 2012 ambassadors expectantly held hands. All white teeth, perma-smiles, and synthetic fabrics, they prepared themselves for sporting and gracious defeat. It would surely be Paris.

At 12:49, the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, made his dramatic announcement. The winner is… pause… pause squared… (the open mics amplifying the deafening silence)… London.


News item, 2005, commenting on London Olympics, 2012

A moment of disbelief… Not Paris? Then the crowd erupted in celebration.

That evening, TV newsreaders had particularly puckered brows and quizzical looks as they announced the news. Despite being the top story, it had the ‘would you believe it’ feel of the light-hearted ‘and finally…’ item, intended to put viewers back into a happy consumer mindset for the rest of the night’s fare.

The blue wall surrounding construction for London Olympics 2012

NO DAY AFTER

The euphoria was destroyed within 24 hours when the 7/7 bombs exploded on London’s public transport. Four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters and injured 700. The events of the day before seemed remote, doubly unbelievable and distant. Some frivolous aberration from a naïve time the other side of a watershed moment.

Seb Coe and his Olympic Bid entourage returned to London to a muted welcome, after celebrating all night at what Coe described as the ‘mother of all parties’ on the banks of the Singapore River. Despite being ‘shocked and saddened’, their return had the air of galavanting playboys who had had a high old time while at home all hell let loose.

The bombings overshadowed all debate. In the public consciousness, the Olympic party in Trafalgar Square had had no ‘day after’. As the media dust settled, the London Olympic reality slipped back into view. Like some post-traumatic flashback, computer animations of the Olympic site on TV showed a grey expanse turning green. Dome-shaped structures mushroomed everywhere like 1950s lunar bases linked by wobbly bridge walkways.

Out went the sporty types, in came the suit-and-tie squad. It was the men’s tri-athletes: legal, PR, and planning. It’s time to hide behind the sofa, because this is the invasion of the technocrats all those politicos were warning you about.

WHY LONDON?


News item, 2005, commenting on London Olympics, 2012

The main reason London won was because it was not France. The Olympics is basically corporate America in Lycra. The US Olympic Committee receives 20 percent of marketing revenues and 12.75 percent of TV income from the Olympic Games – a dominance that concerns other National Olympic Committees. The US is a serial Olympic host: St. Louis in 1904, Los Angeles in 1932 and 1984 (and a bid for 2016), Atlanta in 1996, and Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1932 and 1980, Squaw Valley 1960 and Salt Lake City in 2002.

Since the Gulf War, the US has been virulently anti-French. There was no way that McDonald’s or Coca Cola, the latter a major sponsor for the past 80 years, were going to let those smug surrender monkeys enjoy the reflected glory and glitz of corporate America. After all, it was France that forced McDonalds to deviate from the one-size-fits-all burger because of their finicky eating habits.

The Bush regime and its business allies know all about mega-spectacles like the Olympics. Recall 1 May 2003, when Bush landed a fighter jet aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, delivering his Iraq victory speech standing in front of a giant ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign.

It’s all about image. And such sophisticated connoisseurs of the spectacle are hardly likely to squander the global arse-kicking razzmatazz of their athletes sweeping up medals just to puff up the French cock… er…

A MODEL OF MULTICULTURALISM

Rather than confessing to it being a reward for British military support of the US in Iraq, and perhaps to pre-empt accusations of bribery, the London Olympic Committee claimed the UK was favoured over France (which, after all, had all the infrastructure in place) because of London’s (and particularly East London’s) tolerance, multiculturalism, and ethnic diversity. There is nothing in the constitution or history of the International Olympic Committee that betrays this concern.


News item, 2005 commenting on London Olympic bid, 2012

In 2006, an international coalition of human rights organisations issued a joint statement saying that the International Olympic Committee has failed to protect Olympic ideals citing continuing human rights violations and political propaganda abuse of the Games by the Chinese government.

Multiculturalism? It would be surprising if the IOC even thought about it. Had it done so, it would soon have had concerns about the UK. In one typical week earlier this year, stories in the national newspapers included the following:

The Conservative homeland security spokesman, Patrick Mercer, stepped down after saying that being called a ‘black bastard’ was part-and-parcel of life in the armed forces.[1]

Magistrate reprimanded for ‘bloody foreigners’ outburst in court. Mr Mitchell, a magistrate for 36 years, did not accept the punishment issued by the Office of Judicial Complaints, part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and remains on the active list.[2]

Police accused of brutality after officer beat 19 year old woman during arrest at night club. An investigation into alleged police brutality was launched last night after a black teenage epileptic woman was filmed being repeatedly punched by a policeman, while two colleagues held her down outside a Sheffield nightclub.[3]

These are all examples of institutional racism. It may be that on the East London street and within communities, there is a certain class based solidarity and community cohesion across and beyond race. But to describe the East End as a model for multiculturalism is simplistic. While the area does have a long history of fighting fascism and racism, from resisting Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 to Bengali youth reclaiming Brick Lane from the National Front in the 1980s, it sadly has often been in response to an equally long history of racism and intolerance.

In 1968, ex-Tory minister Enoch Powell’s speech in which he predicted ‘rivers of blood’ if black immigration continued inspired several hundred London dock workers to strike and stage an ‘Enoch is right’ march.

In 1986 Tower Hamlets Liberals proposed to put hundreds of homeless families (mainly Bengalis) into ships moored on the Thames. A report by the Commission for Racial Equality in 1988 found Tower Hamlets Liberal Council guilty of allocating ethnic minorities disproportionately to poor quality estates.

In local elections in 1995, the total number of votes cast for far-Right parties in Britain amounted to just over 20 thousand. The vast majority were cast in East London. On 5 May 2006, the British National Party (BNP) gained 11 of the 13 seats it contested in the East London districts of Barking and Dagenham, becoming the second biggest party.

There are incidents of race hate crimes in the Olympic area, but there is also the manipulation of racial tension for political ends. In her paper, ‘Playing the ethnic card – politics and ghettoisation in London’s East End’, Sarah Glynn details how local politics has linked territory and race.[4] From the mid-1980s, the Tower Hamlets Liberals had in effect used housing policies based on ethnicity to divide and rule. They had systematically shifted the blame for housing shortage onto the homeless (predominantly Bengalis) while continuing to sell off housing and land.

High unemployment, scarce and neglected housing, excluded from the dockland development boom – there were reasons for local residents of the Isle of Dogs to be angry. The Island’s relatively small Bengali population provided an easy scapegoat. Similarly, the Olympics is bound to intensify competition for housing, especially with an expanding buy-to-let sector hyping rents. Locals, already squeezed between two of Europe’s biggest business districts, Docklands and the City of London, are going to find themselves surrounded on all sides by intensive gentrification. It would be ironic if racial tension were to deflect from class-based ‘yuppies out’ hostility to the gentrification and privatisation of space in the East End that the ‘multicultural’ London Olympics will presage.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Paris was favourite to win the Games because it has much of the necessary infrastructure in place. In opting for London, the International Olympic Committee must surely have chosen to ignore the UK’s unique history of infrastructure and stadia construction fiascos. The newly refurbished Wembley Stadium was originally set to cost under £400 million. The official overall cost of £757 million did not include the overruns and compensation compromises on the building works of £352 million. It opened two years late. The Millennium Dome, originally estimated to cost the National Lottery £399 million, came in at least twice over budget and only just made the New Year’s Eve opening for which it was built.

The blue wall surrounding construction for London Olympics 2012

During a debate on the economic and social benefits of the Olympics in the upper house, Lord James, a Tory peer, said that big business, including McDonald’s, BT, and British Airways, had run rings round the Government when negotiating sponsorship deals for the Dome. The Dome organisers had negotiated flawed contracts with major sponsors and had ended up receiving a fraction of the money they expected.

The overrun on the Dome all occurred on the management costs and the running of the Dome and its ancillary services […]. It resulted eventually in what amounts to an £811 million learning curve for the Government, which I sincerely hope they will be marking and using extensively in the lessons for the Olympics.

 2008 – coverage of Westfield construction for Olympics 2012,
London Tonight, itv local,

So the IOC must have thought it was worth a shot, statistically, that this time it would all go smoothly. But then they have nothing to lose.

ONE FOR THE MONEY, TWO FOR THE SHOW

As with the Poll Tax the media response to the Olympics has tended to concentrate on the costs and its implications for taxpayers, rather than the social injustices. The total Olympic budget is £9.3 billion, an increase of £5.9 billion from the original budget of £3.4 billion. When Tessa Jowell, the then culture secretary (now Minister for the Olympics), admitted in the House of Commons that the initial budget had not included the 17.5 percent cost of VAT on the construction of the venues and infrastructure, there were cries of incompetence. Nowhere was it remarked upon that nearly every bid is undervalued, not through incompetence but as a strategy. For London taxpayers, the Olympics are indeed a big story. Financing is split between the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG). The ODA will ‘build the theatre’ – the infrastructure, venues, land remediation, and so on – and will be funded jointly by the public sector (64 percent), London taxpayers (13 percent), and the lottery (23 percent). The LOCOG, meanwhile, will ‘put on the show’ – everything from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony. This expenditure will be funded by the private sector out of ticket and merchandising sales, TV rights, and sponsorship. All the real costs and risk are therefore taken on by the public sector.

Sydney 2000 ended up costing over twice the pre-bid figures, according to the auditor-general of New South Wales. In Athens, total costs will be at least four times as high as the bid committee’s initial budget. The IOC insists that host nations cover any cost overruns. Basically, the public would never accept the Olympics if it knew the real cost.

THE PROMISES

The media were equally uncritical of the promised regeneration of East London, regurgitating the public relations press releases without seeming to question the ‘empty land’ myth or whether regeneration through sporting facilities is genuinely worthwhile.


News item, 2004, commenting on London Olympics, 2012

A common feature of regeneration schemes is verbal promises given by people who are clearly unable to deliver those promises. Lord Coe, director of the London Olympics, promised a successful bid would bring: ‘9,000 new homes, many affordable for local people’ and new shops, offices, community and health facilities, plus world class sporting facilites in a new park. Local businesses are likely to benefit from the influx of new visitors and from potentially winning contracts to service the Games.[5]

Affordable housing sounds good, but a recent, high profile scheme for subsidised ‘low-cost’ rent-and-buy housing in the East End requires applicants to have an annual income of at least £28,758 (£32, 644 for couples).[6]

The Olympics are very likely to have the opposite effect and make housing unaffordable for local people. In the run-up to the Sydney Olympics 2000, rent escalated and intensified evictions in the neighbourhoods alongside the Olympic development. In Barcelona, the 1992 Games were partly responsible for massive increases in costs of living in the city: between 1986 and 1992 the market price of housing grew by an average of 260 percent.

While the number of affordable new homes promised tends to come down over time, so the projected jobs figure seems to go onwards and upwards. A 2002 survey by engineering consultants Ove Arup calculated that

The Olympics will lead to the creation of 3,000 jobs and 4,000 new affordable homes for people in East London.

By 2007, London’s Employment and Skills Taskforce and the London Development Agency (LDA) were talking of the Olympics creating up to 50,000 new jobs in the Lower Lea Valley.

Dee Doocey, chair of the Committee for Economic Development, Culture, Sport, and Tourism, the leading committee on the London Assembly for scrutinising the Olympics, said locals could miss out unless language and construction skills were ‘urgently’ improved in the East London boroughs. As she said on her own website:

The last thing we need is another Docklands, where many of the newly created jobs did not benefit local people.

