I have been reading a book by Jeremy Paxman (the BBC’s rotweiller) on The English. Among many well-phrased and unoriginal points Paxman states that ‘the redevelopment of English cities has been left in the hands of stupid, short-sighted and sometimes corrupt local councils, aided and abetted by third-rate architects and get-rich-quick builders. If ever evidence were needed of English contempt for the urban way of life, it is there in concrete and steel’. Self-criticism is always welcome but, like most attack dogs, Paxman only scratches the surface. The English love their towns and I have known many talented architects, landscape architects and urban designers who have worked on them. But good design requires good patronage. The deep problem is that England’s municipalities are frail twigs at the ends of the long branches of central government. Councils raise little of their own money and they have little freedom in how it is spent. So they did not, cannot and have not given local people what they want. There is a glimpse of Old Lewisham on the left of the photograph. It then had a major road driven through its heart – in the name of ‘modernisation’. When fashions changed, Lewisham High Street was part-pedestrianized and a covered shopping centre was built. If any tourists have ever come to see the drab results, it was probably to visit the memorial to a race riot – the 1977 Battle of Lewisham. Paxman may have been there as a cub reporter but on a BBC salary of £1m++ but now lives in a charming Oxfordshire village (Stonor) which is protected from change by the planning system he castigates. The BBC probably send him home in luxury limousines from which he glimpses sufficient Lewisham look-alikes to bare his teeth at the humble designers who toil to make them better.
The roundabout area, called Lewisham Gateway, is scheduled for re-re-re-development. You can see the council’s vision for the Gateway Development. The area beyond the roundabout road-sign is a part-buried river. Maybe Paxman thinks the English hate rivers?
Image courtesy tomroyal .