Monday, 11 August 2014

Marketing at its brightest: the towering twaddle edition

What could be loosely termed as ‘my’ day-to-day patch in London is largely defined by the bus journey that takes me between Hackney and the area around Euston and King’s Cross.

The latter has been a hive of building activity for some years now, but Haggerston is rivaling it these days, with almost frenetic redevelopment on Whiston Road, after the Kingsland Estate was finally torn down.

There is already ‘Silk House’ and ‘Velvet House’, next to another smaller block that has been thrown up on the site of just one more of the pubs that have been lost to flats in the last decade and a half.

And on the other side of the road there is going be far more of this vast development, which all goes under the banner of ‘City Mills’.

Passing, you notice site hoardings that declare, among the pictures of bright young things looking happily domestic: “Made for living”. Well, what a jolly good thing that will be, since they’re building flats for people to, err, live in.

It’s a fine example of marketing twaddle – but pales into insignificance beside what’s happening on City Road.

First, let’s start with the Canaletto London.

Yes. That’s right: the Canaletto, as in the 17th century painter of Venice.

You can call it 'Canaletto London' all you like ...
Most certainly an interesting-looking piece of architecture – and given that it appears to be taking rather longer to build than some other nearby blocks, the finished building might actually be of a high standard.

But really, just because it’s next to City Road Basin, which butts into the Regent’s Canal, doesn’t justify the suggestion of the Grand Canal.

“Extraordinary waterside apartments overlooking the City of London,” proclaims the website for this 31-story tower. Well, if you’re on one of the higher floors, obviously.

And it’s near “Tech City” too, apparently. Which is news to me.

I thought it was near Old Street roundabout.

It’s been with some relief that I have discovered that I’m not the only one who didn’t know there was anywhere in London called “Tech City”. But we’ll come back to that.

Just a few metres away, the Lexicon London is taking shape in an upwardly fashion. It’s going to have 36 floors, making it the tallest building in Islington – at least until the planned 39-storey one goes up a five-minute walk further down the road.

It’s the place from which to write your own life story,” wibbles the website.

“The one, two and three bedroom apartments take their inspiration from the culture and landscape of Lexicon’s location.”

I’m not sure that scruffy and run-down interiors are going to sell very well. Will rooms come complete with the smell of traffic fumes too?

The Eagle – also on City Road – is going to be “Art Deco inspired” and, like the Canaletto, will include a residents’ private cinema, a pool and god alone knows what else.

The Caneletto will have a restaurant too, so you won’t even need to cook in what will be, judging by the architects’ computer-generated images, your rather bijou kitchenette.

... but being next to this ...
We may not have gated communities yet, but you won’t need that with such developments.

Not far down the road, the Link is already complete – and is really rather disappointing, given that it was apparently “designed for stylish living”. Surprisingly, it never mentioned the stunning views over the next-door carpark, which is on the site of an old workhouse.

Another block nearer Old Street roundabout that’s well on the way has diamond-shaped windows set in steel cladding – which would probably do your head in on the morning after the night before.

The gobbledegook isn’t limited to developers, though.

According to the London Evening Standard: “The eastern side of the canal basin falls into Hackney borough and has a grittier feel. This is where Jamie Oliver opened his Fifteen restaurant, giving apprenticeships to out-of-work youngsters. Shepherdess Walk is one of the best addresses, with authentic lofts available at The Factory, a decade-old development by Manhattan Loft Corporation. Urban Spaces is selling a 1,481sqft loft for £945,000.”

Haggerston is so cheap by comparison! But Shepherdess Walk – “one of the best addresses”? Is that complete with the bits of workhouse wall still visible around the carpark? Or is it because of the cop shop?

Seriously, though – how the hell do you get a sensible mortgage for nearly a million quid?

... does not have anything to do with this ...
The old rule of thumb used to be that you didn’t go above three times your annual household income. 

So whoever buys a loft apartment like that should – to be sensible – need to be earning £315,000 a year.

And don’t forget that the average UK wage is around £26,500, according to the Office of National Statistics, while employment agency Reed suggests that the average salary of someone in “strategy and consultancy” is £56K.

In the “media, digital and creative” industries, Reed lists the average annual income as £34,553. A software developer is listed as having an average salary of £44,050.

“Tech City” is nearby, remember.

Who is buying – and going to buy – these properties at such prices and how?

Shepherdess Walk – one of "the best addresses"
Either there’s been a substantial rise in the number of people earning vast salaries or financial institutions are playing the very same games that helped to cause the financial crisis in 2008.

And it is not the former.

The extra infrastructure is not there – and Crossrail and yet more bleeding supermarkets do not count.
Indeed, local infrastructure is going as the developers move in. As just one small illustration, on Kingsland Road, just around the corner from the nonsense that is ‘City Mills’, a dentist’s surgery and the pub next door have both been demolished to make way for more blocks of flats.

Next to Euston, the community around Drummond Street is threatened by the high-speed rail link to Birmingham (which scheme has both pros and cons about it).