News item, commenting on London Olympics, 2012

Responding, the LDA pledged to make it a ‘priority’ to ensure locals in the five Olympic Boroughs of Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest benefit from the new opportunities. Of the 720,000 people of working age living there, a quarter have no qualifications and, of these, over 60 percent are unemployed. Commenting on the announcement of a new ‘Living Wage’ for London of £7.20 an hour, Doocey, said:

The Mayor and Seb Coe signed an ‘Ethical contract’ with London Citizens before winning the Olympics, promising a Living Wage for everyone involved. Yet to date, no Living Wage has been included in the contracts allocated and Seb Coe told the London Assembly that ‘any of the issues about a living wage is a consideration, not a condition’. This is of great concern because LOCOG will be letting contracts for all the traditionally low paid jobs such as catering and cleaning.

As for local businesses exploiting the games, as Coe had suggested, it is more likely that existing businesses will be endangered. The director of H. Forman & Son, the UK’s oldest established salmon curer and one of the Lea Valley’s biggest and oldest companies, recently took to bringing a large aerial photograph of the proposed Olympic site to meetings, in order to show that far from being empty the Marshgate Lane area of Stratford includes 350 businesses with 15,000 employees. According to plans, these premises would be bulldozed to make way for the games.

The Institute for Practitioners in Advertising describe the marketing prohibitions defined in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill, which sets up the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) as ‘so extreme that it could technically lead to pubs being prosecuted for using chalkboards to flag up [TV] coverage of the Games’.[7] Protected Olympic trademarks include use of the words ‘Olympic’, ‘Olympiad’, and ‘Olympian’, ‘2012’, ‘London 2012’, ‘games’, ‘medals’, ‘gold’, ‘silver’, ‘bronze’, ‘sponsor’, ‘summer’; insignia such as the 2012 Games logo (and mascots), the Olympic rings, Team GB, the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association logos, London’s bid logo; derivatives of London2012.com; and the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (Faster, Higher, Stronger).[8] Ludicrously, 31 small firms throughout London reflecting the Greek diaspora will be forced to change their company names and shop fronts as a result of trademark conditions.

The companies likely to benefit are Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Visa, which have bought exclusive worldwide marketing rights via the Olympic Partner Programme. The BBC states that the IOC have made £790 million marketing revenue over the last four years from corporate sponsorship (35 percent of total), while LOCOG estimates that £580 million, or 40 percent of its operating budget, will come from this source.

THE PARK

The International Olympic Committee specifies the need for an integrated park. The IOC also demands that athletes should be accommodated in a village and not be required to walk for more than twenty minutes. The Olympic Park has been presented as ‘1500 landscaped acres’ representing ‘one of the biggest new city centre parks in Europe for 200 years.’ This ignores the fact that much of the Lower Lea Valley, where the park will be built, is an extensive network of waterways with important wildlife habitats on a key migratory route.

Animated representation of changes to East London landscape created by London Olympics 2012

For centuries ‘Parkification’ has been the instrument of choice for colonising the urban periphery, hinterlands and backwaters, socially cleansing those edgy zones of social marginalism and transgression, displacing the grey economies and polluting industries, taming the wild.

Although it has no formal position on the Olympics, the River Leas Trust, an environmental charity that works to preserve this wild environment, have told the London Olympic bid committee that ‘landscaping’ the area is inappropriate, particularly in the way represented in the ‘artists impression’ that the bid supporters are so proud of.

Hackney Marshes, once ancient common lands called Lammas Lands, were bequeathed in the 1890s by the Settlement of St. Mary Eton to the people of Hackney in perpetuity for recreational use as open space. Since that time Hackney Marshes has been home to amateur league football. Most London footballers have played there. Hackney Marshes holds the world record for the highest number (88) of full-sized football pitches in one place. On a typical Sunday, over 100 matches are played by amateur teams competing in several local leagues.

Johnny Walker, Chairman of Hackney and Leyton Sunday Football League, talks about the effects of the London Olympics 2012

Johnny Walker, Chairman of Hackney and Leyton Sunday Football League, talks about the substructure under Hackney Marshes created by WWII, and the effects of changes due to the London Olympics 2012

At a meeting set up by the Hackney Environment Forum on 24 July 2003, Neale Coleman, the London mayor’s advisor on the Olympic bid, countered fears that Hackney would lose its open space to stadium and temporary facilities, reassuring the meeting that there was ‘no question of permanent or temporary facilities on any part of Hackney Marshes’. Attached to the planning applications is a condition stating that the developing agency must provide exchange land for Common Land and open space taken up by the Olympic developments, a procedure required under the 1981 Acquisition of Land Act.

However, at the end of 2005, the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee were told by Hackney Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Guy Nicholson, that planners were defaulting on this obligation. Since then, a clause has been inserted in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill to remove this imperative. Anne Woollett, Chair of the Hackney Marsh User Group, states:

The Games cannot make any claims to being ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ while they steal Common Land, public open space and sports pitches for an Olympic car park. The London Development Agency (LDA) have now declared […] that they are not going to provide exchange land for East Marsh. It appears that the LDA have simply lobbied to legislate away their own statutory obligations.

Many are suspicious that when the car park is no longer needed it will be built on.

Video of Manor Gardens allotments, before London Olymics 2012 construction

Hidden away on the Olympic site is Manor Gardens Allotments. Founded by philanthropic aristocrat Major Arthur Villiers before WW1, the allotments have been feeding over 150 local East End families ever since. The LDA wants the site levelled and transformed into the central concrete walkway down the spine of the Olympic Park. Apparently, saving this unique and rare place by going around or over the allotments for a few weeks was not an option for security reasons.

Manor Garden’s former allotment holders describe the cultural, aesthetic, and ecological beauty of Manor Gardens which was wiped out for London Olympics 2012 construction
After being evicted from Manor Gardens, due to London Olympics 2012, the allotment holders were given new allotments with poor soil and terrible drainage.

After almost two years of meetings with the LDA, the Manor Gardening Society have had enough of broken promises and delays and on 27 April 2007 they issued Judicial Review proceedings against them. Phil Michaels, head of legal at Friends of the Earth’s Rights and Justice Centre, who represent the allotment holders said:

This is an important case about broken promises and local communities. The LDA made clear and consistent promises to the community that their allotments would be relocated so that they could stay together. They have now decided to break that promise. If the authorities are not willing to honour their promises then the Court has to step in.[9]

Allotment holders talk about their frustration with the empty talk about sustainability, their legal action against their eviction, and how they were cut out of the conversation about London Olympics 2012

The IOC refers to respect for the environment as the ‘third pillar of Olympianism’. The Sydney Bid Committee failed to note that Homebush Bay, the Olympic site, was heavily contaminated with dangerously high levels of dioxin, asbestos, heavy metals, and phthalates. The New South Wales government commissioned four scientific analyses and remediation plans for the site between 1990 and 1992 but took no action to avoid jeopardising the bid. When exposed, Olympic organisers accused environmentalists of being ‘unpatriotic and ‘un-Australian’.[10]

REGENERATION: THE REALITIES

David Higgins, Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), states:

“The Apperition of the Blue Wall” graffitti commenting on the walled off construction zone
The blue wall made large sections of East London inaccessible.

Our challenge is to successfully manage both the requirements of the Games and the long term regeneration of East London. Achieving both of these will bring fantastic opportunities for the whole of the UK.

In the past 20 years, there has been wave after wave of ‘regeneration’ in East London, each scheme spending huge amounts of public money. While claiming to be solving the same basic problems associated with poverty and ‘social exclusion’, the schemes seem never to have achieved their stated aims. Primarily, because their real aim has been to promote gentrification. During the Thatcher era, it was to be via the ‘trickle down effect’; now, gentrification is justified as being about ‘mixed-tenure’ and ‘social diversity’. But whichever prism you chose to view it through, the fact is that regeneration is simply the process of privatisation of housing and public space.

Art on the blue wall around contruction of London Olympics 2012

Lord Coe has explicitly stated his aim to ‘put London in the same bracket as the Barcelona games’. An ominous comparison. David Mackay, one of the leading architects of the Barcelona Olympics, whose firm MBM Arquitectes built the beach and the Olympic village, has said:

For Barcelona, [the Olympics] were a pretext, an excuse to improve the city.

Mackay calls the London Olympic plan a ‘missed opportunity’, a ‘thing that has arrived from out of this world and been plonked down in the Lea Valley’, anarchitectural theme city […] concentrated on iconic buildings rather than the recovery of the Valley.

Blue Wall, London Olympics 2012

London will build a new Olympic stadium, a velopark – a set of cycling arenas (in fact London mayor Ken Livingstone confirmed in February 2005 that the proposed £22 million velodrome and velo-park would be built with or without a successful Olympic bid) – and new athletics, aquatics and hockey centres. Mackay is critical of all these. The master plan, he told the Evening Standard, shows;over-construction. … It’s all concentrated according to the best desires of the International Olympic Committee, who want everything for their three week pageant. They’ve gone too far. It’s not for Londoners.

Blue wall, London Olypics 2012

Genuine regeneration benefits local residents; when ‘regeneration’ means displacement it is little more than a land grab. In Barcelona, the construction of the Poblenou Olympic Village displaced a working class neighbourhood. In Atlanta, the Olympics provided the opportunity to convert Techwood/Clark Howell public housing, the oldest in the US, into mixed use development and to displace low-income residents (mainly African American) from the downtown area. In total, about 450 public housing units were lost. The estates were situated on prime real estate, near the Georgia Institute of Technology and opposite the corporate HQ of Coca-Cola.[11]

In Beijing, it is thought that around 1.4 million people have been forcibly moved, some illegally. The number of traditional hutong neighbourhoods, made up of courtyard houses, has been reduced from 6.5 thousand to 500 as a result of clearances for the 2008 games.

LEGACY

Evidence suggests that new sports facilities have an extremely small (and perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment in a given area.[12] Stadia rarely earn anything approaching a reasonable return on investment and sports facilities attract neither tourists nor new industry. One legacy of the London Olympics might be high maintenance facilities and a huge debt. After all, Montreal took 30 years to pay off the debt it incurred building their Olympic site.

Manor Gardens allotment holders speak about the Legacy of the London Olympics 2012

According to the British Olympic Association, the London Games ‘will drive many of our youngsters to take part in sport and pursue dreams of becoming an Olympian.’ Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, is planning a Youth Olympics for 14-18 year olds in 2010.

But behind Rogge’s dream is another myth-busting admission: the Olympics is not about sport but about watching television. Since the average age of the television audience for the track and field events is over 40, it is difficult not to see the Youth Olympics primarily as an attempt to attract a more youthful sector. For all but the relatively miniscule number of people in the stadium, the Olympics is a televised event. In Australia, a very outdoor society, it was television viewing figures rather than sports activities that increased after the Sydney Olympics.

Sunday League players at Hackney Marshes discuss the effects on their community stemming from loosing their piches to the London 2012 Olympics

OLYMPIC IDEALS AND URBAN PLANNING

The planning applications for the Olympic Park were submitted by the ODA to the ODA Planning Decisions Team (PDT) on 5 February 2007. The 15-volume, 10,000 page document included plans for 2.5 km2 of new sporting venues, highways, bridges, river works, utilities, parks, and open spaces. Plans for the park show it will be very densely built.

