Tag Archives: property developers

David v Goliath

[T]he English will always cheer an underdog – no matter if they are English, Scottish or even French – in the interests of fair play, another ideal the English hold in equally high esteem. The English have always loved the underdog: ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Britain’s first (and only) Olympic Ski jumper was ranked 55th in the world at Calgary’s winter Olympics in 1988 and Eddie had all of England cheering for him.

We are a small nation who have taken on giants giving us a David versus Goliath mentality. As a fellow “David” let me relate to you a story while trying hard to conceal a smirk.

wickhamsold The old Wickhams department store on Mile End Road, completed 1927, is a masterpiece of thwarted desire. Although called the “Harrods of the East”, its architectural model was Selfridges, its facade; a confident parade of giant iconic columns in imitation of the Oxford Street version. It even goes one better by having a tower in the centre: Gordon Selfridge planned one for his store but never achieved it.

All would have been perfect had it not been for the Spiegelhalters, a family of jewellers who owned a two-storey building near the middle of the site. They were descendants of the first Mr Spiegelhalter who had set up shop in Whitechapel in 1828 after coming to Britain from Germany.

wickhamsnow The business had moved to 81 Mile End Road in 1880. The Spiegelhalters refused every inducement to sell up, causing an exceptional case of colonnadus interruptus, their little structure causing the march of columns to stop and start again. It also meant the tower was built slightly off-centre. The original idea for Selfridges — a completed colonnade plus a tower — was fated to be achieved in neither Oxford Street nor Mile End Road.

Spiegelhalter What we have instead is more interesting, a graphic demonstration how competing ambitions and sheer obstinacy shape a city. As it turned out the Spiegelhalters lasted longer. Wickhams closed in the Sixties.
Is there a lesson to be learnt here?

Save Little Green Street

I recently had a job up to Highgate and it gave me the opportunity to see the folly of local council planning departments. Not content with allowing a vast expanse of ugly housing at the end of this gem of a street, developers in their insatiable greed now want to build 20 houses, 10 flats and an underground car park on derelict land behind Little Green Street. Little Green Street has found itself, through no fault of its own, turned into the only access road for the developers.

[D]espite its size, the developers insist that this Georgian street is big enough to carry all the cranes, diggers, and lorries they need to carry all the waste away from the forty foot deep excavation they need to dig to build their underground car park. Some of the lorries and cranes weigh up to 49 tonnes and some are 2.9m wide. It’s a pity they didn’t measure Little Green Street, because the carriageway of the road is just 2.5m wide.

The street remains a very real threat of being turned into a truck route which would see a vehicle pass within inches of the front doors of these homes every three minutes, all day every day for up to four years down this delicate cul-de-sac.

So a little history is required at this point of the blog:

Little Green Street off Highgate Road in Kentish Town is one of the oldest streets in London.

It’s not very big, just eight houses on one side and two on the other. The houses were built in the 1780s are Grade ll listed and remain one of the few intact Georgian streets in London. They have stood unharmed through train crashes, the London Blitz, and survived two hundred years of wear and tear from the generations who have raised their children in the narrow cobbled terrace.

Although, after eight years of campaigning by more than fifteen thousand people, many visitors to their site, planning permission has lapsed, Camden Council are still vacillating about whether the construction work on a gated community with an underground car park should continue.

Little Green Street Mad, isn’t it? I made the mistake of driving my cab down this cul-de-sac and had to do a 9-point turn at the end in a vehicle famed for its 25 foot turning circle.

The Saddest Building in London

Unlike its smaller sister in Bankside which successfully transmogrified into a galley for modern art, this iconic industrial building has remained empty for over 25 years. Both power stations were designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the man who gave us the red phone box. Bankside was completed in 1945 and its larger sister was completed in 1955 making Battersea the largest brick building in Europe.

[W]ith its Art Deco exterior Battersea Power Station was given Grade II* listed status in October 1980 but only three years later on 31st October 1983 it was closed and the Central Electricity Generating Board launched a competition to find a future use for the building.

