Sunday, 22 June 2014

'Renaissance Elephant' Guided Walking Tour: Chartered Institute of Housing survey, Grainia Long, New London Architecture, Caroline Dale, Strata, Heygate Estate

Some Londoners on a Saturday morning walk the dog, enjoy a Full English Breakfast or work out at the gym. But a few choose to go on a guided 'regeneration' walk.
Paul Coleman reports.

A Lend Lease agent speaks to 'regeneration tourists' near to the Heygate Estate
© London Intelligence

Walking out of bounds

It’s not just that they don’t see a solution - they don’t even see a problem, writes Paul Coleman.
Some people say this 'head-in-the-sand' attitude towards growing inequality applies to London’s ‘regeneration’ advocates and ‘developer community’.
But inequality seems to matter to the 25 folk embarked on a 90-minute ‘Elephant Renaissance’ guided walking tour around the Elephant and Castle area of south London.
Blazing Saturday morning sunshine garlands their every step through Tabard Square, Trinity Church Square, Newington Gardens and Heygate/‘Elephant Park’. 
They’re a mix of men and women, but mainly professional types.
One woman comes from a wealthy Washington DC neighbourhood. “I’m curious about the inequalities produced by London’s real estate market,” she admits. "Is it just a playground for rich Russians?"

But inequality isn't really on the agenda of the 'regeneration tour'. Tour organisers New London Architecture describe the Elephant and Castle as an area ‘synonymous with social deprivation and poor quality buildings’ - but ‘now on the threshold of an urban renaissance…Tall buildings will both signal its regeneration and provide interest on the skyline’.
The NLA walk, part of a London Festival of Architecture, takes place on the same day (21 June) that a Chartered Institute of Housing and Ipsos Mori poll finds 34% of London residents believe the high cost of housing means they may “have to move out of their local area” in the future.

Out of bounds
CIH chair Grainia Long says: “It is deeply disturbing that a third of Londoners think they might have to leave their local area because the cost of housing is too high.
“Many areas are well on the way to becoming out of bounds to all but the very wealthiest – if things carry on as they are ordinary people will simply not be able to afford to live in many areas of the capital.”
For several years now, this has already hugely worried long-term Elephant and Castle residents whose families have lived in the area for generations. Residents claim a phalanx of developer-led and Southwark Council-backed regeneration schemes are pricing local families out of their traditional homes.

Author and journalist Caroline Dale tells 'regeneration tourists' about Newington Gardens
© London Intelligence

The NLA ‘regeneration’ narrative breezes over this problem. Fortunately, our experienced London guide happens to be Caroline Dale, the Angel-based author and journalist. Like the sunshine, Dale is a London soul not shy to shed a revealing light onto the shadowy propaganda pushed by developer-led ‘regeneration’ narrators.
Dale highlights how local council tenants and leaseholders on average and lower incomes contest Elephant and Castle developments, especially the lack of genuinely affordable housing offered by these schemes.
Dale pauses the cluster in Newington Green and points their gaze to the “ubiquitous and controversial Strata” tower, a purely residential building that looms over Elephant and Castle. With ‘affordable homes’ on the first ten floors, Dale says Strata’s remaining higher-level apartments “have been bought as buy-to-let investments”.

Static non-functioning wind turbines top the Strata Tower's penthouses
© London Intelligence

Dale points to the three static wind turbines at Strata’s peak. “They only went round for a couple of months,” says Dale. The architects said Strata’s turbines, originally designed to generate enough juice to power the tower’s lifts and communal lights, might be too noisy for people dwelling in Strata’s £2 million summit penthouses.
“Local people call them Strata’s green gimmick,” explains Dale. “The affordable housing element was meant to be for people moving out early from the Heygate Estate, now undergoing demolition. But it isn’t now, as it’s been taken over by an estate agent promoting the area. Strata hasn’t gone according to plan.”

Around the corner, Dale leads us mob-handed into Lend Lease’s sales gallery for ‘Elephant Park’, part of the global developer’s phased demolition and redevelopment of the 1,200 council and leaseholder homes on the Heygate Estate.
“There’ll be a small element of affordable,” says Dale, pointing to Lend Lease’s grandiose scale model of Phase One of ‘Elephant Park’ with its mansion flats and towers.
“You get the picture that almost everything planned around the Elephant and Castle is being resisted,” says Dale.
“But developers and Southwark Council like the huge land plots ripe for regeneration.”

