What price beauty?
LOndoners are now beginning to understand why country people become strenuously protective of ‘their’ views. The ongoing transformation of the capital’s skyline continues apace. every month or so, their emergence heralded by the erection of tall cranes, new tower blocks and skyscrapers rear their heads. still more have received planning permission.
even for relatively informed Londoners, it’s very difficult to know where the next ones will appear. setting aside the handful of prestige projects that garner national press coverage, these buildings seem to come into being without any real discussion or consultation. With some striking exceptions, few have any pretension to architectural quality.
In part, this is because the planning system is almost hopelessly parochial when it comes to tall buildings. By virtue of their prominence and height, these have visual neighbourhoods on an immense scale. They also intrude disproportionately in relatively low-built areas, including parks, and where there are concentrations of historic buildings.
One curious consequence—and this isn’t entirely a bad thing—is that Londoners are becoming much more aware of the actual topographical relationship between the different parts of their city. Vauxhall may feel like a different world from Pimlico—and be divided from it by the Thames—but the residents of each can now see the other.
There are protected lines of sight, most famously to and from st Paul’s. Yet, paradoxically, the limited protection of these views has apparently become a licence to fill the interstices between them. Central London is being irretrievably altered and the streetscape closed in. The view from the house bought unsuspectingly, whether 20 years ago or last year, is now likely to be completely different—and not necessarily for the better.
Massive, distant buildings shadow vistas down streets that used to close with the sky; glimpses of historic public buildings, church spires and trees are vanishing. That’s a much more important cumulative transformation than whether this or that ‘iconic’ skyscraper is built.
In the countryside, the question of who owns the view becomes even more pertinent, with the dichotomy of beauty versus local economy and employment. It’s said that film-makers are abandoning scotland because of the wind turbines. Those who object to Hinkley Point in somerset might not be depending on it for a job. Farmers have to jump through hoops to convert barns into businesses that employ people or holiday cottages that bring tourists. The go-ahead for fracking in Lancashire is a blow to local democracy, yet Britain has to try out this potentially valuable power source.
On page 50, the Cpre shows how solar panels can be attractive (Town & Country). Can we have it all? As we try to become more self-sufficient as a non-eu country, the question becomes increasingly desperate, yet appears impossible to discuss in a meaningful way.