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Maxwell was more vulture than developer

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Last week, walking northwards from London's Liverpool Street Station, I was surprised to discover that Maxwell House is being demolished. And there, five storeys up in the party wall of No 66 Worship Street, the Edwardian building that I once shared with erstwhile partners Nicholas Lacey & Arno Jobst, a bricked-up window has again been exposed to daylight and public view. Back flooded amusing memories. . .

Our neighbour's building was set 12 metres back from the street, thus exposing a portion of the party wall of 'our' building. We rented two floors - from where we did Heron Quays in Docklands - and, anxious to gain natural light for our conference room, we were pleased when the obliging premises manager next door granted us licence to install a window on our shared boundary. With magnificent views towards Spitalfields, we also gained a vantage-point to see Robert Maxwell - the publisher - coming to and fro in his maroon Rolls Royce - these were the days before he began travelling by chopper - to park on the Mirror Building roof in Holborn Circus.

One Saturday morning, preparing to construct the flying scaffold required for the new window installation high above our neighbour's forecourt, our typically diplomatic builder wandered into bpcc House and uttered words to the effect of 'Hey, mate - can you tell the geezer with the Roller to shift it unless he wants a brick on his bonnet.'

This, no doubt, was the first that Mr Maxwell had heard of his company's generous concession towards us, but, armed with our licence, we completed the work and soon the morning sun poured in to cheer our many meetings.

Robert Maxwell had probably forgotten all about us until the prospect emerged of hugely inflated property values arising from Rosehaugh Stanhope's enormous Broadgate redevelopment. But then he struck quickly, in one fell swoop purchasing our building, flooding us with spurious allegations of tenancy breaches, and revoking the licence for our window. Mysteriously, our roof began leaking in a variety of places . . .

Only weeks later, as Hackney Planning Department's brave efforts to contain the ugly ambitions of this magnate collapsed, work began on the redevelopment of his bpcc site. As I have written before in this column (aj 1.2.96), Maxwell of course lacked the finesse of the developers Bradman and Lipton at every stage of the game. His vulgarity bore no comparison to their sophistication. Exploiting the energy created by Rosehaugh, he acted as a parasite, doing nothing to sustain the improvements in the area. Rather than patronising a better architecture, the vulture-like Maxwell enjoyed the pickings of increased land values with minimum effort. His scheme comprised an apparently insensitive exploitation of its site. The result provides the most miserable of conclusions to the northern end of the Broadgate development.

The end of a chapter, I mused, as I watched the demolition cranes reduce rental to rubble. Hopefully, the new intentions for this prominent site will provide a more worthy conclusion at the north end of Peter Foggo's grand masterplan for Broadgate.

Meanwhile, pause to consider the awful squandering of materials and resources by Mr Maxwell as developer on a 16,000m2, circa £14.6 million office scheme that lasted, unoccupied, barely 10years . . .

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