Saturday, 12 September 2009

St Petersburg WHS, Gazprom, Okhta Centre, BD - and JG

An update on the recent two blogs

Respected architecture critic Jonathan Glancey (above) has written in this week's Building Design of the violent clashes in St Petersburg, although without really apportioning the blame to those responsible (not, as far as I can see, the protestors but the thugs hired to prevent lawful protest).

Here's a link to further reporting and pictures on this (update Sept 13th)
(Interesting comments on that one - although to read the only full version of the truncated comments quoted left on t'internet you have to read them in a blog not too far from this one!)

It is intriguing to see how passionate St Petersburg’s residents are over the Gazprom tower proposals

But we don’t do violence

11 September 2009

Violence at Gazprom tower meeting” blared a headline in last week’s BD. The occasion was a meeting in St Petersburg at which Gazprom and RMJM were lobbying to change a local zoning law keeping buildings to a maximum height of 48m. This led to a newsworthy clash between protesters, police and security guards.

How often do people actually come to blows over buildings in peacetime? Protest is certainly not uncommon, and yet even the threat, and then the sorry reality, of the destruction of New York’s Pennsylvania and London’s Euston stations, witnessed no violence I am aware of. Equally, many people around the world have been offended in recent decades by heavy-handed office buildings, bombastic hotels and any number of crass residential and retail developments. But although angry, they have kept their fists uncoiled and their powder dry....

Read more:

But there’s been nothing quite like the Gazprom clash. When big business is threatened, it can and will fight hard, especially when supported by government.

Violence can rarely be condoned, but it is intriguing to see how passionate people living in St Petersburg are about their city. British architects might find this uncomfortable, but they can rest assured such passions are unlikely to spill over into violence in our own less demonstrative country

Well, no, Mr G, violence cannot in this case be condoned at all; it seems, however, that peaceful protest is being stifled by the use of such violence

In this country we do tend to use the law and public pressure, but let's face it, it's up to small but determined organisations (see yesterday's blog on a SAVE legal victory) and individuals banding together in a common cause (see the linked blogs column for a representative sample) to carry the huge burden of protest at the never-ending threats to our historic environment.

Maybe we should get more militant.

I wonder what would happen if we did? Would riot police be sent in?

December 2005

Lambeth Borough Council is threatening the imminent demolition of twenty-two Victorian houses on St. Agnes Place, Vauxhall, London SE11, SAVE Britain's Heritage has told Sapling.

According to SAVE, this is a precise repeat of Lambeth's actions on 20th January 1977, when it purposely damaged eleven of the 26 houses on St Agnes Place it then hoped to demolish, with the aim of putting them beyond repair.

Adam Wilkinson, Secretary of SAVE, told "Lambeth, which owns the houses, forcefully evicted squatters from the site earlier this week, apparently resulting in one hospitalisation. The squatters had been there for thirty years, and the buildings are consequently in reasonable condition - wind and weather tight and structurally sound. Lambeth is currently seeking approval - from itself - of the demolition of 52 - 74 and 75 - 91 St Agnes Place.

Lambeth's intention is to create a clear site. This site will then be handed over to a housing association. However there are no plans in place for any replacements.

Lambeth's draft Unitary Development Plan specifically seeks the retention of these buildings. (Policy MD069).

"SAVE Britain's Heritage strongly opposes the proposed demolition of these buildings. They are perfectly decent historic buildings in good condition, eminently and easily capable of conversion into a range of accommodation, as might be required by the housing association."It's a return to the bad old days. What does Lambeth think it is doing, giving itself permission to demolish a set of perfectly good historic buildings that is has identified as worth retaining, and destroying a community in the process."There are literally hundreds of examples of where these sorts of much loved historic buildings have been reused. For example, in 1975 Shepherdess Walk in Hackney was saved from demolition and restored by a housing association. The days of this sort of thing are unnecessary. Demolition is completely unnecessary."