This building appears to have The Sword of Damocles hanging over it. Every development seems to go nowhere. First the winner of the competition the Roche Consortium was quickly taken over by John Broome who announced plans for a Disneyland style theme park costing £34 million. However, costs quickly escalated and work stopped in March 1989 leaving the Power Station in its present semi-derelict and exposed state. Since then, the Power Station has languished without a roof, the steel work exposed to the elements and the foundations prone to flooding.

A brave group of individuals The Battersea Power Station Community Group was formed in November 1983 to provide a forum for the local community to air its views and to find a future use for the Battersea Power Station and the large site.

But now it looks like the Phoenix might rise from the ashes of failed dreams, an Irish company named Treasury Holdings, run by Richard Barrett and Johnny Ronan want to redevelop the Power Station.

Their company has come up with a £4.5 billion scheme to restore the Grade II* listed industrial landmark which have been approved by Wandsworth Council. But now an objection has been raised by City Hall. The centre piece of this development is at tall tower, which officials claim will overlook The Houses of Parliament, also for some perverse reason the chimneys will have to be shortened by 50 feet.

Centre Point Fountains
centre-point-fountainsI’m as mad as Hell about this one. In another ‘redevelopment’ site on the western side of
Centre Point, to make way for the Crossrail project,
some modern iconic fountains are being

The Grade II* listed fountains, built in 1963, are to be removed and replaced with huge ventilation shafts and an underground ticket hall for the new Hawkins Brown-designed Crossrail station at the busy intersection of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street.

But heritage groups and architects have demanded the fountains be incorporated in the area’s redevelopment amid claims of a wider threat to 20th century public art and sculpture. They are unconvinced the fountains have to be removed as they are integral to the building.

Quite how a listed fountain can be removed without any suitable plans to resite it remains an anathema to CabbieBlog.

Just keep you eye on Trafalgar Square, just in case those fountains get in the way of ‘development’.

The road less travelled

It has now become the norm for local authorities to close roads for weeks, months and even years on end to allow private developers to get rich quick (well in the current economic climate not quite so quick) to the detriment of council taxpayers and just about everyone else.

This trend was started by Westminster City Council when a few years ago they closed off the south side of Berkley Square and then followed with their piece de resistance, the closure of Edinburgh Gate, along with large swathes of public highway around Scotch House.

[I]f you were thinking that we had reached the limit of audacity that even the property developers and local councillors thought they could get away with, then you would be wrong. There cannot be a cab driver in London who has not, at some time in the last few months, been stuck in the catastrophe that was until recently the Aldgate gyratory system.

This is by far the single worse traffic scheme to be imposed on London since some idiot decided it would be a good idea, to allow a few backpackers and economy tourists to eat their packed lunches in the road outside the National Gallery, closing off the entire north side of Trafalgar Square.

At Aldgate the surrounding areas of Whitechapel and Spitalfields are now gridlocked for virtually the entire day and the queue of stationery traffic spreads throughout all the small residential streets around this area.

The Aldgate East gyratory was built in the Seventies but has been criticised ever since for creating a ‘racetrack’ mentality among motorists, terrifying pedestrians and cyclists. The word racetrack in this context is a euphemism for no traffic jams, and about the only road left in London where you can travel at 30mph.

Under an £8 million engineering scheme due to take the rest of the year,

Whitechapel High Street will be returned to two-way traffic.

Braham Street, which runs parallel with Whitechapel High Street to the

South will be transformed next year. Pavements will be widened and a new entrance to Aldgate East Tube station will be created.

The project, overseen by Transport for London, is being funded by developer Tishman Speyer, which plans to build a commercial development at the eastern end of Braham Street. In return, the company will be given the parcel of land, currently the highway, free.

This commercial development, which will no doubt remain empty just like the dozens of others within a few hundred yards, is being built on what was a public highway. Even after The Great Fire of London much to the annoyance of Sir Christopher Wren, people rebuilt their houses on the same footprint so the road layouts remained untouched.

But now quite how somebody ‘buys’ a four lane stretch of public highway has yet to be explained, but it’s happened. What next? Why not close the Victoria Embankment under the guise of making it more pedestrian friendly and then sell it off to build a mile long block of luxury flats with river views?