Map of proposed Olympics 2012 construction

The application was subject to a statutory 28 days consultation period, later extended to six weeks, to allow members of the public to give their comments. There were many objections lodged, a major one being about the inadequate time for public consultation and woeful access to the application documents. The time period given to digest, consider, and prepare responses to one of Europe’s biggest ever planning applications was completely unrealistic, and further exasperated by the lack of access to documents, either online, in public libraries, or even at the ODA offices themselves. The complete set of planning documents available from the ODA in hard copy costs £500. DVDs were provided free-of-charge to representatives and those in the ODA/LDA, but were not available to local community groups.

It is difficult to see how the ODA has complied with The European Environmental Impact Assessment Directive which applies to these applications.[13] The directive provides that, the public concerned shall be given early and effective opportunities to participate in the environmental decision-making procedures referred to;[14] and that, reasonable time-frames for the different phases shall be provided, allowing sufficient time for informing the public and for the public concerned to prepare and participate effectively in environmental decision-making subject to this article.’[15]

Complaints about the absence of meaningful consultation, a lack or withholding of information, and manipulation of facts, are commonly directed at regeneration projects. As one resident says:

I was looking at an exhibition about the Olympic site and thought… Hang on! That’s where I live!

End of an era in East London, before the construction of the Olympic Stadiums

THE WINNERS

Glass towers in construction, London Olympics 2012

Laing O’Rourke, in partnership with Mace Ltd. (project management) and environmental evaluation company CH2M Hill (together called the CLM consortium), won the contract to manage construction of the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium and the Athletes’ Village. Happily, the CLM consortium has worked on five previous Olympic Games: Torino 2006, Athens 2004, Salt Lake City 2002, Sydney 2000, and Atlanta 1996.[16] The awarding of the management contract to CLM caused some controversy within both the industry and Parliament on the grounds that construction tycoon Ray O’Rourke had given a substantial donation to ‘Tony Blair’s 2012 bid team’ and substantial help in kind.[17]

Cranes in the skyline of Olympic construction 2012

The real winners are the IOC themselves, however. In the Athens games, they made a billion dollars in TV rights alone. The IOC enjoys tax-free status despite not being a charity, a religion, or a non-profit organisation. And to be on the safe side, its members enjoy diplomatic immunity.

THE LOSERS

The losers are often the most vulnerable members of society. In Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless documented the arrest of 9,000 homeless people in a policy of ‘arrests and relocation’ during the year before the Olympics. In Athens, 140 Roma from the Marousi community were forcibly evicted. The Clays Lane estate in East London, Europe’s second largest purpose built housing cooperative, was set up in the early 1980s to address the lack of housing for young single people in the area. It was initially funded by organisations including Newham Council and the University of East London. The site is large enough to house approximately 450 people. Now, the residents have been displaced under a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) issued by the London Development Agency (LDA) to make way for the development of the Olympic Village.

Clay Lane Community Centre, once a vibrant cooperative, dispersed by Olympic Park construction.

Also among the losers will be those deprived of funding by the Olympic budget. The Lottery (which, given the miniscule chance of winning, is basically a tax on the daft) will lose £112.5 million to help pay for the Olympics. This amount would otherwise have gone to ‘good causes’. The Arts Council of Great Britain recently slashed the ‘Grants for the Arts’ scheme funding by a third, from £83 million to £54 million, the first Olympic raid on the Arts Lottery fund. This money would have gone to around 5,000 arts projects.

Protesters on canal boats in East London, Olympics 2012

In March 2004, a cross-party committee of MP’s called the earmarking of money for the Olympics ‘a straightforward raid’ on Lottery funds for projects outside of London. The committee argued that the redirection of funds breached the government’s promise not to use Lottery cash to support schemes that should be funded through general taxation. It will be communities in East London and other deprived areas of the country who will suddenly find it harder to secure funding.


Protesters tour Olympic construction sight on canal boats in East London, Olympics 2012

NATIONAL MEGA PROJECTS

The postwar Olympic games are less sporting events than mega development projects. For every host city, the Olympics is an instrument for major urban restructuring on a scale that would otherwise be beyond the planners’ wildest hopes and dreams. The glow from the Olympic torch shines so bright it bleaches out the flickering flames of protest.

Construction behind the blue wall, London Olympics 2012 construction

The governments of all host nations exploit the Games for self-aggrandisement. From Berlin 1936 to Beijing 2008, regimes have used the opening ceremonies to parade the Games as the fruit and embodiment of their ideology. The 1973 games in Munich, for example, saw politics return to German sport as Cold War tensions came to a head.[18] The American-led boycott of Moscow 1980 was another recognition of the ideological instrumentalisation of the Games, as was the retaliatory boycott of Los Angeles 1984 by the Soviet Union and 13 Communist allies. In the run up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China wants to take the Olympic Torch through Taiwan and Tibet.

One can only fantasise about the cultural kitschifaction that will feature in the London opening ceremony. In the Expo 2000 UK pavilion, Battersea Power Station, an icon for degeneration, was featured heavily – so don’t expect irony.

Stratford and Westfield, London Olympics 2012

Of course, Britain’s major cultural legacy is its colonial past, currently unravelling most visibly in Iraq. Colonialism and regeneration have much in common. After all, one of the classic tricks of British colonialism was to present the land being taken over as ‘empty’. Colonialism also likes to rename. Or, as it is called today, ‘re-brand’. The idea is to re-appropriate culturally what has been taken physically. The branders can either sweep away all that existed before by calling it ‘My-Land’. Or enlist the past, one as distant, romantic, and mythical as possible, to present as natural what in fact is an irreversible lurch in the opposite direction. To cite the deputy Chairman of the Interbrand Group, Tom Blackett:

Glass towers still looking out of place during construction London Olympics, 2012

The development that will take place in preparation for the 2012 Olympics will change profoundly the character of the old East End; much of the squalor and dereliction will be swept away, and even areas developed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority will be transformed. […] The vast site [ …] will acquire an entirely new image, and with that it needs a new name. But it has to be a name that will last, a name that will capture the glory of the 2012 Olympics and help signify the rebirth of the area. ‘Lammas Lands’ would honour the spirit of the past; it is a name that is synonymous with recreation and the public good, and carries with it a long tradition of sport in East London.

Cranes behind the blue wall, London Olympics 2012 construction

Why not call it the ‘East End of History’?

THE FUTURE

As people who deliberately kick the hornets’ nest over love to say: ‘We are where we are.’ Sure, the London Olympics will go ahead, maybe not on time or on budget, but they will at least manage to destroy all that is currently there by turning it into Europe’s biggest building site. But the Olympic circus must stop. London must be the last nomadic Olympics. After 2012, the Games should stay in one place: perhaps Athens, Los Angeles or Atlanta (who cares?). The complex, not the IOC, should have ambassadorial status and be insulated from the host country. The athletes should represent themselves, not a country. We should see the world’s diversity through faces, not flags.

Olympic Stadiums, 2012

Competitive sport at this level is too specialist for it to be participatory for a wider public and it is a myth that the centralisation of specialist facilities does anything to help wider participation in sport. It would be better for the athletes if good, fixed facilities were established instead of the wasteful and destructive cycle of makeshift and make do. The money saved could be better invested in spreading around the world accessible local sporting facilities at a community level. That would be a true Olympic legacy.

Locals protest London Olympic games 2012

But more importantly, it is clearly unacceptable for a self-elected, unaccountable body like the International Olympics Committee to decide the fate of our cities. It is not about sport but a process whereby business interests lobby and encourage democratically elected local governments to commit limitless public money and dedicate urban priorities to hosting the Games. The IOC, through the issuing of exclusive rights and franchises, and by ruthless brand protection, in turn invigorates and gives free reign to those business interests. The momentum created by the need to ‘put on a good show’ irrevocably distorts and rearranges our cities according to private concerns. In the national interest, extraordinary powers are exercised to overcome democratic structures, opposition, and planning constraints. For the East End, it is not looking good. The area will slowly get turned into a matrix of gated housing and shopping complexes, clustered in a tamed, risk-averse landscaping linked by high security jogging friendly ‘green’ pathways.

As they say in Cockney rhyming slang: then we’re ‘McDonald Ducked’.

Further Information

The best source of info and updates on the London Olympics is Games Monitor, http://gamesmonitor.org.uk

Footnotes

[1] Guardian Unlimited, 8 March 2007.

[2] The Guardian, 8 March 2007.

[3]The Independent, 08 March 2007.

[4] Sarah Glynn, ‘Playing the ethnic card – politics and ghettoisation in London’s East End’, online papers archived by the Institute of Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, 2006, http://linkme2.net/ce

[5] East End Life, 15-21 November 2004.

[6] ’2006 Multi-Storey Housing’, in: Review of Architecture, vol. 3, 2006, p. 302.

[7] A. Fraser, BBC Sport, 16 August, 2005.

[8] BBC Sport, 16 August, 2005.

[9] Manor Gardens Press Release, 28 April 2007.

[10] Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, Progressive Planning Magazine, Fall 2004.

[11] Peter Phibbs, Progressive Planning Magazine, Fall 2004.

[12] See: Roger G. Noll and Andrew Zimbalist, Sports, Jobs, and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Stadiums, Brookings Institution Press, 1997.

[13] Directive 85/337/EEC as amended.

[14] Ibid, 6(4).

[15] Ibid, 6(6).

[16] Contract Journal, 30 August, 2006

[17] Evening Standard, 3 September 2006, in the run up to the IOC’s decision.

[18] On the ideological mise en scène of the Munich Games in 1973, see: Uta Andrea Balbier, ‘Zu Gast bei Freunden. How the Federal Republic of Germany Learned to Take Sport Seriously’, in: Mittelweg 36, 2, 2006. English translation published by Eurozine : http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-06-09-balbie…

 This is an edited version of an article that appeared first on the Eurozine website entitled ‘Fish ‘n’ Freedom Fries’ : http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-05-25-saunde…

Mark Saunders is a documentary film maker living in London. His films and photography are available at http://www.spectacle.co.uk



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Stay Home? They wanted to…

As England enters a third lockdown where all people are ordered to “stay at home,” at Spectacle we are reminded of a community in Clapham Old Town, Lambeth SW4 that was told to “get out” of their homes.

In Rectory Gardens, there lived a group of creative and industrious people. As young artists and divergent thinkers they turned a derelict bombed out row of uninhabitable houses into a flourishing artistic community. For forty years they lived in a housing backwater largely unaffected by social housing policies, despite sporadic attempts by the council to “formalise” the street. They created a housing cooperative, until Lambeth, the ‘cooperative Council’ began taking their “million pound” houses from under their feet. The community that now included the vulnerable, elderly, and unwell, was broken up and dispersed. 

A Tragedy in the Commons 

The street circa 1980

Rectory Gardens (RG) is a L shaped Victorian pedestrian street in Clapham Old Town SW4 that was badly damaged by bombing during WW2. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the decimated houses attracted a group of squatters who saw the opportunity to create a utopia. This motley crew of characters with their own ideologies, housing needs, and reasons for living outside of the norm, formed a collective community which lived in relative harmony for four decades.  

Rectory Gardens circa 1980

By the 1980s these squatters had revitalized the houses, and formed a housing cooperative. Rectory Gardens offered a home for all kinds of artists, free-thinkers, draft dodgers, and other socially liminal characters. Through the 80 and 90s, it remained a diverse community at the epicentre of a flourishing arts scene.

