Monday, 20 July 2015

Oxford Outrage

While the photo scarcely does justice to the scale in real life, this is the block of flats being built next to my partner's mother's bungalow in a leafy Oxford suburb.

A perfectly respectable 1950s family home was demolished to make way for them.

Despite the artists' impression looking like a prison block (always bad news if even the artists' impression can't make a building pretty!) and the official complaints of both my partner's mother and various neighbours that it was unsightly and of inappropriate scale and style for the street, planning permission has somehow been granted.

Even the builders have apologised to my partner's mother and agreed it is 'hideous', which is saying something.

Unfortunately this scenario is all too common, not just in this suburb, but in suburbs up and down the country. Worse still, these are to be marketed as 'luxury flats' yet are pug ugly, of eggbox proportions and possess the small windows of prisons, despite the modern preference for 'spacious, light and airy'.  Further down the road a spacious relatively modern care home was closed and demolished a couple of years ago to make way for a disproportionately-sized nondescript block of contemporary flats, its balconies ornamental, too small to be used as working balconies. In Oxford city centre a whole development of disabled people were kicked out of their 1990s purpose-built low-impact homes in order for high rise eggboxes (and a larger Westgate shopping centre and multi-storey car park) to be built.

A friend recently rented such a flat in a new development elsewhere, owing to an emergency need for short-term accommodation, but moved out the moment she could owing to a leaking roof terrace she could not use and a second bedroom which fit only a double bed and nothing else, most of the space being taken up by an awkward corner containing a 'designer' triangular window with broken blind. Amusingly several neighbours tried to convince her to buy their flats when they heard she was renting. Many residents it seemed, had believed the developer's spiel, but found them less than ideal once they took up residence and a year later, were desperate to sell up again.

Naturally my partner's mother has been approached with a view to selling her modest bungalow, doubtless to face the same fate as next door. Indeed the developers would have made an even greater killing if they could have secured hers too and doubled their plot size. To her credit she declined and is determined to continue living there as long as she is able.

She has the full support of her family.

And while her own property may be of minimal architectural merit, it is at least appropriate in scale and of low impact to the streetscape, surrounded as it is, by greenery back and front including a tall hedge. It also suits her lifestyle as an older person and is a good space for family gatherings with its large living room and rear garden. Now she will enjoy no privacy in her overshadowed back garden along with the no peace she has had since the builders moved in several months ago. Luckily her husband is no longer around to see it. It would have distressed him greatly.

A former councillor friend often says 'You can spot the civic corruption in any town or city by its ugliest and most inappropriate developments.'

Which isn't to say that we don't need more housing, just that there are wider debates to be had and certainly a lot more public consultation about where housing goes, how it impacts existing communities, townscapes and facilities and what it should be like/how it can genuinely be more affordable without proving a blot on the landscape. Letting developers build more and more flats for wealthy young professionals is not helping anyone but wealthy young professionals.

Locally we note that a seafront petrol station has just been closed in Hove and is in the process of being demolished for housing. Who decided that this petrol station was surplus to requirements? I used it regularly and it always seemed busy with a small co-op attached, the only one in the area. The next nearest petrol station is around 2 miles away. In Patcham another petrol station is currently being demolished. Having targetted every suburban pub and stray bungalow, it seems Brighton and Hove developers have now moved onto targetting petrol stations. Even the one by Hove station has undergone two changes of management lately. I fear the worst.


Anne Roy said...

Cambridge is now blotted with such ugly buildings as -

I live on this street ...

Wisewebwoman said...

I totally sympathize. The small forest next door to me here was ripped out (1000s of trees) and a gawdawful monster home and ginormous shed are now planned, totally out of keeping with this fishing village. It has impacted me greatly as income I generated from a small writer's cabin on my property has now vanished due to this yawning grey hole of a landscape as "scenic view".

This thoughtless blight I everywhere.


Steve said...

The housing shortage has become a political problem and as such central government have turned into a big stick with which to beat local government... we're sadly going to see a lot more of this type of development.

Barry Coidan said...

Fuck, fuck, fuck. The "housing shortage" has been the excuse of developers and councils alike for getting away with blue murder. We need more homes - yes - but we need good design and simpatico.