Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gordon Brown at Thames Gateway Forum

Gordon Brown did turn up, giving a very encouraging speech in general, but littering it with so many numbers that it sounded like the man reading out the football scores. There was also a session with Judith Armitt, the Chief Executive of the Thames Gateway, hosted by the editor of Property Week. His game was to try and write a plan for the Thames Gateway in an hour-long panel debate, despite the fact that Judith was in the room and already had a plan thank you very much. She took it in pretty good part, I certainly wouldn't have, and despite the fact that he was talking nonsense. The big idea from this chap and his supporting troupe was that the Thames Gateway should boil down to six projects and more or less forget everything else. So, if you live on a crumbling estate and aren't included in the six then so long, and have a nice life. Another idea was to emphasise on architectural excellence, and a short film showing examples of good buildings from around the world, and the last 1000 years or so, accompanied this proposal. I can accept that no-one should set out to build ugly buildings, but the first priority for any scheme is that it does what it is meant to do, that is homes actually function as homes, shops as shops and so on. That might seem obvious, but we have examples in Basildon of buildings that won architectural awards in their time and ended up decaying in a few years because while they looked great from the air they paid scant attention to how they might actually be used, ending up as sink estates or crime and graffiti-ridden town centres. If I had to make a choice I would pick a boring building where people could live and work in comfort and security over something that made a statement but was more or less unusable in a decade every time. If you can get function and iconic than so much the better, but please let us not pretend that both are equally important.

It was the Thames Gateway Forum dinner last night, and I was fortunate to spend the evening in the company of some rather more intelligent people from Property Week. There were speeches from Boris Johnson and John Prescott and entertainment that included a man with lubricant and a balloon. I won't try to describe that; you really had to be there.

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