Squatters clear rubble, circa 1960

The street was host to an industrious community of artists, musicians, poets and unconventional ‘free thinkers’ who found a cheap way of living while developing their creative endeavors. It became a hub of cultural activities initiating art studios and cafes that brought life to the area. Spectacle interviewed both Vivienne Westwood and Maggi Hambling about the value of Rectory Gardens’s cultural contributions.

Bombed out windows, circa 1960

Residents of this dynamic community were the initiators of much that made the area distinct and attractive, the skate park and cafe on clapham common, Cafe des Artistes, Fungus Mungus, Voltaire Studios, bric-a-brac shops, rehearsal studios, artisan crafts and pool of skilled creative labour. The street itself had a public garden that served as a safe play area in the day and a performance and social space in the evening.

As with any tragedy, their success was key to their end as well. The artistic growth contributed to the popularity of the neighborhood and ultimately its subsequent gentrification. The council had its eyes on the properties, and though the residents tried to work with the council to legalize their living arrangement the deal fell through. The residents were recently evicted by Lambeth Council, who sold the houses to a developer on the private market.

Evicting the community was devistating for the mental health and well-being of many of these elderly and vulnerable residents. They lost not only their homes but their community and support networks. Many struggled to live away from their home of forty years, some died or were sectioned. Housing is integral to well-being, a point overlooked by this profit driven housing department.

Spectacle at Rectory Gardens

In the spring of 2014 Spectacle was contacted by the residents of Rectory Gardens. They wanted to record the final months of their squat-turned housing-cooperative. Rectory Gardens had been a lively arts community for over forty years, but growing conflict with the local council left the residents desperately fighting to avoid eviction, something that perhaps some media advocacy and intervention could assist them with, they believed.

Spectacle begins filming at Rectory Gardens in 2014

During our preliminary engagement with Rectory Gardens, Spectacle offered training to any residents who were interested in filming techniques. Spectacle conducted workshops where participants learned camera techniques, collected peers’ stories, and collectively discussed the footage and ways to continue the production process. The production process was dictated by the participants themselves, and they shaped the narrative scope by inviting ex-residents to contribute with their memories. This work developed into an archive of oral histories of the street. 

Peers interview eachother and collect an oral history of the street

The production has continued for over six years, far longer than the initial few months originally envisioned. Together, Spectacle and Rectory Gardens residents have collected over 150 hours of footage including: long interviews with residents; key events on the street; residents resisting evictions; historic footage filmed by residents during the 90s; and residents in their new flats, reflecting on living away from their community where they lived for decades.

Post evictions, the street is home to wealthier residents

During Spectacle’s engagement, RG has been dismantled through evictions and relocations, and the residents have been scattered to various and disparate areas of the borough. The street, on the other hand, has been transformed to make way for the arrival of new wealthy tenants. 

Framing the Street 

Spectacle’s video archive of Rectory Gardens brings out many topical themes and offers inspiration for the post-Covid City through an examination of the past. Rectory Gardens is a portrait of forty years of resistance to the government housing policies. 

The houses themselves were initially built as philanthropic poor-quality Victorian housing for low-income workers. After
Rectory Gardens was bombed and left derelict post WW2, it provided a solution for postwar homelessness through squatting. It offered fertile ground for experimenting with alternative ways of living, resisted the “slum clearance” in the 1970s, Thatcherism, and the sale of social housing in the ‘80s. Their methods and ideologies represent a range of approaches including anarcho individualism, anarcho-syndicalism, socialism, capitalism of small artisanal businesses looking for cheap space, and the daily necessity of the socially excluded and the legally marginalised. 

The beautiful rennovation by one of the co-operative residents, taken just before eviction

By the 2000s, the constant push to turn London’s affordable housing into profit, was nibbling at the edges of Rectory Gardens as well. The insidious forces of “regeneration” and contemporary privatised gentrification have been endemic in London where, even by global standards, the commodification of real estate is extreme. Through eviction and rehousing the community was broken up, and the squatters were replaced with live-in guardians, the modern sanitised, privatised version of squatting.

It’s important to note that not all parts of London have been equally gentrified, and Lambeth Council, where Rectory Gardens is located, was famous for its tolerance of alternative housing organisations and leftist leanings. They referred to themselves as ‘the cooperative council’ and ‘Red Ted’ Knight and his ‘Socialist Republic of Lambeth’ were the bete-noir anti hero of the tabloids. There were many houses like Rectory Gardens which were uninhabitable after the war, and Lambeth had few resources to deal with them. Squatters quickly took advantage of the council’s disinterest and moved into these spaces. Lambeth greatly benefited from the labour of these groups, and many cooperatives were able to legalise their situation, but RG was not.

The Project Now

The filming part of this project has come to a close, and we are looking for partners in the next phase – telling the story of what has disappeared. 

We are searching for funding and partners to assist in bringing the dispersed community together again for an online participatory editing process. The process will let the former residents of Rectory Gardens tell their story, by sifting through the 150 hours of footage and drawing out narratives and themes to share with a wider audience.

Searching for Partners for Rectory Gardens Online Participatory Video Project

If you are interested in exploring collaborations or can suggest potential funding streams please get in contact. We welcome academic researchers, activists, social historians, and all others. 

Read more about our model and past projects.

Please get in touch with projects@spectacle.co.uk or subscribe for more information.

For updates check our other blogs.

This project is relevant to: well-being, health, housing, social housing, urbanism, urban planning, human geography, sociology, participatory methods, co-creatation, co-authorship, knowlege sharing, community filmmaking, and participatory film.

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Cosa succede alla Battersea Power Station?

Vai all’articolo in INGLESE

Dopo la decisione di Apple di trasferire il suo quartier generale all’interno della Battersea Power Station, abbiamo assistito ad un picco di attenzione mediatica nei confronti dell’edificio art deco, gemma del patrimonio architettonico nazionale. Negli ultimi mesi, al contrario, le vicende che riguardano Battersea Power Station sembrano scomparse dai media mainstream. Ciò non significa che nulla sia successo e Spectacle ha continuato a monitorare le iniziative della Battersea Power Station Development Company – società che gestisce il progetto di rigenerazione – attorno alla monumentale centrale elettrica progettata da Giles Gilbert Scott e tanto amato da Londinesi e non. Sfortunatamente molte delle novità non sono confortanti.

Cattive notizie o buone notizie? Come sempre buono e cattivo sono mescolati nel linguaggio commerciale e ogni fatto è filtrato ad arte in base alle convenienze. Per esempio il grande pubblico certamente è stato messo al corrente del fatto che la più grande e ricca azienda al mondo, Apple, ha manifestato l’intenzione di trasferire i suoi uffici all’interno della centrale elettrica al termine dei lavori di ristrutturazione. Apple è stata salutata positivamente, come abbiamo segnalato, praticamente da tutti i mass media (tra gli altri segnaliamo BBC, The Guardian, Evening Standard). Nel frattempo solamente il nostro blog ha dato notizia della demolizione totale dalla parete est della centrale, rimossa per far posto a finestre e dare così luce ai nuovi uffici della Apple.

Battersea Power Station - three of the four chimneys have been rebuilt

Battersea Power Station – tre delle quattro ciminiere sono state ricostruite (Spectacle, 10/03/17)

Questa triste perdita, andata sotto completo silenzio in tutti gli altri media, è in linea con la curiosa strategia conservativa ‘distruggi per preservare’ ripetutamente applicata a porzioni della Battersea Power Station. Nonostante le migliori pratiche conservative del patrimonio storico architettonico prevedano il mantenimento della maggior parte dei manufatti esistenti, nel caso di Battersea si è deciso di procedere alla demolizione delle ciminiere e alla ricostruzione di repliche. Secondo noi questo è uno degli esempi più evidenti delle storture prodotte dall’intervento di interessi finanziari nel campo della conservazione, come abbiamo cercato di mostrare nel nostro film Battersea Power Station: Selling an Icon

Le demolizioni (ciminiere e parete est) sono state approvate da tutte le agenzie di controllo (in primis Historic England e il Municipio di Wandsworth) e giustificate in nome del bene ultimo rappresentato dal riportare in vita la Battersea Power Station. Ma quale bene è stato prodotto finora dal megaprogetto di rigenerazione, valutato in 9 miliardi di sterline e tra i più grandi in Europa? I lavori per la ricostruzione delle ciminiere sono andati avanti e, al momento, tre ciminiere nuove di zecca spiccano sulle rovine della centrale elettrica. Se tutto va bene, presto i londinesi saranno di nuovo in grado di ammirare tutte e quattro le ciminiere nello skyline di Battersea. Peccato siano false. Meglio di niente? Forse…

Pubblico non Pubblico

La Battersea Power Station Development Company, attraverso il suo amministratore delegato Rob Tincknell, ha recentemente annunciato l’apertura di una passeggiata lungo il Tamigi: “Siamo lieti di poter aprire nuovi spazi pubblici per Londra e di poter condurre la Power Station e i suoi dintorni di nuovo al centro della vita londinese” (dall’Evening Standard). Nonostante l’entusiasmo dell’annuncio, lo ‘spazio pubblico’ cui si riferisce Rob Tincknell è nient’altro che una breve passaggio pedonale privato, schiacciato tra il fiume e la cosiddetta Fase 1 del progetto. La passeggiata sarà integrata al più ampio lungofiume che sarà aperto al pubblico di fronte alla Power Station. Come il resto dell’area, anche questo spazio è tecnicamente privato e solo aperto al pubblico, cosa ben diversa dall’essere uno ‘spazio pubblico’ tout court.

BPS_Collage_Riverside

Mentre eravamo intenti a fare delle riprese sulla nuova passeggiata, i membri della crew di Spectacle, ingenui, sono caduti nel tranello retorico dello ‘spazio pubblico’ pubblicizzato dai costruttori e si sono comportati come se davvero lo fosse. Sfortunatamente siamo stati ricondotti alla realtà da un membro del servizio di sicurezza venuto a ricordarci che il padrone di casa aveva deciso che non era permesso fumare in tutta l’area. Grazie al giudizioso gestore, la nostra salute è stata salvaguardata. Ci sembra però improbabile che uno spazio sottoposto a controllo privato possa garantire un libero godimento del lungofiume. Se i proprietari decidessero di bandire i picnic (magari per dare una mano i loro ristoratori) o manifestazioni di protesta, non ci sarebbe molto di cui lamentarsi: questo è ciò che accade quando si privatizzano spazi pubblici.

The Guardian in passato ha lanciato un allarme sugli effetti già prodotti dalla sovrapposizione di pubblico e privato lungo le sponde del Tamigi, diventato, secondo la loro indagine un “labirinto incomprensibilmente complesso di ostacoli privati e confusione tra municipi – nonché un campo di battaglia sui diritti di transito che potrebbe avere serie ripercussioni sull’accesso pubblico al fiume”. Non un grande preludio verso quella che i costruttori offrono come un’esperienza unica.

Planning non Planning

Le pretenziose 230 pagine del ‘manifesto’ su Place Making prodotte dalla Battersea Power Station Development Company riserva un ruolo fondamentale alla diversità di usi e di inquilini. Nonostante l’impegno a costruire case (alcune delle quali a prezzo calmierato) per la popolazione londinese, i proprietari hanno cambiato idea, passando da appartamenti di lusso a uffici.

