Ian Martin brings Pop-Up Poundbury to a greenfield site near you
Monday. To a conference on ‘The McCloud Clause’ – a planning loophole that allows huge one-off luxury homes on green belt land, as long as they appear on Grand Designs. Client summary: gentrified townhouses for the gentry, country houses for media types.
Tuesday. Pub lunch with Rock Steady Eddie the fixer. Mood: downbeat. Television: on. Rolling news, and it’s all bad. Japan. Terrible scenes of the disaster aftermath. A deadly sludge of destruction, sucking everything into its maw. Except – here, unacknowledged, are pictures of unpretentious buildings still standing. They could be anywhere. Croydon, say. A major earthquake, yet they’re defiantly intact amid a sea of debris. ‘I think that Michael Gove had it in a nutshell,’ glugs Eddie through his pint. What?
‘Why did those buildings survive, eh? Expansion joints and shock absorbers don’t appear out of nowhere. Something dodgy’s been going on, hasn’t it? It’s obvious. Engineers, architects, planners, building regs people. Creaming off cash. Look, construction isn’t some sort of bloody charity. You can’t have frontline margins diverted to servicing fees for architects, consultants and bureaucrats. Although obviously, if you can, we should grab a bit of the action…’
We look at each other. Is he ‘joking’? Eddie gives nothing away, as usual, and reminds me it’s my round.
Wednesday. Sorted. My Pop-Up Poundbury is down to six flatbed trucks, a five-day shuttle of Transit vans and some inflatable follies.
Over the next few weeks, Pop-Up Poundbury will be visiting greenfield sites throughout the country. The Prince of Wales is funding everything, his team are working out the logistics. I’m taking an overview and framing the narrative. The idea is to show people, some of whom live in remote parts of East Anglia, what viable contemporary housing looks like. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover Cranford with double garages and wi-fi.
Our scheme has the full backing of the cheerful, outspoken minister for places, the right honourable Phil Gapps. He hates ‘Legoland housing’ and blames architects and developers for ruining community life with identical houses. He wants a return to the sort of architectural quality we used to get in Georgian crescents and Victorian terraces. OK, that’s identical housing too but built before the Welfare State, when there were more individualistic types, entrepreneurs and eccentrics to compensate. Gapps wants to see a wider variation in house AND occupant types, which is where my human software value-engineering skills once again illuminate my eminence.
If there’s enough local interest (that is, if we can sell at least half the show houses) we’ll simply leave the mini-Poundbury where it is and order new kits for the next drop. Gapps says we won’t have to pay for the land until we’re in profit. It crosses my mind that this sort of deferred payment scheme could usefully be offered to local authorities, then I remember that they’ve been put into storage for the next four years.
Thursday. Tweaking my four-storey brick and glass Birmingham Learning Hub. God, it looks awful. A weird disembodied corner window on top, a clunky colonnade at the bottom, oh wait. I’ve got it upside down. Turn it…oh, that looks worse. Maybe I’ll just call it ‘contravertible’.
Friday. Meeting of the Olympic Rebadging Taskforce. Our special guest today is my old friend Loaf, the Mayor of London. Amazing. Contractually required to dress as a giant Cadbury’s Creme Egg, yet still utterly magisterial. He talks a lot of common sense, especially in Latin.
We’re exploring ways of ‘keeping the Olympic Dream alive beyond Twenty Twelve’. The problem is how to move London and the Olympic site forward together, in synergy. The solution is brainstorming with a whiteboard which, after two hours, looks like this:
TARGET: LEGACY 2020. THE ‘LONDON BRAND’! [NB CHECK DOMAIN NAME AVAILABLE?] POSSIBLE HOTEL IN STRAND? THE LONDON BRAND IN THE STRAND? LONDON = OLYMPICS. OLYMPIC LEGACY = LONDON PLUS? ‘LONDON+’! UPGRADE LONDON TO MEGACITY? PRO: LEAPFROG SO-CALLED WORLD CLASS CITIES. CON: ARMED DRUGS GANGS IN SHANTY TOWNS. NO. OLYMPIC SITE + LONDON = MUTUALLY ASSURED LEGACY. REBADGE LONDON AS A ‘LEGACITY’! BREAK FOR LUNCH.
Saturday. Five-a-zeitgeist theoretical localism. Aesthetic Yokelism 3, Prosthetic Bespokelism 0. Next week: Smokey Focalism vs Jokey Blokealism.
Sunday. Lateral visioneering in the recliner.