Tuesday, 23 December 2008

They're Behind You!

Pantomime season is here. This year, many of the more astute and amusing scripts have characterised the traditional villain not as a witch but as a banker. Fair enough: the money goblins that sent us plummeting towards financial ruin are evil, but may I suggest an alternative focus for some camp jokes and custard pie accuracy? It’s a property developer.

The firm responsible for Dovecot Towers keep luxurious offices nearby. Displayed in the window is an architect’s model, a diorama of their grand plans. It’s a miniature plastic complex supposedly showing investors the gleaming finished product, but I know better. It’s actually a voodoo doll of my former home, which developers stick with pins, inflicting pain and suffering on the benighted tenants forced to endure their creations.

Developers gather on the moors, summoning familiars to cackle at the full moon, with demons, some weasels, and an estate agent named Pyewacket who does their bidding. Dark skies swirl as they enact their ghastly designs, cursing blameless tenants with bedrooms so small they must surely sleep upright in armchairs, unsightly concrete facades, communal post rooms and other foul deeds. Look out - they’re behind you!

Without regulation, soon there’ll be no kitchens; inhabitants will be fed pot noodles through a tube, and fitted with a colostomy bag, like The Matrix in beige surroundings. As that scary Channel Five lady says: neutral tones are easier to sell (‘Neo – the estate agents have you!’)

I once met some developers who remorselessly vilified both owners and tenants. A prospective buyer had been assured that their firm had no plans to obstruct his lovely view, when they knew full well that other builders had bought the surrounding land. Much fun was had at the expense of this man and his quest – as they saw it – for ‘compo,’ all told with jeering, comedy scouse accents and offensive stereotypes.

Developers never consult the individuals who own the end product of their miserly designs. They never ask how residents want or need to live, and the reason is simple: they don’t care. Le Corbusier’s magnificent intention has been corrupted. Newbuild flats are not machines for living, but piggy banks.

Councils and planning officers seemed powerless, or unwilling to control large firms. Here’s the clever part: developers agreed to squeeze a definite amount of residential units into the agreed footprint. With permission granted, could it be that those plans are ignored, and they squeeze in even more tiny flats? Do councils allow themselves to be persuaded that some two or even (crazy!) three bedroom units will feature, which - invariably - fail to materialise? Oh yes they do!

When this ruse is discovered, the developers twirl their moustaches and plead ignorance, claiming it’s an innocent mistake (oops - too late now!) resulting in yet another generic building crammed with meagre, joyless hutches. Booooo!

Developers take the money and run, and buy to let tenants are ignored. In the sixties, it was similar: vast areas of Britain were crammed with rat runs, some horribly damp and cramped, eventually demolished at the behest of disgruntled councils, spurred on by the poor souls compelled to live there. Profit is the sole motivation, which is unavoidable, but housing is a staple, like bread, and energy. We have choices with those basics, but does society realise, or even care that developers dictate life quality for so many?

Valuable, sought after urban sites were asphyxiated by mean spirited pods, not enhanced by attractive, spacious homes for families, couples, or singletons alike. Plastic models of tiny pretend people are happy in minuscule boxes, but real human beings will never thrive that way.

So when you’re watching a gaggle of girls dressed as boys and men dressed as women, joining in with the boos and hisses, don’t neglect the developers. They’re the real bad guys, and as soon as this downturn/slump/recession/nightmare ends, they’ll be back.
Oh. Yes. They. Will.

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