As Mayor of London for eight years Ken Livingstone proved his love of tower blocks and had an important legacy in making London more ugly. His successor Boris Johnson is, in theory, more equivocal about such structures – although his verdict rather depends on what day of the week it is and who is asking him. I can’t imagine that Boris would wish to live in one himself. Certainly in 2008 the message from Boris was against tower blocks; condemning Livingstone’s “phallocracy”. Yet in practice Boris has pressed on with the Livingstonian agenda. If Boris has reservations they have not been strong enough for him to thwart his officials in their mission to bespoil the skyline.
One example is the hideous stuff that is going up in the “housing zones” which the Mayor has agreed with the boroughs.
Three examples of developments were recently trumpeted. All of them depressing for those of us seeking to win support for new housing that is traditional and beautiful.
There will be “fast tracked” new developments in Labour-run Brent (above right), Conservative-run Westminster and Lib Dem-run Sutton (bottom right). The eyesores are to be spread in a non partisan manner. The Mayor is quoted as saying that he “could not be more pleased”.
The Edgware Road Housing Zone in the borough of Westminster will provide 1,113 new homes. Cllr Daniel Astaire, Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Regeneration, Business and Economic Development, said: “This is a great outcome for Westminster and the local community.”
The Alperton Housing Zone in Brent, situated on the north side of the Grand Union canal, will see more than 3,213 homes built by 2025 thanks to a £17.9 million funding injection from the GLA. Cllr Margaret McLennan, Lead Member for Housing and Development at Brent Council said: “This is fantastic news for Brent and our key growth areas of Alperton and Wembley. We all know that the demand for new homes outstrips the supply, so as a council we are doing everything we can to get more homes built in Brent and tackle the housing crisis. This funding will help us achieve this aim.”
All this sends out the message that more means worse and thus makes it harder in the long run to win support from Londoners for easing the housing supply.
The Sutton development is in the Hackbridge Housing Zone. Cllr Jayne McCoy, Chair of the Housing, Economy and Business Committee at Sutton Council said: “This is great news for Sutton. The designation of the Sutton One Housing Zone will give a tremendous boost to housebuilding in the borough and is an exciting opportunity to build on the significant investment already attracted in recent years.” Whenever new housing is described as “exciting” it is usually a warning signal.
Yet there is no need for this. The evidence that most people would back new housing if it is traditional, but oppose it if it is modernist, is clear. There is also general acceptance that high rise does not mean higher density – as the high density in Kensington and Chelsea demonstrates.
We have had the absurdity of council estates being redeveloped – often specifically because of the problems with tower or slab blocks is acknowledged – only for them to be replaced by estates with new tower blocks.
The upshot is that the only reason that planners impose yet more tower blocks on us is ideology – socialist ideology.
Of course there have been many fantastic achievements in the Johnson Mayoralty – five years ago I listed a couple of hundred and the number notches up by the week. But can he honestly claim that architecture in the capital has improved?