The Custom House (6)

Hurrah ! Hurrah !

The Inspector, Paul Griffiths (he was also the Inspector for the Bell Foundry redevelopment) has recommended refusal of planning permission for the development of the Custom House, such an exceptionally important historic building, as – how did you guess ? – another luxury hotel.

Maybe this is a signal that the planning department of the City of London is beginning to recognise that over-intensive new development may not necessarily be the best strategy for the Square Mile; and that it needs to retain as much as possible of its historic fabric and the creation of new civic space to counterbalance the skyscrapers.

Now, it just needs an imaginative scheme as to how it might be developed as public space: a competition is needed perhaps. It could be a public reading room (vide what has happened to the British Library); a modern version of a bazaar; a centre for London fashion is what I think it should be (such a good space for a catwalk) ?

There are lots of better and more imaginative uses for it than a luxury hotel.


The Olympic Legacy (1)

I am immensely impressed by Oliver Wainwright’s Long Read (see below) on the failed aspirations for London’s 2012 Olympics. It was always intended to be at least as much about the urban regeneration of Stratford and the River Lea as it was about sport; and it was a bit of a surprise that London won it.

Wainwright documents the original hopes and aspirations of the local community for better facilities, particularly housing; how these plans, developed by Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell were hijacked by Boris Johnson when he became Mayor; and how most of what has been built is more for wealthy young professionals who can afford the high rents, instead of mass housing for the working population, as was originally intended.

Oddly, I am a bit more sympathetic than he is to what has been achieved. Much of the Olympic Park is well laid out and, at least so far, well maintained (although, as is pointed out, big roads bisect it unhelpfully). Chobham Manor is an experiment in a modern version of traditional housing, worth the attempt, although a bit sterile. East Bank will bring culture to East London, including the V&A. And V&A East, its massive storehouse on the west of the park, will, I suspect, be even more adventurous.

I have written about some of the same issues for the August/September issue of The Critic, and Iain Sinclair wrote about them in last Saturday’s Financial Times. I suppose everyone is waking up to the need to examine what the area is like after more than a decade of new development, and how successful (or not) it has been as the nearest approximation to a millennial New Town. The short answer is that landscape designers are much better at creating new environments than urban planners.


The Marks and Spencer debate (3)

I was one of the signatories to the letter asking the Secretary of State to call in the plans to redevelop the old Marks and Spencer building on Oxford Street. As I see it, it is not just an environmental issue, but also the question as to whether or not it is sensible to demolish a decent, if not especially adventurous, classical (Néo-Grec) building of the late 1920s in order simply to replace it with an entirely nondescript new office building. The original is a survival of an unfashionable style which had a sense of civic value; the replacement seems not to have anything to recommend it. So, I hope the Inspector leading the Planning Inquiry will reject it.



We like Moelfre, a sweet fishing village with a small harbour looking south towards the mountains and east towards Liverpool, described in the Shell Guide a touch snobbishly as ‘a village for seaside and retirement to one’s dream bungalow’ (written by Lord Esher):-



We were driving along a minor road in the centre of Anglesey when we saw a sign to a church. It led into a road through the remains of parkland with a seventeenth-century dovecote in a field with a bull:-

The church itself, most of it twelfth century, was at the top of a deeply wooded track in a small, well-kept cemetery full of Victorian tombs. The church itself, St. Eugrad, was locked, but there was something deeply attractive about the sense of a tiny church in a lost landscape, surrounded by woods:-


Llanfairfechan (2)

Above the Church Institute is The Close, a road which loops up the hill: a model estate of the 1920s, mostly, but not entirely well-preserved:-


Llanfairfechan (1)

It’s a while since we’ve been to Llanfairfechan, the remarkably well-preserved Arts-and-Crafts village laid out by Herbert North, who had worked with Lutyens, as a model estate.

We started at the Church Institute, a fine, slate-hung village hall, with a stage, opened in 1912 and redolent of community activity between the wars:-

Tucked away down a path alongside it is the Churchmen’s Club, equally atmospheric, and in dire need of some tender living care:-

I feel it ought to be eligible for HLF funding, as a way of protecting it. But there is presumably no longer a call for snooker. Maybe the National Trust should consider it as a visitor centre to help the preservation of the village as a whole – a way of extending their activities into the early twentieth century.



I have been reading more about Wrexham. Population 65,000, the fourth largest town in Wales and the largest in North Wales. Recently made a city, although St. Asaph has the cathedral, not Wrexham. Elected a Tory in 2019, so part of the Red Wall. It felt like a classic large, reasonably prosperous market town, which suffered badly from de-industrialiation in the 1980s and from the hollowing out of the city centre because of out-of-town shopping (it remains an important regional centre). So, Ty Pawb is an attempt to re-invent city centre shopping through creating space for market stalls; but at the moment most of the city centre looked like being pubs and barber shops. Gentrification doesn’t feel like an option. An interesting problem.