THE_PLACEBOOK

La Battersea Power Station Development Company ha presentato istanza per un cambio d’uso della cosiddetta Fase 3 del progetto. I costruttori hanno intenzione di trasformare due edifici, progettati dalle star dell’architettura contemporanea Frank Gehry and Norman Foster – i cui appartamenti sono talaltro già in vendita – da uso residenziale a uffici. Il Financial Times nel darne notizia, presenta come causa di tale cambio il drastico crollo dei prezzi degli immobili di lusso, mentre la domanda di spazi per uffici si manterrebbe alta così come il loro valore. Rob Tincknell ha così giustificato la mossa al Financial Times: “L’aspetto positivo dei progetti a lungo termine è che possono adattarsi al mercato. Se non c’è mercato per immobili residenziali e un mercato molto florido per gli uffici, allora costruiamo uffici”.

Lo stesso Tincknell – che adesso esalta la flessibilità – in passato ha rilasciato un’intervista a Peter Watts, autore di ‘Up in Smoke’, testo sulla storia di Battersea Power Station, sottolineando come la propria azienda avesse prodotto una ricetta infallibile per rendere Battersea un luogo perfetto: “57% residenziale. Del restante 43%, che corrisponde a circa 315.000 mq, 110.000 mq in negozi e ristoranti, 158.000 mq in uffici e il resto con un buon bilanciamento di hotel, tempo libero e spazi per la comunità”. Ci domandiamo che cosa è successo a questo piano pseudoscientifico per mescolare usi e gente, secondo gli autori risultato di lunghe consultazioni con gli abitanti dell’area. Forse non era così importante dato che oggi Tincknel può riferire al Financial Times: “è facile immaginare di aggiungere 93.000 mq (di uffici)” e cancellare dal progetto un hotel e un bel po’ di appartamenti.

Il Battersea Power Station Community Group, praticamente l’ultima voce critica rimasta a mettere in discussione il progetto e le cui opinioni non sono mai state prese in considerazione dalla proprietà nel corso delle consultazioni, si sono scagliati contro la proposta: “Gli edifici di Gehry e Foster dovrebbero diventare case a uso sociale, con prezzi calmierati. Potrebbero esserci uffici ai piani bassi. Mentre assistiamo alla crisi abitativa più grave che sia mai stata vissuta a Londra, non si può dare via questi edifici nella loro interezza ad uso uffici”.

Continuate a seguirci per aggiornamenti e nuove contraddizioni generate dalla megarigenerazione di Battersea Power Station.

Watch more videos on Battersea Power Station
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Battersea Power Station: ghost flats worth £1.8bn!

Versione in Italiano

We learned from the pages of London Evening Standard that “More than £1.8 billion worth of homes have been sold at Battersea Power Station since they went on the market in January last year”. None on these flats have been built yet.

Apparently most of this £1.8 billion came from the fortunate global launch that Battersea Power Station Development Company organized last month.  As we already suspected, the search for overseas investors has not been affected by fear of the chinese property bubble bursting – the due date of which is still under discussion among financial analysts.  The threat of a Mansion Tax did not slow the rush of foreigners to use their deep pockets in order to get their piece of Battersea Power Station. Even if the London property market, as shown in Estate Agents Knight Frank’s report (see below), has appeared to slow down in the last few months, off-plan sales seem to work pretty well.Taking Battersea Power Station as reference for this trend, The Newstatesman  recently reported that:

“Off-plan profits hit the headlines last week with reports that a studio flat in Battersea power station, sold for close to £1m in the spring, is now due to go back on the market for up to £1.5m before it has even been built.”

Before anything has even been built, and while our concerns about the “Big Bang” business model of monstrous development projects are all to be proven erroneous, Battersea Power Station Development Company has actually done what all Battersea Power Station’s previous developers have already proven to be masters at: demolition!

Battersea Power Station: photograph taken by Spectacle on 08/12/2014

The first chimney of Battersea Power Station is gone. In the next weeks we will probably see it to come slowly back to a new life while the other three will start coming down all at once. We hope that the £1.8 billion will give Battersea Power Station Development Company enough energy to prove that, other than demolitions, they are good at building too.

 

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Battersea Power Station: appartamenti fantasma già venduti per £1.8 miliardi!

English version

Abbiamo appreso dalle pagine del London Evening Standard che “More than £1.8 billion worth of homes have been sold at Battersea Power Station since they went on the market in January last year”. Nessuno di questi appartamenti è stato ancora costruito.

A quanto pare la maggior parte di questi £1.8 miliardi proviene dalle vendite avvenute durante il fortunato lancio globale che la Battersea Power Station Development Company ha organizzato il mese scorso. Come sospettavamo, la ricerca di investitori stanieri non è stata resa difficoltosa dalle paure riguardanti l’esplosione della bolla immobiliare cinese – gli analisti finanziari stanno ancora discutendo su quando ciò avverrà. La minaccia di una Mansion Tax (tassa su immobili di lusso) non ha rallentato la corsa degli investitori stranieri per accaparrarsi il proprio costoso pezzo di Battersea Power Station. Nonostante il mercato immobiliare londinese, come mostrato dal report dell’agenzia immobiliare Knight Frank (vedi sotto), ha mostrato rallentamenti nel corso degli ultimi mesi, le vendite su progetto sembrano funzionare molto bene.Prendendo la Battersea Power Station come esempio di questa tendenza, recentemente The Newstatesman ha scritto:

“Off-plan profits hit the headlines last week with reports that a studio flat in Battersea power station, sold for close to £1m in the spring, is now due to go back on the market for up to £1.5m before it has even been built.”

Prima che sia stato costruito alcunché, e mentre le nostre preoccupazioni riguardanti il “Big Bang” dei modelli finanziari usati dai grandi progetti di sviluppo immobiliare aspettano di essere falsificate dai fatti,  Battersea Power Station Development Company ha già realizzato l’unica cosa che  tutti i precedenti costruttori impegnati nel progetto hanno mostrato di fare con maestria: demolire!

Battersea Power Station: fotografia scattata da  Spectacle il giorno 08/12/2014

Battersea Power Station: fotografia scattata da Spectacle il giorno 08/12/2014

La prima ciminiera della Battersea Power Station è andata. Nelle prossime settimane assisteremo con ogni probabilità al suo lento ritorno a nuova vita, mentre le altre tre ciminiere verranno smantellate contemporaneamente. Speriamo che i £1.8 miliardi daranno alla Battersea Power Station Development Company energia sufficiente per provare che, oltre a demolire, sono capaci anche a costruire.

 

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Cllr. Matthew Bennett’s Rectory Gardens slurs and errors

Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth during an interview with Spectacle.

Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth.

“We’d all like to live for free in million pound homes in Clapham”, Cllr. Matthew Bennett, Labour Cabinet Member for Housing in Lambeth, told Spectacle in a recent interview for our documentary about the eviction of residents from Rectory Gardens housing co-op. Yet, Spectacle’s film reveals that this statement, and numerous others Bennett made, is based on gross inaccuracies, calling into question the evidential basis for Lambeth’s decision to sell off the houses, a decision that Lambeth Labour MP Kate Hoey has told us “will go down in history as one of the worst the borough has made”.

Million pound homes?

In the mid-1970s, Lambeth Council Compulsory Purchase Ordered the L-shaped street of 28 Victorian terraced houses in the heart of Clapham Old Town for as little as £2000 – £4000 each under ‘slum clearance’. Along with numerous other ‘shortlife’ homes CPOd in the borough, the properties were effectively abandoned due to lack of funds to do them up. The only work ever to be carried out by the council since was to deliberately damage many of the interiors in order to prevent occupation. But a few years on, as was common at the time, squatters found a way to move into what had become derelict houses. Realising that this was a way to help them maintain the properties, the council then decided to welcome them as ‘short-life tenants’. Similar events took place across the city. “The Council were even handing out keys. They didn’t seem to care at all that we were there; in fact they seemed happy about it”, said one resident. Forty years later, and Lambeth are one of the last London boroughs to deal with their shortlife portfolio, having dithered about for decades, during which time a whole community and way of life has flourished. But in 2011, in the context an over-inflated London property market and government cuts, the Council decided to sell off what have become people’s long-standing homes at auction to raise cash. Evictions are currently in process.

Yet, if Lambeth are hoping to make one million pounds each on these houses, they must be dreaming. So far they have made £56 million on the sale of around 120 ‘shortlife’ houses. That’s around £466,000 for each one. There are now only around 50 shortlife properties remaining in the borough, and the Council aims to sell off the last remaining homes by the end of 2015. Rectory Gardens represents most of this tail-end stock. But rather than one million, the average sale price for a co-op property at auction is half that. Both houses already sold on Rectory Gardens went for under £500,000. It is unclear how much Lambeth anticipate making on the sale of the remaining houses; Spectacle have requested a figure.

How is this money to be spent? In our interview, Bennett said decisively that the money would be used to “build 1000 new council homes”, yet, a few moments later, he made more general statements about money going into a “pot” to pay for “road refurbishments, new primary school places” and seemingly other unspecified public services. His predecessor, Pete Robbins, said that the money raised from sales of co-op homes would plug a gap in the funding the council received for housing repairs. The money raised seems to be covering a lot of bases that it cannot possibly stretch to. Freedom of Information requests submitted by Lambeth United Housing Co-op (LUHC), (a campaigning group set up to protest similar borough-wide evictions), to find out exactly how the money will be spent have been unanswered. Spectacle has requested information regarding exactly where the new houses will be built, by when, and how much the total build is expected to cost.

Not only are these funds not being ring-fenced for housing, but the current £56 million windfall does not take into account the £1.8m spent so far on staffing and legal costs of eviction, nor the unknown additional sums spent on surveyors, auctioneers, vacant property managers, for which information Lambeth Council recently blocked another freedom of information request by LUHC. Neither does it factor in the added costs of re-housing people, which LUHC have estimated to be between £6 – £13m, nor the unknown long-term social welfare bill of caring for now isolated elderly and disabled residents, who had found support and care within the co-op community on the street, something the council seems keen to support in theory through its health and wellbeing policies and ‘Connected Communities’ project, but clearly not in practice when the community is already in situ.

Living for free?

Furthermore, the Council seems to refuse to acknowledge that it is thanks to the hard work, resources and energy of residents alone that houses that they once abandoned are now lucrative cash cows. Rather than living “for free”, in 1982, the majority of residents who came to settle in the houses formed a self-supporting co-op. Members paid into a pot, from which money was used to purchase materials or support substantial renovation works. These were carried out through a process of skill and labour sharing. Indeed, Labour Councillors Nigel Haselden, Christopher Wellbelove and Helen O’Malley in 2007 campaigning leaflets said: “Some of these homes would not be standing if it was not for the work of the people living in them.” Two of these Councillors, Wellbelove and Haselden, once elected did a complete U-turn on their promise to ‘fight for the rights of residents to stay in their homes’, now supporting the current eviction policy (O’Malley was deselected). Cllr. Bennett claimed no knowledge of this.

