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Two sides to the Localism debate, not counting the very luxurious inside

Ian Martin putas a tenner on The New Colloquialism

Monday. Lunch with Bun McGinty from the Department of Communities and Online Government. She’s trying to sell the Localism Bill to architects and anyone else who ‘may be affected by issues around’ the Dissolution of the Planning System.

I’m not entirely sure what’s replacing it, and neither is Bun: ‘I think there’ll be neighbourhood barbecues and internet voting, but we’re still very much at the draft stage’. I advise her to release a statement saying that the Department ‘aims to put design quality at the heart of the planning and development process’. That always seems to work.

Tuesday. Lunch with Daphne Spinoza at the Royal Institute for the Protection of British Architects. She heads their Rapid Response Unit and is very cheered when I tell her what the Communities Department’s going to say about design quality at the heart of the process.

Although the government has told architects this twice a year since 1977, Daphne’s gung-ho for ‘The RIPBA this week welcomed…’ I advise her to turn up the heat by getting a quote from the president that says ‘…although in our view it doesn’t go far enough’. Hm, says Daphne, I wonder if we should REALLY keep them on their toes by announcing that we’ll be ‘monitoring progress’. I admire her spirit. She orders more Armagnac and narrows her eyes. ‘Yes. CLOSELY monitoring progress…’

Wednesday. A wealthy client calls, worried about the impact of a ‘mansion tax’ on the 37-bedroom stately home I’m working up for her.

Its architectural style is ‘Dallas meets Harry Potter with a hint of spicy detailing from the Far East’. That’s not the problem. The problem, as ever, is planning. Perhaps because they can see their own extinction advancing in the form of the Localism Bill, the planners are being especially intractable bastards.

Yes, it’s in a sensitive area, full of retired teachers and meadowlarks, and OK I did claim it was a brownfield site. When pushed, I said there had been a pollen refinery there in the past, and got a very snippy note back saying that if I meant there were a few bees around it didn’t count. I wrote back and said a processing error must have occurred in our correspondence and that there had actually been a cement factory there and could we contribute some money towards a children’s play area. That’s better, they said.

Now the perverse actions of a spiteful government threaten the viability of this ‘potential masterpiece’ as it could be called by an expert witness who might be brought into the equation at some point. Taxing property just because it’s BIG strikes at the very guts of the Big Society, surely? Not only are we creating jobs in the construction industry, the place won’t look after itself. There will be new employment opportunities for members of the cleaning, gardening and ancillary communities. Why penalise them with a mansion tax that my client will feel morally obliged to pass on somehow?

Thursday. I think I’ve cracked the mansion tax problem. The solution is StartUp Britain. We’ll call the mansion a Big Society Pathfinder Scheme and get every single person working on it to define themselves as entrepreneurs and apply for a £1,500 grant to start their own new businesses. Then we’ll call the scheme the Alarm Clock StartUp Britain Community Dream Project and get BBC Two to ‘follow the journey’.

It might take longer, but a) that will leave time for the dream of creating a hospice in the countryside to wither, allowing my client to live in it temporarily while we seek a new use and b) it’s not that urgent as my client is a non-dom.

Friday. Bugger. Didn’t get the V&A gig. The winning practice says its courtyard and extension will conjure up ‘South Kensington’s visible/invisible drawing room’. Now really regret describing my vision as a ‘partially obscured utility area’. 

Saturday. Down the pub with my friend the conservactionist Dusty Penhaligon. I assumed he’d be pleased about the announcement of more Lottery money to be spent on ‘heritage’, but no. He’d rather things were just left as they are.

Sunday. Horizontal brainstorming in the recliner. I wonder what the preferred architectural style for ‘Localist’ schemes will be. We’ve done Vernacular – that perished because local people didn’t understand it. I’m having a tenner at 3-1 on The New Colloquialism.

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