The Link: "stylish living". No. Really.
Camden Lock, with all it’s small, independent businesses, was under threat from that too, but the plans are shifting.

While further afield from ‘my’ patch, Soho is undergoing massive change as the developers waltz in and completely change it’s character with, apparently, the acquiescence of council and police, as Rupert Everett suggests in a remarkable article.

According to Everett, plans are afoot to build huge towers topped by helipads on Walkers Court – after knocking down the houses, of course. The London Evening Standard and assorted architects are merrily trilling about cleaning up one of London’s last “seedy areas”.

Oh yes, the whole city is being sanitised in a puritan’s wet dream.

One visualisation of what might happen to Walker's Court
Denmark Street – Britain’sTin Pan Alley – is also under threat.

They seem to have conveniently forgotten that it is not currently out of use. And you can bet your bottom dollar that most of the new retail outlets will be too expensive for most small, independent businesses.

The company also says that “a new urban gallery space will celebrate these [musical] links” and “recreate a music quarter for London”.

More verbal diarrhea, intended to calm criticisms of this gutting of the area.

The planned 'redevelopment' of Denmark Street
It happened in the City at Leadenhall Market – oh, they kept the market structure itself, but rising rents forced the last, real market shops out years ago.

Now, it’s yet another cathedral to the homogenised blandness of corporate franchising.

On Euston Road, right opposite the British Library, there used to be a marvelous bookshop, Unsworths, full of second-hand, remaindered and antiquarian books.

It was driven out by a similar policy of hiking rents. As was a tiny – and very convenient in that area – convenience store a few doors down in the same Clifton House office block.

It took several years after those businesses were forced out to see what we were going to get – I suspect that that means that planning permission was rejected initially by Camden Council before being overturned by Eric Pickles, secretary of state for the biscuit barrel.

Computer visualisation of Clifton House, with hotel
Now, there is a new three-storey glass box on top of an initial six-storey building – which has become a new Premier Inn, and which is near enough to the next Premier Inn on the street for Usain Bolt to make it between the two in little more than 10 seconds.

His initial attempt to get planning permission for a seven-storey block on the site, with restaurant at the bottom, was rejected by the council, so it remains to be seen whether he offered Eric a custard cream and that’s what’s going ahead, or whether there have been modifications to the plans, such as it not having so many more floors than any other building on the street or whether, as plenty of local people mutter, the council is just bent.

I remain curious as to how that happened, since the council told me that the entire process had been abandoned after extensive local objections from residents and small businesses alike.

Under-construction and planned towers on City Road
Those businesses included some that have subsequently been thrown out of their premises by this development.

Since I had written to the council on that issue at the time and asked to be informed of any council meeting where it was raised, it is interesting to note that I have never received anything about the subject.

So much for local democracy in Hackney, it seems.

I am not against development and redevelopment per se, but it must have human beings at its core – and building vastly overpriced “multi-storey rabbit hutches” as Lucian would have described them in The Liver Birds, is not the answer to our housing problems.

However, I am against simply ripping the heart out of places – not just because of the arrogant disposal of history or even the dreadful, soulless homogenising that follows, but also because of the impact on small, independent businesses and local people who cannot afford the increasingly ludicrous prices for rent or mortgages.

Boris Johnson might have pretended to combust at the mere suggestion that government changes to housing benefit would ‘cleanse’ London of its more lowly citizens, creating Paris-style Banlieue outside the city proper, but all development, the trendification and the gentrification is helping to shove up rents and mortgages, and it will have the same effect.

How will the cleaner who wipes away the wine glass marks from the tables in the Canaletto’s private cinema be able to afford to live anywhere near their place of work?

Denmark Street – still in use
The whole thing is unsustainable insanity that has nothing whatsoever to do with the majority of the city’s people.

Somebody, somewhere needs to seriously start asking why a constantly growing London population – both residential and working – goes generally unchallenged as being positive or inevitable.

Why can not more businesses, in these times of digital communications, locate outside London?

Does “Tech City” really have to be lots of companies all physically based around Old Street?

Locating elsewhere would even provide boosts to local economies outside the capital.

How many more people do we need in a city that already struggles to cope – not least in terms of transport? What will be the tipping point?

In the meantime, while the developers hold sway, it’s small comfort to highlight the towering twaddle that they spout as they try to persuade people to line their pockets.

PS: I have not edited these bits of marketing nonsense: they seem, however, to share a common link of not understanding how to use a hyphen for a compound adjective. Just as the ‘City Mills’ people don’t understand what an apostrophe is.


  1. Yes yes yes and yes. I havd written similar things on Jane's London. Another bit if twaddle that always confuses me is the use of the term "luxury apartments". I assume these come with maids and butlers

    1. Thank you, Jane – and yes, if that isn't luxury, then how on earth would anyone describe having servants? 'Überluxury'? 'Hyperluxury'?

      It's all hyperbolic nonsense.