Developer Lend Lease's sales cabin for its 'Elephant Park' first phase
demolition and redevelopment of the Heygate Estate
© London Intelligence

© Paul Coleman, LondonIntelligence, June 2014

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Signals from London Real Estate Forum 2014: Capital inflows, outer London, Far East 'step back' warning

LREF 2014 guests and delegates arrive and mingle at champagne reception
 © London Intelligence

Berkeley Square signals

The second annual London Real Estate Forum in Berkeley Square emits strong and fainter signals about the direction of London’s political economy, writes Paul Coleman.
LREF delegates and guests include property developers, investors, agents, consultants, lawyers, planners and politicians.
The property jamboree (11-12 June) strongly signals foreign capital will continue to gush into London’s booming segmented property markets – residential, commercial office, retail, hotel, and student accommodation.

Step back
But will less affluent outer London areas, like Tottenham, Croydon and Enfield attract any of this capital? 
And will this gush of money stay for the long haul - or flip and run when investment pastures look greener elsewhere?
LREF delegate Kam Lee, an advisor to ‘high worth' investors, issues another warning: “Far East investors will step back from London if a Labour government is elected in 2015.” 

To read the full article, visit:

Reception room at LREF 2014 © London Intelligence

LREF delegates converse over model of Canary Wharf Group's
Wood Wharf development © London Intelligence

© London Intelligence

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, June 2014

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Housing crisis for Londoners: London Real Estate Forum 2014, Champagne reception, Mayor Boris Johnson

The Mayor of London treats developers and estate agents to a shorter than usual flute of his blurt and bluster. Is Boris Johnson worried about the failure of developer-led regeneration to build enough homes for Londoners? 

The second London Real Estate Forum opens in Berkeley Square
© London Intelligence

Mayor of London Boris Johnson (right) arrives at LREF 2014...with water
© London Intelligence

Bluster's last stand?

Mayor of London Boris Johnson bombastically opens the second annual London Real Estate Forum on a butterscotch sunshine evening in Berkeley Square (Tuesday 10 June), writes Paul Coleman.
Developers and landowners, according to LREF organisers at least, come to this year’s event “offering investment opportunities”.
Clinking champagne and wine glasses, they listen avidly to water-sipping Johnson, their powerful, avuncular and jocular chum from City Hall.
LREF organisers also claim Johnson’s audience includes potential investors seeking profitable residential or commercial projects. 
They promise two days of "intense debate and deals".

Beaver-led regeneration
Johnson’s surpasses his own bizarre oratory standards. His speech about property development-led regeneration in London cavorts choc-a-bloc with wacky references.
Johnson likens developers in London to “bright-eyed, bushy-tailed beavers emerging from hibernation”.
And, in turn, developers and their towers, like The Shard, ‘Walkie Talkie' and “the Ladyshave” – (the Mayor’s nickname for the Strata Tower), attract “exotic species, including seventy-two billionaires, from all over the world to London’s Serengeti watering hole”.
“London is to the billionaire as the jungles of Sumatra are to the Orangutan,” chunters Johnson. “London is their natural breeding habitat. You can hear them at dusk pan-tooting their mating cries up in Berkeley Square’s trees.”
“London is the greatest city on Earth – and everyone wants to live here.”

Of course, not everyone can afford to live in London – especially Londoners on average and lower incomes. Dropping the tuck-shop thief smirk for a jot, Johnson tells his audience of developers and estate agents: “We all have to recognise that we live in a city where there are still huge numbers of children growing up in poverty – and we’ve deprivation in colossal quantities.
“There’s childhood illiteracy on a scale, I think, that shames our city. 
But, above all, we have large numbers of people – and not just those in need of social housing – but those in the middle who cannot afford to live anywhere near their place of work. We have a duty to address that problem.”

Johnson rumbles forth: “But how do we solve that chronic inequality?"
Of course, it’s a rhetorical question – and Johnson’s answer reveals his underlying concern about poverty and inequality in London.
Chiefly, this concern rests on a fear that political opponents could, if elected, introduce radical wealth redistribution measures.
The possibility of such a political occurrence seems remote. 
But it’s interesting to see just how much a remote possibility frightens politicians like Johnson and his political chums. 