Correcting Bennett further on the matter of paying rent, he asked Spectacle to whom and how much were people paying. He then said “I heard it was no more than £1 a week. That’s almost nothing”, adding, as a different tack, “they’ve paid nothing to the Council”. First, the council never actually allowed any rent to be paid (more of which later), second, the actual membership fee was set at £5 a week (though rates varied across all co-ops), to reflect the low-income of those in the homes, all of whom were already on the council housing waiting list. This small fee was also designed to encourage residents to work on their own properties, which, contrary to Bennett’s claim that “people have not shown any willingness to spend the money necessary to bring [the houses] up to a decent condition”, they did, adding their own energy and labour. This included re-roofing, plastering, re-wiring, building new chimneys, installing windows and doors where there were none, putting new boilers into every house, building staircases, installing gas, and much more. Yet Bennett claims that “at least five properties are completely derelict” and that others have “fallen into disrepair” and “not been maintained”. He is clearly unaware, as he himself admitted during the interview, of the condition of the properties when they were initially purchased in the 1970s. Spectacle has sent him the below photographs to demonstrate the actual situation.

RGDNs

“Million pound” homes? The derelict condition of CPOd houses on Rectory Gardens in the 1970s before the co-op took over renovations.

In addition, Spectacle pointed out that since the residents have been paying council tax for years, according to the Valuation Office for England and Wales this legally qualifies them as ‘dwellings’ suitable for habitation, hence they could not possibly be “derelict”. A spate of recent articles concerning one property on the street said to have a tree growing through an illegal extension with dangerous electric wiring, rented out to sub-letters, is not a house that is part of the co-operative, yet it is being used to tarnish the community. Filming in a number of co-op homes, Spectacle found them to be comfortable, homely and safe. Having referred to a couple of other incidents with some houses in the street during his interview, Spectacle made the point to Bennett that crime is a social problem, not the fault of one set of people, neither should the actions of one mar the whole community, be that Rectory Gardens or ‘shortlife’ co-ops in Lambeth generally. He was unable to comment further.

Moreover, the idea that we should measure people’s contribution to society based on ‘how much they pay’ in monetary terms – (to the Council, in this case) – implied by Bennett’s statement, demonstrates an indefensible attitude of income-based prejudice. Looked at in entirely different way, the residents of Rectory Gardens have collectively done as much, if not more, to contribute to their community as many other rent-paying citizens do to theirs, and have a stable community that is not reflected by some of the highly transient ‘neighbourhoods’ that surround the street where occupants regularly move on and private rentals stay empty for long periods. The self-proclaimed ‘cooperative council’ should be falling over itself to recognise and reward those who voluntarily invest into making their ‘patch’ a positive place. Residents of Rectory Gardens have been behind numerous artistic and community-based initiatives in the area over the years, such as Cafe on the Common, the Tea Rooms, Studio Voltaire, and even the skate park on Clapham Common, activities which no doubt contributed hugely to making the area a now-desirable postcode, propping up the very market prices that Lambeth seek to capitalise on today.

There Is No Alternative?

Adding further insult to injury, despite the accusation of ‘living for free’, paying rent to the council was never given as an option. At no point since the establishment of the housing co-op have Lambeth Council sought any financial arrangements with residents. Bennett’s version of history is that “Other co-operatives took the opportunity to charge social rents and take a regularised position… Rectory Gardens did not go down the route [of] becoming a proper cooperative… We’ve spoken with the housing co-op on many, many occasions about ways in which they might want to finance taking their over as a co-op on their own, they haven’t been able to work with the money.” In fact, Rectory Gardens was not allowed to go down this route of ‘rationalisation’ and the council has never seemed to want to make them tenants – something that Tulse Hill Labour Councillor Mary Atkins said should have happened years ago. The Council has had opportunities of resolving the situation numerous times over the years, but has stopped deals going through, deciding not to come to a resolution and consistently using the threat of legal action as a first port of call. For example, the community embarked on years of without-prejudice negotiations with housing association Metropolitan Housing Trust and the Council, involving a lot of time, effort and money for the deal to evaporate because the council revalued the site.

On three occasions between 2012 and 2013, Lambeth United Housing Co-operative proposed to the council that residents begin to pay rent and become social housing tenants as a solution. They also came up with the idea of the ‘Super Co-op’, a proposal backed by housing experts that would see ex-council stock being recycled and refurbished by a borough-wide umbrella co-op while simultaneously skilling up local people. These solutions were rejected without being fully discussed. The Council even refused payment of their own legal charge, developed in-house; a so-called ‘use and occupation’ back fee seemingly designed to coerce people from the properties. A judge suggested a defendant pay in installments but Lambeth promptly declined this, presumably worrying that accepting payment could mean a case for tenancy rights in court.

As part of the eviction process, residents have been offered priority re-housing via the council’s Choice-Based Lettings system. Yet some of those that have accepted and found re-housing have reported damp, mould and asbestos, among other problems, not to mention the psychological difficulty of being forcibly displaced away from their community. Residents wish to remain in their homes, where they have raised families and built a robust community, and would be happy to pay council rents rather than needlessly displacing others on an already overburdened council housing waiting list. Yet Bennett argues that selling off this rare social housing stock will help the “21,000 people on our housing waiting list, the 1800 families in temporary accommodation and the 1300 living in severely overcrowded homes” because it is “not affordable” to spend money refurbishing them, money that could go towards new homes, or road refurbs, or primary school places… New council homes are of course welcomed, but should this be at the expense of existing council stock?

To top this off, at no point have residents asked the Council to spend money on the homes; rather they have proposed that they would take this on themselves via the Super Co-op. Bennett adds “It costs five times as much (£60 – £70,000) to refurbish a house on Rectory Gardens as it does to refurbish an existing council home.” Uncertain where these figures have come from, Spectacle have asked for the data used to make this claim. We have also written to Bennett to suggest that there are other options. The Super Co-op was one, but housing expert, and Director of Self-Help Housing, Jon Fitzmaurice has also told us he “continually comes up against large organisations who say it is uneconomic to do up houses but it is erroneous to take that view, as communities and small charities can make things happen for much less.” In Liverpool, a recent case he came across, saw a commercial builder estimate that a property would cost £30,000 to refurbish. It was finally done by a community group for £6,000, with the labour provided by co-op members and the only costs those of materials, a surveyor and building supervisor. Surely, as a ‘co-operative council’, Lambeth is aware that the co-operative way is often one of the most affordable and socially productive around. A bit more imagination, a bit less short-termism, might work wonders.

Pursuing the eviction policy, one of the worst outcomes would be, as housing expert Jon Fitzmaurice told us, that properties are ‘flipped’ and the council end up renting the properties back off a private landlord for social housing, which would be expensive, wasteful and self-destructive, as the eviction policy is already proving to be. Over in Southwark, campaigners have found that similar council promises to build ‘new’ ‘council’ homes, on closer inspection, have resulted in the selling off of public assets to purchase private land and build houses that are only partially available for social rents, the remainder being offered for private sale or shared ownership. Without a firm and open statement from the Council on exactly where the money is going, it is difficult to hold such promises to account.

Meanwhile, residents of Rectory Gardens are on the move, or in court, with some spending maybe one last Christmas in their self-created homes.

To read more of our blogs about Rectory Gardens, click here.

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Selling Battersea Power Station over stormy seas

Versione in Italiano

 

Why has the demolition of the south west chimney at Battersea Power Station apparently come to a stop?

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

Chimneys on October 21th

Chimneys on October 21st

Maybe the project has hit a technical snag- the chimneys are far more robust than the Battersea Power Station Development Company have wanted to admit – but it could also be that it is a barometer of the global economy and an indication of how vulnerable their business model really is. The business model of the current owners, like the previous ones, is a precarious one based on an ever increasing UK property market.

However the current economic climate is not looking good. The property market, according to most informed opinion, has plateaued and, in London, is in danger of going down.

Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist at Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, in an article about the UK’s Property Market says:

“As a result of the rebalancing in demand and supply, house price growth across the UK appears to be moderating […] prices are still projected to rise nationally over the next year and expected to increase by 2.6% on a 12 month view (compared with around 4% at the start of the year)”
The pound is getting stronger against currencies like the Euro (Milan and Paris are targeted cities for the Battersea Power Station Development Company), making London a less attractive investment and interest rates are going up.

(www.xe.com)

(www.xe.com)

The Labour Party, if they win the election in May 2015, which if due only to the metronomic pendulum swing of UK politics between the two major parties, is a distinct possibility, are promising a “Mansion tax” on all properties worth more than £2m (here is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ opinion about the Mansion Tax).

Then there is the UK housing crisis, caused in large part by the selling of London property to foreign investors who have no intention of living in the properties they buy. Whoever wins the next election they need to address this and no solution will leave the property market untouched.

The Financial Times seems to support our worries in a recent article:

“Uncertainty around new property taxes, the strength of the pound on global currency markets and the introduction last year of a tax on homes held through companies have all contributed to the slowdown, according to those involved in trading properties.”

The same article gives us a quite impressive picture of the property market situation.

Some data about English Property Market, as published by Financial Times on

Some data about English Property Market, as published by the Financial Times.

Perhaps the emphasis on selling off-plan to overseas investors is because while there are plenty of rich in the UK  they might be a harder sell being better informed. Overseas investors, basing their judgement on futuristic artists impressions are unlikely to be aware of the smelly and disruptive waste processing plant with its hundreds of daily truck deliveries of reeking rubbish.

Our two faced Mayor of London Boris Johnson, ever the populist, plays it both ways, touring China promoting the London property market as an investment and for a local audience blaming that very market on the chronic housing shortage.

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from http://www.ballymoregroup.com/en-GB/news/41)

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from www.ballymoregroup.com)

It might be coincidence but in the week the Chimney demolition halted it was reported that the Chinese property bubble would burst soon, probably 2015, with catastrophic ripple effect on the global economy and international banking- possibly triggering a global crash.

As Bloomberg reported recently:

“The Chinese crash might make 2008 look like a garden party. As the risks of one increase, it’s worth exploring how it might look. After all, China is now the world’s biggest trading nation, the second-biggest economy and holder of some $4 trillion of foreign-currency reserves. If China does experience a true credit crisis, it would be felt around the world.
[…]
The potential for things careening out of control in China are real. What worries bears such as Patrick Chovanec of Silvercrest Asset Management in New York, is China’s unaltered obsession with building the equivalent of new “Manhattans” almost overnight even as the nation’s financial system shows signs of buckling. As policy makers in Beijing generate even more credit to keep bubbles from bursting, the shadow banking system continues to grow.”

This week the Battersea Power Station Development Company launched their overseas selling campaign of luxury apartments. Three of the cities targeted are Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong- all especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the Chinese economy.

The new owners are no different to all the previous owners – they are just better at PR and have better access to overseas markets. As before, despite the excellent PR hype suggesting that “at last work has started”, bolstered shamelessly by a “purse whipped” English Heritage, the only thing the current owners have actually done is demolish – they are taking down the chimneys, demolishing the precious, Grade II listed Victorian pumping station and removing the iconic listed cranes.

In other words the new owners are just flipping the Battersea Power Station. Selling today artists impressions of what MIGHT be built in the future.

We wonder what guarantees prospective buyers have that the off-plan flats they are buying will actually materialise. But then, having more money than sense, they probably do not care.

 

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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Battersea Power Station in vendita per mari perigliosi

English Version

 

Come mai i lavori di demolizione della ciminiera sudovest di Battersea Power Station sembrano essersi fermati?

The chimneys as they appeared on September 27th

Come apparivano le ciminiere di Battersea Power Station il 27 settembre scorso

Chimneys on October 21th

Le ciminiere di Battersea Power Station il 21 ottobre

Il progetto si è forse incagliato su qualche scoglio tecnico – le ciminiere sono molto più resistenti di quanto la Battersea Power Station Development Company sia disposta ad ammettere – o dipende dall’andamento dell’economia globale e si tratta, quindi, di un indicatore sulla vulnerabilità del piano finanziario del progetto? Il modello economico seguito dagli attuali proprietari, così come dai precedenti, è alquanto precario basandosi in gran parte sull’idea di un mercato immobiliare britannico in continua crescita.

