Tuesday, 1 April 2008

It's All Gone Quiet Over There

In Greek myth, Cassandra was blessed by the gods with the gift of true prophecy, but cursed when nobody could believe her predictions. When I first moved into Dovecot Towers, I looked across from my balcony, and forecast:

(a) ‘It’s going to rain.’
(b) ‘I am witnessing a genuine social and economic phenomenon: the excessive building of below par new build developments for the buy to let bubble when an economic downturn is approaching. It will end badly (just you mark my words.)’

Certain readers remain sceptical, but official evidence suggests that whatever happens in or around Dovecot Towers is repeated in developments nationwide. It’s just that recently I’ve noticed something new which may prove significant in the future: the building site opposite, which has been the bane of my life, has gone strangely quiet.

Previously I was woken at 7am sharp (even on Saturdays) by sirens, frantic shouting and machines roaring, as the construction company raced to complete this latest addition to an array of identikit developments across the way. Speed was of the essence: workers bellowed and the buildings grew at breakneck speed as cranes hoisted vats of concrete enabling lift shafts to appear first, erect in isolation. Then the skeleton was filled in hastily by walls, windows and balconies as they filled in the gaps.

Now it’s quiet. Not entirely silent, but far less builders scream at cranes or stomp up and down the road. It may seem vainglorious (forgive me) but I suspect this calm is indicative of an end to the building boom. People count the cranes on cityscape to ascertain how much work is being done, and one of the cranes has been dismantled.

The buy to let revolution was not supervised and like Icarus, investors flew too close to the sun. Amateur investors bought off plan, lured in with gifted deposits and 130% mortgages. They were assured at seminars that rental incomes would be massive and grew giddy with greed, relying on inflated, unrealistic rents instead of a steady rise in equity as surety for the future. It was always doomed.

Nobody thought to question the wisdom of covering enormous areas of valuable land not with well designed, and sturdy two, three (or even four) bedroom houses, but with miserly and shoddy hutches. I don’t want to buy one; I know too well what they are like. Owner occupiers are rare as nobody wants to actually own a flat here and live in it themselves.

The space around Dovecot Towers was like The Klondyke: a muddy boom town, but now developers and building companies are scaling back. After all what’s the rush? It’s not as if they’re beating off prospective buyers with a stick (and who in their right mind would approve a mortgage?) Nobody wants to live in a newbuild long term.

This is a genuine human tragedy. Cities (even some suburbs) are blighted by superfluous, virtually uninhabitable boxes. The Cassandra in me says: stop building, or even better demolish them all before we are surrounded by deserted building sites blighted by skeletal abandoned newbuilds. I don’t imagine for one minute that anyone will pay attention.

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