The recession is not without its fringe benefits. I, for one, have pounced on the opportunity to stop my children’s pocket money (even as I type these words they are combing west London in search of work, and the lessons learned will no doubt prove as important as schoolwork).
It’s a sobering thought that however difficult life is at home, it hardly compares with starvation and Aids in Africa. Mark and I are guest-editing this issue after we bid for it at the Alliance Ball in aid of Unicef; the money paid will fund projects like the children’s hospital in Malawi.
As a liberal, I value intellectual scepticism. The refusal to be swept along by perceived wisdom is to be encouraged. In our industry there is no place for loose thinking. One cannot duck questions such as: Will it stand up? Will the water be kept out? Bankers would have been well advised to employ the same intellectual rigour. Vince Cable did ask questions and has gone from being just another politician to respected economic expert in the time it takes to chassé around a dance floor. His interview should not be missed, as much for his views on our industry as the light it throws on an eminently decent man.
Margaret Beckett has power. We are grateful to her for keeping her promise to address some of the issues we raise. Margaret will be aware that those fortunate enough to have power should exercise it wisely, but with conviction. In particular, the time has come to drag planning from the swamp of unreliability and inefficiency. John Parmiter makes the point on page 39 that many applications that were achieved after years of tedious negotiation are now financially doubtful. Planners will have to value creativity and hard work, while discouraging bureaucracy and obstructiveness, if councils are to avoid being sidelined.
In our industry, unlike the banks, there is no place for loose thinking. One cannot duck questions such as: Will it stand up? Will the water be kept out?
John Maynard Keynes would advise that although digging and filling up holes reflates the economy, it is better to create holes that are useful. As the government borrows yet more billions to bring forward public works we add a note of caution. However keen contractors are to keep working, the buildings created need to be relevant. Martin Murphy makes the point on page 33 that public buildings created from what he calls “sweated capital” are more likely to be successful.
Finally if you are accosted by four children in west London looking for part-time work, remind them how lucky they are to live in the UK – it’s tougher elsewhere.
Chris Shirley, guest editor
The bat-community-centre syndrome
One way and another we are all at the mercy of the planning system, but it is on a personal basis that many of us suffer the most frustration. My own includes 15 months of negotiation over a low-energy rebuild of our home in Highgate (McDowell + Benedetti were the architects, Haringey the planners) only to have it arbitrarily rejected. Then, after we made a formal request for a public enquiry, the planners requested a fresh submission (to which we added an extra floor) that they then granted in eight weeks. Exhausted, and with a growing family, we sold.
Later we made an application for a £40k freestanding domestic wind turbine at our new home. Here, the Wildlife Trust is insisting on negotiating a section 106 agreement (designs, please, for a bat community centre). It even objected to Kevin Hard’s photovoltaics on the ground they would shade the grass. These experiences are microcosms of everyday life but they show that we have a system that is stifling the creativity and commercial nous that are desperately needed to address the urgency of climate change and the current facts of financial life.
Mark Whitby, guest editor