Tax bankers
“Do we say to those exotic billionaires arriving in London – ‘push off, hop off you Frogs?’ Should we put some swingeing new tax – a mansion tax - on property?
Do you want to tax the bankers out of town?
No, I don’t want to see that.
The way to sort this problem is to help the poorest and needy by helping them tackle their education –and above all, by getting them into work.”

As a tentative footnote, Johnson gently chides his audience of developers and property agents: “And, by us together building enough homes for them to live in. 
Because frankly, we’re not doing enough.
So let build homes that Londoners need, for Londoners.
Homes that will be venerated in fifty years time.”

Is the Mayor of London worried? © London Intelligence 2014


LREF 2014 ‘area briefings’ staged over 11-12 June include:

  • Stratford and the Royal Docks
  • Old Street and Shoreditch
  • Victoria
  • King’s Cross & Euston
  • City of London
  • Canary Wharf, Greenwich and Lewisham
  • West London
  • Croydon
  • Southbank & SE1
  • Nine Elms and Battersea
  • Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury
  • Covent Garden and Seven Dials
  • The West End

Developers and property market players exhibiting at LREF include: Barratt Homes, Canary Wharf Group,Derwent London, Grosvenor, Helical Bar, Henderson Global Investors, Lend Lease, Quadrant Estates, Quintain, City of London Corporation, and The Crown Estate

LREF delegates pay £425 + VAT per day.

The LREF is supported by the Mayor of London, Financial Times and the City of Westminster – and claims its ‘headline partners’ as Cushman & Wakefield, Jones Lang LaSalle and Knight Frank.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, June 2014

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Does London Need More Tall Buildings? London Festival of Architecture, Paul Finch, Sir Simon Jenkins, New London Architecture, The Shard, Strata Tower, Cheesegrater, Walkie Talkie

Towers on London's skyline looking east (© London Intelligence)

The Shard.
The ‘Walkie Talkie.’

‘Urban design professionals’ debate whether London needs even more tall buildings.
Paul Coleman reports.

Towers of London – skyscraping the barrel?

Billboard advert at entrance to Strata Tower, Elephant and Castle, south London
©London Intelligence 2014

London’s skyline might include up to 300 skyscrapers by 2024, according to some estimates, writes Paul Coleman.
By the summer of 2014, over 200 tall buildings have already received approval or are in the planning pipeline.
On Monday 2 June, several hundred people, including dozens of architects, fill the stalls inside Holborn’s Peacock Theatre to debate whether London really needs more tall office and residential buildings.
‘Urban design professional’ Sarah Gaventa, once of the Elephant and Castle Community Forum and a Barbican resident, chairs the London Festival of Architecture debate.
Before the debate, Gaventa asks the audience to show if they believe that London needs more tall buildings – and estimates about 70% raise their hands in favour.

Large audience inside Peacock Theatre for London tall towers debate
© London Intelligence 2014

In favour
Paul Finch, programme director of the World Architecture Festival – described by Gaventa as ‘the godfather of architectural publishing’ – speaks in favour. “This is a hot topic for Londoners,” begins Finch. “We should be thinking about what is appropriate tallness for different parts of London. And, if we build an average of one new tall building in each London borough per year, that would give us 330 over ten years – and we’ve 200 in the pipeline already.”
Finch suggests every London borough – each bigger than most English provincial cities – remains perfectly capable of finding a suitable site for a tall building.

Paul Finch, Programme director World Architecture Festival
Courtesy WAF

Tall purpose
Finch says tall buildings are a necessary part of London’s response as a “global trading city” to international markets. For instance, one of London’s latest tall buildings in Leadenhall, ‘The Cheesegrater’, (224m, 736ft high) provides a global home for insurance giant Aon.
Another insurance global player, WR Berkley, are moving to the 38-storey ‘Scalpel’ tower (190m, 620ft tall) at Lime Street in the City of London.
“That company operates from a mid-rise in Boston but they wanted a tower and London provided it,” says Finch. “As Prince Charles might say, ‘don’t spit on your luck’.”

