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A Creative Industrial Revolution, historic buildings as benefits cheats, and the Expulsory Purchase Order

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Ian Martin dives in to Aeneas Upmother-Brown’s thinkpool

Monday. Furious. My brilliant, competition-winning Olympic scheme – a huge gallows-like ‘structure’ – has been dumped by the Worshipful Company of Epic Spatialists.

Officially, they say it is ‘too preposterous’ to be constructed in time. I suspect darker forces at work here, i.e. they’re idiots for running a competition with no way of paying for anything to be built.

Sod them, I’ll locate it elsewhere. Luckily, gallows-like structures are transferable icons.

Tuesday. To Salford, where shadow culture secretary Dick Headingley is holding a press conference to relaunch northern England as a vibrant creative manufacturing region.

He wants the traditional north-south divide to be replaced with a ‘powerful high speed media link’. He illustrates his point by putting on a flat cap (‘outdated prejudices’) then turning it round (‘cutting-edge digital innovation’). We’re impressed: yes, the north clearly means creative business.

Still wearing his cap back to front, he checks his notes and promises bold new northern architecture, ‘like they had in Victorian industrial times but less old-fashioned, as we have to look to the future if we want to be firing on all four cylinders’.

He shows us the latest pictures of an emerging, futuristic Salford: corporate, anodyne, flimsy, spirit-draining. Headingley explains that the ‘temporary’ look is good enough for the south and that ‘this entire area, MediaCityUK, will be redeemed by density which you can tell because there’s no like space between the words’.

There are some pretty hostile questions afterwards from architecture journalists. Headingley fields them cheekily, with a ukulele. Summary: he’ll take full credit for being a northerner but if anyone has anything shitty to say, don’t blame him. He’s only shadow culture secretary and therefore completely irrelevant.

Wednesday. Rock Steady Eddie the fixer calls – stand by for action. He’s whistling up all the clients filed under B for Bastard.

Eddie’s heard on the grapevine there are plans to introduce Expulsory Purchase Order legislation. Private companies will be allowed to bid for whatever building in local authority ownership they fancy. If the local authority can’t outbid them it has to sell. If the local authority tries to outbid them, it will be prevented by secondary legislation and/or penury.

And hooray, at last some civility in civic affairs: if the local authority agrees to sell, it has to say thank you.

Thursday. Idea for ‘repurposing’ London’s classic Gilbert Scott telephone boxes: convert them into oxygen chambers.

Friday. To the Department of Entertainment, where architecture minister the hon. Aeneas Upmother-Brown has convened a ‘thinkpool’.

Today we’re puddling together our thoughts on the subject of heritage. Specifically, how government might secure ‘best heritage value for the taxpayer’. As usual Upmother-Brown is accompanied by his swarm of pet bees, who hum ominously around his head as he speaks.

‘This country’s built heritage, like everything else in the public sector, has had it far too easy for far too long. Well, that’s all about to change…’ The swarm tone rises by a minor third and hovers there. ‘Thanks to the profligacy and sheer BUGGERY of the previous administration, heritage is now in a very serious recession. Something must be done. As the owner of a modest yacht myself, I know only too well the importance of trimming sails, and staying offshore.’

He paces the room in a quiet fury of self-importance, his taut face partially obscured by an indignant scribbling of bees. ‘Old buildings, like public sector employees, are essentially [bzz!] a bloody [bzz!] expensive [bzz!] nuisance! Once their useful life is over the state is required to support them, all the way through their costly deterioration and budget-sapping dotage. Well, let me
tell heritage this. The public sector gravy train has taken its last journey to the … to the National Gravy Train Museum [bzz!] in … wherever it might be, notionally. Stockport, say.’

Our task is to come up with a) ways of prolonging historic architecture’s working life and b) reducing its state pension. I sense trouble ahead. So does Upmother-Brown. And so do the bees, who are taking no further questions. They sweep from the room with the minister inside them.

Saturday. Thinkpool round robin email: we’re all to come up with a killer thought by next week.

Sunday. Horizontal brainwork in the recliner. Wonder if the problem of burdensome architectural heritage might be solved via Expulsory Purchase Orders. Decide to sleep on it.

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