Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Battening The Hatches

Floundering construction firms have instructed workers to stand down, pausing only to make any half-completed blocks waterproof (you mean, they don’t already do that?) Builders are biding their time while this buy-to-let boom crashes into a seething hell-pit (nobody mentions the property developers, so I imagine they’re feeling no pain, bless ‘em all.)

Across the way on the building site I use as my exemplar, nobody’s in much of a hurry. The newest apartment blocks back on to each other; you could easily shake hands with your neighbour across the gap between them. I doubt that tenants will be foolish enough to live there and with so few mortgages, buyers are scarce. What will become of all those empty buy-to-let flats and half completed housing schemes?

Surely it’s not practical to mothball an entire block. Cities like Leeds, Birmingham, and Manchester feature interlinked systems of dubious, half-empty or semi-finished developments with no night-time security. Within months these behemoths of uselessness will be overrun by burglars, drug dealers, and pimps (to be honest, it’s already started to happen.)

One council is thinking ahead, albeit with the assistance of this site, which they quote copiously, verbatim. Greenwich Council in London has published a report detailing problems associated with the property downturn. They worry about derelict building sites and empty newbuilds becoming dangerous, improvised playgrounds and magnets for crime.

Perhaps Greenwich should have thought of this before they granted permission for the bloated, lumbering white elephant that is Thamesmead. Was every council so blinded by greed for council tax revenue that they too allowed their precious brownfield sites to be paved over with newbuilds, teetering already and poised to collapse like Jenga? Did they honestly imagine that Britain needed yet more tiny, jerry-built rabbit hutches rather than generous and robust family homes? And why are they so surprised that desperate landlords, unable to sell, are turning a blind eye to dodgy tenant references (that’s if they bother at all)?

This isn’t some hysterical, disproportionate fear of crime, or even simple snobbery. There will be a disaster soon. Vandals will break into an empty flat in a semi-occupied block and start fires. I have already written about the lack of safety procedures, like fire extinguishers and well-lit exit signs for escaping a smoky inferno (of course, developers made certain that these properties are thoroughly - and lucratively - insured. Didn’t they?)

Do I sound cynical, or melodramatic? Perhaps even apocalyptic? Certain readers felt me gloomy for predicting that new building would slow down. I was right, but take no joy in it. I think I’m right about this as well.

Meanwhile, our ambitious Housing Minister Caroline Flint is still wittering on about another massive scandal: those supposed ‘eco’ towns (which - it turns out - aren’t so ‘eco’ after all.) Has anyone else noticed that Caroline ‘Everybody; Call Me Vlad!’ Flint is the Michael Howard of New Labour? There is definitely ‘…something of the night about her.’ Well, have you ever seen her in the same room as a crucifix?


the reaper said...

yep,I could pretend that you have some extra sensory powers but the reality is that it's entirely logical that these slums of tomorrow will get vandalised first before the local authorities take them over to house all the people repossessed elsewhere.

startling,sad and so unecessary if our govt had been switched on.

RenterGirl said...

Switched on is a good way of puting it. Caroline Vlad Flint was at it again. Thanks for reading!

DaveC said...

You only had to see some of the housing estates around Newcastle in the 80's, with high-rise blocks that made Bosnia look desirable, to know what will happen to Dovecot Towers in a decade or so. You walked around 'bandit country' like Benwell at your own, considerable, risk.

No-one in power thought ahead when they allowed these places to proliferate. But then, foresight was never a government strength.

By the way, nice piece in the Grauniad recently. Hit the nail on the head as usual. Have you ever thought about a job in government, advising on housing policy? Or do you not want a lobotomy just yet?

Keep up the good work,

RenterGirl said...

Ooh, I don't need a lobotomy. I was daft enough to move into Dovecot Towers. No; I'd never work on government policy - it's a short cut to insanity. I'd like to be consulted about newbuild architecture though, or even to have architects and developers read this site, and remember that human beings, not brain dead bio-units live in their miserly cost cutting exercises. Thanks for reading!