Sprawl prevention
Finch also argues tall buildings will help London’s development “avoid an inevitable sprawl into its Green Belt”.
He contends unprecedented housing demand in London “requires us to use every arrow in our supply quiver and that includes tall buildings”.
Tall buildings are part of the solution to housing demand in tandem with low rise and medium density developments, says Finch.

Overseas investors
Finch berates people who claim too many towers are built for overseas investors who don’t live in London. “If we don’t build towers to meet that demand, then those investors will buy existing stock and make the housing shortage even worse,” says Finch.
London is a city undergoing radical demographic and ethnographic change – as well as physical change – and Finch says: “We worry about alien forms, intrusive interlopers and changed city character – but do we really want architectural policies that sound as if they’ve been drafted by UKIP.”*
Finch reaches the summit of his argument, saying: “We should embrace a wave of new construction that improves our urban landscape and uses some of the financial gain that towers generate for public purposes.
Support the motion.
Onward and upward.”

Sir Simon Jenkins, journalist and National Trust chair, reputedly dislikes skyscrapers and wind turbines. “I think the Strata Tower** at the Elephant and Castle particularly annoys him,” says Gaventa, introducing Jenkins.
“I shamelessly love London and its evolution,” begins Jenkins. “Nobody ever told us in the last fifteen years that we’d have more than 300 tall buildings in London. The Mayor of London’s policy on tall buildings is pure whim. And there’s no policy document on where tall buildings should go.”
Jenkins says towers now “pepper pot” London rather than rise in clusters in the City of London or at Canary Wharf. “The Walkie Talkie slid down the hill from the City,” says Jenkins. “There’ll be a canyon of towers along the Thames.”

Sir Simon Jenkins, National Trust chair and journalist
Courtesy of National Trust

Secret conversation
Jenkins says Londoners were kept in the dark about the recent very tall outcrop, including The Shard. “They happened after secret conversations between developers, architects and politicians,” argues Jenkins. “Each tower slides through without reference to any overall plan. This wouldn’t have happened in any other city.”
Jenkins disputes the need for more tall buildings. Eighty per cent of proposed towers are for luxury flats. “We need luxury flats in London like we need a plague,” says Jenkins.

High-density low rise
Tall buildings go up in London with foreign money for speculative investment. “None have any civic significance,” he adds. “Their offices are not popular. The Gherkin has gone bankrupt. As did Canary Wharf at one stage. The Shard is proving difficult to occupy.”
Jenkins says London desperately needs more high-density but low-rise housing. “But most of these high rise flats are sold off-plan to overseas investors. As a desperate gesture of a locality to the Mayor of London, the developers of the new tower blocks at Battersea pledged buyers would have to come to London to sign the lease!
“Tall buildings aren’t needed. They’re inefficient and highly expensive to maintain. Honest architects say they’re stuffed full of lifts and deteriorate quickly.
“Tall buildings are alien. They make London look like Dubai. In two hundred years time, people will look back at us and ask ‘why did they put up these strange and mostly unoccupied tall buildings?’
“Oppose the motion. Vote for low-rise.”

The Leadenhall Building, or 'Cheesegrater, in the City of London

Context: The majority of 230 new towers – buildings with over 20 storeys - in London’s planning pipeline are residential, according to GL Hearn and NLA research.
London has seen a surge in tall buildings since 2000 when ‘The Gherkin’ gained planning permission. The Shard opened in 2012. The Leadenhall Building (‘The Cheesegrater’) and 20 Fenchurch Street (‘Walkie Talkie’) are due to open in 2014.

*UKIP = United Kingdom Independence Party, a rising right-wing political force with an anti-immigration stance.
**The Strata Tower in Elephant and Castle, approved by the London Borough of Southwark and the Mayor of London, is home to 399 apartments in a 43-storey, 148m-high building, part of the Strata SE1 luxury residential development completed in summer 2010.

Does London Need More Tall Buildings? A keynote public debate at the Peacock Theatre in Portugal Street, Holborn, part of the 2014 London Festival of Architecture (1-30 June), organised by the London School of Economics, New London Architecture and the Centre for London - and chaired by Sarah Gaventa.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, June 2014