London in 2050

Yesterday I read this interesting article published by The Evening Standard.

It’s Diamond Jubilee weekend. Relax. Smile at the picture above showing how London might look in early June 2050.

Imagine 67-year-old William V doing a tour with Queen Catherine. The royal couple begin at Smithfield meet (rather than meat) market.

They glad-hand their way down to the river to watch tennis on one of the many artificial islands. The regal procession then moves east to the Tower of London, now surrounded by parkland. Then up a gentle green slope that tilts into a sky park, with an outcrop of towers that have bloomed over the years in the new Aldgate financial district.

Well, maybe forget the sky park. But this 2050 vision of the capital, from giant and serious engineer Arup and small but jolly John Robertson Architects, is one of three sets of plans showing how London might look in 38 years. All will be displayed at the Developing City exhibition in the Walbrook Building opposite Cannon Street station between June 21 and September 9.

Wander in free to see models of 100 planned developments, along with the two other sets of plans for London 2050. One is by architect Gensler and engineer Buro Happold, the other by developer Brookfield and architect Woods Bagot.

“Smithfield should become a new cultural quarter with the meat market becoming a ‘meet’ market,” says John Robertson, a jolly Scot who employs 19 architects in his Southwark practice. “The river from Temple Bar to the Tower of London should become a new ‘recreation’ space with islands dotted in the Thames.

“There need to be more pedestrian bridges. We need to link Southwark with the City. There is huge potential for two million square feet of offices, homes and hotels in a new Aldgate financial district set at the centre of a new master plan that links the Tower of London to Broadgate.”

The Square Mile itself should become “decarbonised” with many more streets pedestrianised, giving far more open space, according to the Arup plan. The workers will need it. Studies by the engineer show that by 2050 the City and its surrounds will have to make space for 50% more workers. But the poor souls will be given 25% less space to work in. In that case, maybe the sky park isn’t such a batty idea. Perhaps William and Kate will get to struggle up the slope in their old age.

Housing associations like their poor to be rich

Last week, First Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander held a meeting with the UK’s biggest housing associations to discuss how the Government could help them raise billions to build homes for the poor. At least that was the impression you might get. The truly poor simply can’t afford the “affordable homes” now being built by housing associations.

I came away a little shocked from touring the 36 new flats in Southwark, just put on the market by Notting Hill Housing Association. Not by the flats, they are fine, nor by the location but by the prices: £350,000 for a one-bed flat; half a million for a two-bedder and £600,000 for the three-bed unit.

Don’t blame Notting Hill. The association has to pay the market price for the land; then set market prices when selling. Buyers can buy 25% to 75% of the equity. The part-mortgage, part-rent and a hefty £150 service charge take the monthly outgoings to £800 to own a quarter of a one-bed flat. Minimum household income suggested is £31,000.

Housing associations still house the poor. But they no longer seem able to build new houses the poor can afford. “Shrinking government grants mean they have to borrow money and act like commercial developers,” says Jon Neale, research director at Jones Lang LaSalle. “What they are now providing is homes for middle-income earners.” So, Mr Alexander, if you want to guarantee cheap loans to housing associations that have £50 billion bank debt, go ahead. But don’t let them fool you this has anything to do with aiding the poor. It’s to keep them going.

Peabody not so affordable

The ghost of George Peabody would wail from the tenements he built for the “poor and needy” in 19th-century London if he knew how little their needs are being met by those building “affordable” homes today. That is not to take a tilt at Peabody. This fine organisation, founded by the American philanthropist in 1862, owns 20,000 homes on 219 estates across London that are affordable to those on less-than-average incomes. Peabody last month celebrated its 150th anniversary by announcing the winner of a competition to build 150 homes on a site in Plaistow. Up-and-coming architect PCKO won the prize with plans that are a far cry from the yellow-brick blocks off Drury Lane and in Westminster. Will the truly “poor and needy” be able to afford the 150 homes on the estate? Debatable.

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