Guarda caso le previsioni economiche attuali non guardano al bello. Il mercato immobiliare, secondo le opinioni degli esperti, è in stagnazione e, a Londra, corre il rischio di deflazione.

Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist del Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, in un articolo mercato immobiliare nel Regno Unito afferma:

“As a result of the rebalancing in demand and supply, house price growth across the UK appears to be moderating […] prices are still projected to rise nationally over the next year and expected to increase by 2.6% on a 12 month view (compared with around 4% at the start of the year)”

La sterlina sta diventando sempre più forte nei confronti dell’Euro (Milano e Parigi sono obbiettivi per il mercato della Battersea Power Station Development Company), rendendo Londra una città meno attrente in cui investire, con tassi di interesse in crescita.

(www.xe.com)

(www.xe.com)

Il partito laburista, in caso di successo alle elezioni generali di Maggio 2015 – possibilità dovuta al fatto che l’alternaza tra i due maggiori partiti della politica britannica è inevitabile come il movimento di un metronomo – ha promesso la cosiddetta “Mansion Tax”, una tassazione aggiuntiva su tutti gli immobili di valore superiore a 2 milioni di sterline (qui è possibile leggere l’opinione del Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors sulla Mansion Tax).

Poi c’è la crisi abitativa, causata in gran parte dalla vendita di immobili londinesi a investitori stranieri, i quali non hanno nessuna intenzione di vivere nelle case che comprano. Chiunque vinca le prossime elezioni dovrà mettere mano a questo problema, e qualuque possibile soluzione avrà inevitabili ricadute sul mercato immobiliare.

The Financial Times, in un recente articolo, sembra supportare le nostre preoccupazioni:

“Uncertainty around new property taxes, the strength of the pound on global currency markets and the introduction last year of a tax on homes held through companies have all contributed to the slowdown, according to those involved in trading properties.”

Lo stesso articolo è corredato da una fotografia impressionante della situazione che sta attraversando il mercato immobiliare.

Some data about English Property Market, as published by Financial Times on

Dati riguardanti il mercato immobiliare britannico, pubblicati su The Financial Times.

Può darsi che l’enfasi riposta sui piani di vendita a investitori stranieri, quando c’è abbondanza di ricchi anche nel Regno Unito, sia dovuta al fatto che gli investitori locali siano più difficili da convincere visto che sono meglio informati. Gli investitori stranieri, che fondano i loro giudizi su impressioni artistiche e futuristiche, sono probabilmente inconsapevoli dell’olezzo disgustoso proveniente dall’impianto di smaltimento dei rifiuti presente nell’area, con le centinaia di camion che quotidianamente vi riversano fatiscenti carichi d’immondizia.

L’eclettico Sindaco di Londra Boris Johnson, anche nella sua versione più populista, fa il doppio gioco: va in tour in Cina per promuovere investimenti nel mercato immobiliare londinese, mentre al pubblico londinese indica proprio questo modello di mercato come causa della cronica mancanza di abitazioni.

Boris Johnson at the launch of London City Island in Ballymore group sales event in Hong Kong, 18/10/2013) (from http://www.ballymoregroup.com/en-GB/news/41)

Boris Johnson interviene al lancio delle vendite del London City Island, in un evento organizzato dall’impresa Ballymore il 18 ottobre ad Hong Kong. (Fonte: www.ballymoregroup.com)

Può darsi che si tratti di una coincidenza, ma nella stessa settimana in cui la demolizione della ciminiera si è fermata sono stati pubblicati resoconti che indicano come la bolla immobiliare cinese stia per esplodere presto, forse già nel 2015, con catastrofiche ricadute sull’economia globale e sulla finanza internazionale – con la possibilità di innescare una crisi globale.

Come riportato recentemente da Bloomberg:

“The Chinese crash might make 2008 look like a garden party. As the risks of one increase, it’s worth exploring how it might look. After all, China is now the world’s biggest trading nation, the second-biggest economy and holder of some $4 trillion of foreign-currency reserves. If China does experience a true credit crisis, it would be felt around the world.
[…]
The potential for things careening out of control in China are real. What worries bears such as Patrick Chovanec of Silvercrest Asset Management in New York, is China’s unaltered obsession with building the equivalent of new “Manhattans” almost overnight even as the nation’s financial system shows signs of buckling. As policy makers in Beijing generate even more credit to keep bubbles from bursting, the shadow banking system continues to grow.”

Questa settimana la Battersea Power Station Development Company ha portato i suoi appartamenti di lusso in una campagna di vendite in giro per il mondo. Tre città raggiunte dalla campagna sono Pechino, Shangai e Hong Kong, tutte particolarmente esposte agli alti e bassi dell’economia cinese.

I nuovi proprietari non sono molto diversi da quelli precedentivi – sono solo più bravi in PR e hanno un migliore accesso ai mercati internazionali. Come in passato, nonostante gli eccellente battage pubblicitario sostenga che “finalmente i lavori sono iniziati”, sotenuto senza pudore dall’English Heritage, l’unica cosa che i nuovi proprietari hanno fatto in realtà è stato demolire – stanno abbattendo le ciminiere, demolendo la deliziosa e protetta Victorian pumping station e rimuovendo le iconiche (e protette) gru.

In altre parole i nuovi proprietari stanno facendo il loro gioco con la Battersea Power Station. Vendono oggi immagini fantastiche di ciò che POTREBBE essere costruito in futuro.

Ci chiediamo che tipo di garanzie vengano fornite agli eventuali acquirenti stranieri circa il fatto che gli apparatamenti che stanno comprando sulla carta vengano effettivamente realizzati. Alla fine, avendo costoro più soldi che giudizio, forse gli non importa più di tanto.

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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Vivienne Westwood speaks out about destruction of Rectory Gardens housing co-op

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood speaks to Spectacle from her south London studio

Vivienne Westwood is known for her outspoken attitude, both in her fashion and activism. Sticking to trend, today she spoke out about the destruction of long-standing housing co-ops in her home borough of Lambeth, lending her support to the documentary Spectacle are making about the fate of Rectory Gardens and its residents who currently face eviction by the council.
 
This sort of short-termist policy is “incredibly stupid, shocking and horrible. It’s terrible to put people through that distress” and will simply add to the “growing list of people waiting for housing”, said Vivienne. In 2011, Lambeth recalled the properties it previously handed over to the self-forming housing co-op back in the 1970s as a response to cuts, spurred on by the now-booming London market. Vivienne spoke with warmth and enthusiasm about Rectory Gardens: “There is no traffic, so children can actually play together and knock on each others’ doors. People are all working together, it’s absolutely great.” The enforced break-up of such a community is “disgusting”, she added.
 
Vivienne moved to Clapham in the 1960s, when she recalls that London was a “dilapidated” yet “creative” and “living” city. Echoing the words of artist Maggi Hambling, who Spectacle interviewed two weeks ago, “There was always something to discover. It was full of craftspeople and artists”. Now, she says, London has been “cleaned up” and priced out through short-sighted government policy that is “killing the actual reason why people want to live here in the first place.”
 
With a deep love of London’s theatres and cultural centres, such as the National Gallery, Barbican, and particularly the Battersea Arts Centre, Vivienne argued that these sorts of enterprises tend to emerge from the ground up, through artistic communities that are allowed to grow organically, like Rectory Gardens itself. “These sorts of communities are so important to what makes London such a buzzing, active, cultural place”. But in a world dominated by concern for “profit” alone, in which “people are just treated as commodities”, she fears that all such creativity is “being obliterated and swamped”.
 

Vivienne highlighted the fact that the government is currently planning to build over 200 high-rise luxury flats in the City; an action she deemed “an absolute scandal”, since, at the same time, “the housing list is growing while council houses are being pulled down and housing co-ops are being evicted. Where are people going to live?” Arriving in London almost 50 years ago as a school teacher, Vivienne said that even at that time it was very difficult to find a flat. With her then boyfriend, Malcolm McLaren, they found a place that had been squatted by “hippies” and painted entirely red on the inside – “it looked like the inside of a phonebox! It was great!”. This was the only way they were able to secure a home. “I don’t know how people manage today. It’s dreadful.”

Referring to the soaring prices of London property, Vivienne spoke of the case of Maritza Tschepp who is being threatened by eviction from her ‘short-life’ house in Stockwell to the potential tune of around £700,000 for the Council at auction. Not a penny of that would go the former resident, despite the fact that it is her invested energy and money alone that has maintained and increased the property’s market value over the 33 years she has lived in it. At those prices, suggested Vivienne, who earlier this year attended a demonstration outside another boarded-up co-op house on Lillieshall Rd to protest its sale, it’s likely only to be speculators or those after second homes that can afford to move in.
 
“The government is doing only what’s good for business and profit – they’re not thinking about people. This is bad economics and is storing up trouble for the future”, argued Vivienne fervently. A long-standing Lambeth resident, she understood that the council was facing enormous pressure from its budget being slashed in half by government austerity measures. But argued that they should be resisting and raising the alarm about the scale of cuts, rather than backing the Government in “trying to work a system that is a short-term disaster for people and a longer-term, unimaginable disaster for the planet”. She urged that people should “stick together” to protest against the “false economy” of austerity.
 
Reflecting her broad activist perspective, Vivienne was keen to stress that the story of Rectory Gardens should be seen as part of a bigger systemic problem of greedy capitalist profiteering resulting in the destruction of communities and the environment, “happening everywhere”. “We need a green economy based on collaboration, respect for people, fair distribution of money, community. A green economy is a people’s economy – it is urgent and necessary. If you protest against the acquisition of these co-op houses, you are protesting against everything that is ruining the planet.” In her own true-to-form, outspoken words, that is: “a world in which politicians’ only care is to syphon off all profit for the super rich”. 
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Battersea Power Station: da icona rock a speculazione

In questi giorni Battersea Power Station andrà in giro per il mondo a vendersi. Un tour pubblicitario globale per lanciare, probabilmente, il più grande progetto di sviluppo immobiliare del momento a Londra e, certamente, tra i più controversi. La pubblicità è iniziata con un articolo di Enrico Francechini su Repubblica, che presenta il megaprogetto per i suoi aspetti avveniristici. Tuttavia non coglie gli aspetti critici della speculazione edilizia, il contesto di housing crisis e il rischio di cancellare l’icona del passato industriale Londinese (in bello stile art deco) lungamente denunciato dal Battersea Power Station Community Group. Un recente articolo del Financial Times, dando spazio al World Monument Fund e alle sue preoccupazioni, ci sembra che tenti di contestualizzare il lavoro dell’impresa immobiliare (Battersea Power Station Development Company).

Il brand usato dalla Battersea Power Station Developing Company

Il brand usato dalla Battersea Power Station Development Company

Probabilmente per un italiano medio Battersea Power Station non significa granché, ma se aggiungi la copertina di Animals dei Pink Floyd allora dalla memoria qualcosa affiora.

