As more skyscrapers troop out of Lord Foster's Battersea office, some wags are asking if every building project in the practice is conceived solely to stamp the Foster image on the skyline of world cities. This may not be far off the mark. I gather that my noble lord has commissioned a design exercise to demonstrate how accommodation spread about in a low-rise developments could be compressed into a single tower block culminating in a wind turbine that would power it. All this high-rise planning is solemnly justified in the name of sustainability. Needless to add, it also goes a fair way to sustaining the Foster brand.
Mystery still surrounds the future of the DTI construction directorate after the departure of its colourful head, John Hobson, at the end of the month. Whitehall chiefs are seeking to mollify industry leaders by reassuring them that Hobson will be replaced by another grade three civil servant with the same amount of staff and clout.
However, civil service Cassandras warn that construction's affairs may be split between an industry sponsorship division and a business support unit. These disgruntled Sir Humphreys also fear that Hobson's successor is likely to be a grade five blotter jotter with no knowledge of construction. It's another example, they say, of the government downgrading Britain's biggest industry – the first being the appointment of Brian Wilson as part-time construction minister after the election.
They seek him here …
Whitehall's answer to the Scarlet Pimpernel has eluded the industry once again. Brian Wilson was meant to be speaking at a Construction Industry Training Board conference in London on 26 March. Now he's told the CITB that he can't appear in person, so he's sending a video instead.
… they seek him there
Talking of ministerial absences, CBI director general Digby Jones was clearly irked that nobody from the government was there to hear his prolix speech at the Chartered Institute of Building's annual dinner last week. As Jones was getting into his stride about the value of business to the nation, he suddenly snapped: "If construction is so important to the government, why isn't there one minister or senior civil servant at this dinner tonight?"
It certainly wasn't for lack of trying on the CIOB's part. Apparently, the institution invited 12 ministers and officials, including Tony Blair, John Prescott, Lord Falconer and – vainly – Brian Wilson. All declined. "I'm going to mention this to Patricia Hewitt [trade and industry secretary] the next time I see her," Jones muttered to industry leaders afterwards.
Things got a bit heated at a press launch for a new air-conditioning chiller in the village of Montluel in the south of France recently. The launch venue was the rather tatty local theatre. The presentation over, representatives from Europe's technical press piled out of the venue onto the coaches waiting to whisk them away for lunch. Rather than share a coach with the assembled hacks, the company's senior management chose to use their own vehicles, giving them a distinct advantage in the sprint to the buffet venue. However, one of the drivers was so intent on making time that he ended up with his car perched on the bumper of his colleague's – much to the amusement of the waiting scribblers.
One listing, one vote
Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Corporation of London are both avid boosters for City skyscrapers, but they have fallen out over what should go inside them. Ken wants to see mixed-use towers containing businesses and residents, but the corporation doesn't want people to live in the Square Mile.
Ken suspects selfish motives: the corporation is able to act more like a business promotion agency than a local authority by dint of its medieval voting system, which is weighted in favour of City employers. "At the moment the residential population is so low that the corporation can just about get away with it," Ken muses. "More residents might well be the end of it."
Good to see CABE getting the work–life balance right. The architectural watchdog has just taken delivery of a set of football shirts with the CABE logo printed on the front, and is looking to form a team to take on all comers. But isn't CABE's budget a little too meagre to stretch to such frivolities? "We got a very good deal on the shirts," says my source.
Not another one
Urban Splash's pioneering regeneration plans for the run-down Cardroom housing estate in east Manchester is already provoking a backlash from as far away as north London.
Urban Splash's Tom Bloxham, together with local residents and councillors, plans to re-establish the former Victorian name for Cardroom – New Islington. This proposed name change is not going down too well in old Islington, whose council leader, Steve Hitchens, insists is so unique it that it cannot be emulated in the north of England.
I'm not so sure. Cardroom already has its own cafe bar, and a few trendy loft conversions by Urban Splash would make it indistinguishable from its London counterpart.