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Smoke without fire

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Stuart Lipton looked highly relaxed in the City Corporation's Guildhall Library last week. This was despite an overblown newspaper headline puffing Tory claims that 'cronyism' is involved in his successful attempt to redevelop the Treasury building in Whitehall. He won the job under the Tories in 1996! This was long before the new Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (cabe, or possibly Cabbie) was even thought of, and obviously before Lipton was appointed chairman. The City event was a discussion to mark the 333rd anniversary of the Great Fire, coincidentally on the evening when fire broke out in Covent Garden, forcing the evacuation of several buildings. Lipton discussed the future rebuilding of the City (see News); the star of the night was Derek Keene from the Institute of Historical Research at London University. He painted a marvellous word-picture of how the fire started, took hold and ended, before offering thoughts on the long-term effects it had on, among other things, building regulation. Incredible though it may seem, only nine people actually died in the fire, though 100,000 were made homeless. Failure by the Mayor to demolish houses to form fire breaks was attributed to worries about aldermen losing too much rental income - property and the City are indissolubly linked. The mayor, incidentally, was sidelined in the management of the fire by the king and his brother, who ordered major demolition of properties along Fleet Street, using vast quantities of gunpowder.

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