Lambeth's earlier controversial attempt at eviction and demolition in 1977 was chronicled in "Our Vanishing Heritage" by SAVE's President Marcus Binney. After 200 police had been called in to protect a large mobile crane progressing down the street wielding a ball and chain, smashing in the fronts of houses one by one, Commander Patrick Flynn of the Metropolitan Police said "I don't want to be involved in anything like this again. We are not street politicians."

Pic credit: SAVE 1977

FALLEN SAINTS (December 2005)

On Tuesday, St Agnes Place, Kennington - the oldest squatted street in London - was evicted by bailiffs and hundreds of riot police. On Wednesday the area including the park was still cordoned off, and it is believed demolition was taking place. Supporters turned up, but there was very little they could do due to the sheer scale of the police operation. A wake for the death of St Agnes Street was held at Lambeth Town Hall in the afternoon. The eviction took a full twelve hours with the last few remaining residents brutally beaten by the cops, resulting in one losing consciousness and being taken away by ambulance.

Police also evicted the Pirate TV bus, despite being unable to find anything wrong with the paperwork or the bus, except that it couldn’t start. The cops instructed it be towed away but luckily the boys from the recovery firm managed to get it going and save it from the police compound.

Not content with evicting a whole street, police and bailiffs then evicted a squat in nearby Bolton Crescent, despite the fact the court case for the eviction was not due to be held till 16th December, making the eviction illegal: nice to see the boys in blue upholding the law.

There was predictably little mainstream coverage of the eviction, and the journos around were “embedded” with the police, and only shown what the police chose to show. The eviction marks the ends of the thirty year old vibrant community and leaves 150 people homeless with winter already here. It will instead be replaced by a soulless estate and a sports centre. It is reckoned that “unpaid rent” on the properties amounted to £4m over the years and that, according to Lambeth Council, they were “paying nothing to the community” - as if paying rent for your home to some landlord was more important than actually being a thriving community not based on capitalist exploitation.

Pic credit: SAVE

St Agnes' Place Lambeth, prior to demolition in 2006

A short account and pictures of the police presence, 1977 and 2005, appeared in the SAVE News

St Agnes' Place, London In January 1977 a large mobile crane swinging a ball and chain made its way down St Agnes' Place, Lambeth, smashing in the fronts of the houses one after another with the simple aim of damaging as many buildings as possible to the point that they were beyond repair. The owner of the buildings, Lambeth Council, knew an injunction was coming and moved the crane in at dawn, along with two hundred police officers. Eleven of the twenty-six houses were damaged before the injunction was granted.

Fast forward just under nineteen years. The remaining houses had been squatted for many years by a Rastafarian community, which had by and large settled and been left to its own devices by the local authority. And then it happens all over again. The bailiffs move in, attempt to kick out the residents (with the police officers in riot gear there to ensure a peaceful eviction), and the wreckers move in.

Pic credit: SAVE December 2005

The buildings, perfectly decent Victorian terraced houses, typical of the area, were still owned by Lambeth. They were not in a conservation area, nor were they listed.

SAVE moved to take legal action against the demolition, only to find that the local authority had just about managed to paper over the gaps in its case as a result of an aborted action by one of the local residents. As ever, had we known a little earlier, more could have been done to stop this act of wanton vandalism by the local authority. With London's buoyant housing market the buildings could easily have been economically repaired and reused. It appears that councillors and certain officers had long regarded the area something of a running sore and were keen to tidy it up –through demolition.

The local authority put forward no plan for the site post demolition, just some vague ideas about a community facility. Judge, jury and executioner: the sooner that demolition is regarded as a form of development,thereby requiring planning permission, the better.

Handsome buildings, which could have been retained, now gone. People made homeless, and violence against those evicted, by the police. Hmmmm. We don't do violence here though, not according to Mr Glancey.


PS The picture credits: although the police pics came from the SAVE news linked to, I gather that the older one was first published in the local press and the later one came from a local resident. I apologise if I have breached anyone's copyright.

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