Copertina del celebre album  Animals dei Pink Floyd

Copertina del celebre album
Animals dei Pink Floyd

Per i londinesi Battersea Power Station rappresenta molto di più: un’icona del passato industriale e un punto interrogativo sul futuro dello sviluppo immobiliare della capitale britannica. Costruita a partire dagli anni ’30, questa cattedrale industriale fino all’inizio degli anni ’80 ha fornito elettricità alla metropoli, calore nelle sue case e ha dato un decisivo contributo alle affascinanti e nebbiose atmosfere stile “fumo di londra”.

Contributo della Battersea Power Station all'inquinamento di Londra e alle sue atmosfere fumose (getty images)

Contributo della Battersea Power Station all’inquinamento di Londra e alle sue atmosfere fumose (getty images)

Battersea Power Station fa parte dell’immaginario di milioni di frequentatori della capitale, stagliandosi nei finestrini dei pendolari che ogni giorno transitano dalle stazioni ferroviarie di Vauxall, Clapham e Victoria Station.  La bellezza dell’edificio e delle enormi ciminiere bianche, il condensato di storia industriale che incarnano hanno fatto sì che la Battersea Power Station entrasse già nel 1980 nella lista degli edifici storici.  A partire dal 2004 il prestigioso World Monument Fund ha incluso Battersea Power Station e le sue ciminiere nella lunga lista di edifici patrimonio dell’umanità che necessitano di essere protetti per i posteri. Ma da cosa bisogna proteggere Battersea Power Station?

Chiusi i battenti, l’enorme area industriale attorno alla centrale elettrica e lo stesso edificio sono a lungo rimasti abbandonati a se stessi, passando di mano in mano tra diversi investitori che hanno tentato di proporre i più disparati progetti di sviluppo, mai andati oltre annunci o parziali demolizioni dell’esistente (come il tetto, per esempio, da parte di precedenti proprietari)

STORIA DELLA BATTERSEA POWER STATION

Primi Piani: 1980-90

Nuovi Piani: 1993

GIORNI NOSTRI

Ma questa volta la Battersea Power Station Development Company, braccio operativo di una cordata di società e istituti finanziari della Malesia, sembra fare sul serio: archistars (Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Rafael Vinoly), budget faraonico (8 miliardi di sterline, circa 10 miliardi di euro) e la benedizione di sindaco e primi ministri dovrebbero permettere di creare, la’ dove ora c’e’ una cadente centrale elettrica, il centro di una nuova città nella città.

Da sinistra: il sindaco di Londra (Boris Johnson) il primo ministro inglese (David Cameron) e il primo ministro della Malesia Datuk Seri Najib Razak alla cerimonia d'inizio lavori alla Battersea Power Station (4 luglio 2013). Source: Daily Telegraph

Da sinistra: il sindaco di Londra (Boris Johnson) il primo ministro inglese (David Cameron) e il primo ministro della Malesia (Datuk Seri Najib Razak) alla cerimonia d’inizio lavori alla Battersea Power Station (4 luglio 2013). Source: Daily Telegraph

In questi giorni la Battersea Power Station Development Company porta in un tour globale i suoi progetti, in cerca di investitori stranieri pronti ad acquistare un posto nel nuovo nel centro che hanno intenzine di costruire. Anche gli Italiani avranno modo di esserne parte: la campagna pubblicitaria passerà da Milano dal 5 al 9 novembre. Per chi si fosse perso la notizia, il lancio del tour, almeno per il pubblico italiano, è avvenuto grazie a un lungo articolo di Repubblica che porta la prestigiosa firma di Enrico Franceschini, suo inviato a Londra.

Invitato dalla Battersea Power Station Development Company a “dare un’occhiata da vicino e a fare due chiacchiere”, l’inviato restituisce un entusiastico affresco delle infinite capacità di una città capace di guardare al futuro per reinventarsi attraverso progetti da sogno. Tra le righe Franceschini sembra quasi suggerire di prendere esempio e evidenziare ciò che manca a noi poveri italiani, impelagati nel presente e appesantiti da un passato di cui non sappiamo bene cosa fare. Chi si prenderebbe la briga di reinventare quartieri interi, investire miliardi per il futuro di Roma o Milano?
A Londra invece si può e la Battersea Power Station Development Company pensa a tutto: giardini d’inverno sul tetto della centrale, negozi e spazi espositivi, oltre che spazi abitativi per 100.000 persone e una deviazione della metro fino nel cuore del nuovo e straordinario “villaggio”.

Allora benvenuto sviluppo e capacita’ di fare: benvenuta “Città Futura!”

Veduta aerea del progetto come dovrà essere a conclusione lavori. In mezzo ai grattacieli si intravede la centrale elettrica.

Veduta aerea del progetto come dovrà essere a conclusione lavori. In mezzo ai grattacieli si intravede la centrale elettrica.

Peccato che dal simpatico affresco del nostro caro Franceschini manchino un po’ di fatti e alcuni altri vengono presentati in maniera tanto semplicistica da apparirci sbagliati, o perlomeno fuorvianti. Per chi non abbia ancora avuto la possibilità di saperne di più, ecco i principali.

Londra è probabilmente al picco del suo mercato immobiliare e, contemporaneamente, della sua capacità di attrarre migranti d’ogni sorta dal resto del mondo. Con il venir meno di piani e finanziamenti per abitazioni sociali e un mercato pompato da enormi liquidità provenienti dai gruppi finanziari e magnati di mezzo mondo, la gente “normale” si trova coinvolta in una paurosa crisi abitativa. Il fenomeno va avanti da almeno trent’anni ma gli effetti, in un contesto di crisi, austerità e con un mercato degli affitti alle stelle, sono devastanti e raggiungono fasce sempre più ampie della popolazione. Mentre si investono miliardi in edifici avveniristici, a Londra non ci sono nuovi appartamenti, non dico per i poveracci immigrati da mezzo mondo, ma nemmeno per la middle class locale.

Il Financial Times, invitato a scrivere sul progetto più o meno come Repubblica, riporta l’opinione di Peter Rees, un famoso urbanista, esperto di pianificazione e docente al prestigioso University College London.

“Peter Rees  […] has described the proliferation of new, largely residential, towers along the south bank between Battersea and London Bridge as “a disaster” that is “ruining London”.”

Questo parere tombale introduce un rapido excursus dei problemi relazionati al mercato immobiliare londinese e ai megaprogetti di sviluppo, come quello di Battersea. Non che il Financial Times sia la bibbia, o che le preoccupazioni del pubblico britannico siano le stesse di quello italiano, ma forse contestualizzare un po’ questo progetto sarebbe stato interessante anche per i lettori di Repubblica. Soprattutto coloro che si apprestano a valutare da vicino, come suggerito dall’articolo, la possibilità di acquistare un appartamento nel complesso della Battersea Power Station.

Per Franceschini a Battersea “…se c’è un difetto è quello che la Città Futura sulla riva sud del Tamigi sembra un set cinematografico […] Ma lo stesso si può dire di Canary Wharf, la nuova City degli affari più a est sempre affacciata al fiume, o dell’Olympic Park, il quartiere dell’East Side rigenerato dalle Olimpiadi del 2012. Con un po’ d’immaginazione si può intravedere come sarà la Londra del 2020 o del 2030, un po’ New York, un po’ Las Vegas, un po’ Old London, un po’ Luna Park.”

Secondo noi di difetti (e rischi) ce ne sono, e sono ben altri.

Ciò che ha reso Battersea Power Station l’icona gotico industriale che attualmente rappresenta sono le ciminiere bianche. In passato Spectacle ha supportato e documentato su questo blog le campagne in difesa della centrale e, in particolare, delle sue ciminiere. La proprietà sostiene che le ciminiere siano un pericolo, in quanto danneggiate dal tempo e rese pericolanti dalla mancanza di manutenzione degli ultimi 30 anni almeno. A tale scopo Battersea Power Station Development Company ha in mente di demolirle per sostituirle con copie nuove di zecca che ne garantiscano la solidità per gli anni a venire.
Franceschini affronta l’argomento con un simpatico, quanto sibillino, inciso che potrebbe apparire di poco conto:

“Non c’è pericolo che i comignoli bianchi cadano in testa ai nuovi inquilini: quelli verranno abbattuti delicatamente e rifatti uguali ai vecchi ma nuovi, per ragioni di sicurezza, mentre il resto dell’antica struttura, ben rinforzato, rimarrà dov’è.”

In realtà questa è precisamente la posizione dell’impresa, il cui CEO è arrivato a paventare rischi imminenti di crolli, anche in caso di folate di vento più forti del solito.
Diversi elementi fanno dubitare sul fatto che le ciminiere rappresentino un pericolo concreto. Se le nostre inchieste e le interviste realizzate con i membri del Battersea Power Station Community Group, promotori delle campagne di difesa della centrale da speculazioni e distruzioni, possono sembrare parziali, torniamo al Financial Times e a come affronta lo stesso argomento.
La scelta, in questo caso, è stata quella di affidare al World Monument Fund uno spazio in calce all’articolo per presentare la propria posizione nei confronti del progetto. Dalle righe a firma Jonathan Foyle, chief executive del World Monuments Fund Britain, si scopre che questa pericolosità è contestata da tre autorevoli studi:

“In 2005, three engineers concluded the existing chimneys could be repaired in-situ. Instead, they are to be razed and rebuilt as smoke stacks that never smoked, reducing long-term maintenance.”

Fatto sta che le ciminiere stanno venendo giù, e anche rapidamente, in barba a tutti i tentativi operati dagli attivisti del Battersea Power Station Community Group di far valutare a impresa e municipio piani alternativi di restauro. Inoltre le garanzie predisposte affinché l’impresa effettivamente proceda alla ricostruzione delle ciminiere sembrano essere state aggirate. Se in un primo momento il municipio aveva imposto alla compagnia di procedere alla demolizione e immediata ricostruzione di una ciminiera per volta, nuovi accordi hanno stabilito che dopo aver abbattuto e cominciato a ricostruire la prima ciminiera, le altre tre potranno essere smantellate tutte insieme.

Inoltre è stato chiesto all’impresa di depositare in un conto vincolato fondi sufficienti a garantire la ricostruzione, anche in caso di fallimento improvviso o vendita a terzi del progetto (le dinamiche del passato fanno credere che non siano ipotesi tanto remote…). Il fondo depositato è di 11 milioni di sterline (14 milioni in euro, un po’ pochino a detta di un ingegnere della stessa Battersea Power Station Development Company) e il deposito è stato effettuato in una banca malese. Secondo gli attivisti in caso di effettivo fallimento della Battersea Power Station Development Company, sarebbe quasi impossibile riscuotere i soldi di garanzia.

Battersea Power Station è solo uno dei centinaia di progetti di development finanziati da gruppi immobiliari a capitale britannico o internazionale, tutti extralusso. Questi progetti spesso creano bellissimi e avveniristici quartieri, ma spettrali: i primi acquirenti sono, normalmente, gruppi immobiliari e affaristi di mezzo mondo che comprano e vendono appartamenti come titoli azionari. Questi proprietari, che Battersea Power Station Development Company apparentemente sta cercando di raggiungere nel suo tour globale, sono normalmente in cerca di curve di mercato che garantiscano utili, più che di esperienze urbanistiche e vedute mozzafiato. Lo scarso interesse verso la reale esperienza abitativa degli investitori rende più che sospettosi circa l’attenzione che la Battersea Power Station Development Company riporrà nella salvaguardia architettonica del sito.

 

Click Battersea Power Station for more blogs
See our Battersea Power Station project pages for more information and videos.
Or visit PlanA our general blog on urbanism, planning and architecture.

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