The Businesses of the Old Kent Road (are being ignored)

I have blogged in the past about the Old Kent Road  – see here   and here and here

For those who are interested I recommend the work on the businesses of the Old Kent Road by Cass Cities – work which has been done in the context of plans for the redevelopment of the Old Kent Road area which are forcing out existing businesses. Indeed the existing businesses, their need for growth, and future businesses are, and have been, ignored by those responsibe for making these Plans.

Cass’s book can be found below – it makes interesting reading. For me, it is shocking (but not surprising) that the local council has a very poor grasp and understanding of what businesses are in their area and how their citizens earn their living.

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Graz Gyrations – thoughts on a visit to Graz

Towards the end of 2017 we went to Graz, Austria, on a business combined with pleasure trip.

Here are some brief thoughts and observations from that trip.

Blimey – Frankfurt Airport seems big. Is it as large as it seems or do you just have to taxi a long way?Graz November 2017 (1)

The River Mur goes through the centre of Graz Graz November 2017 (233)and down stream it is dammed to create an hydro-electric power station Graz November 2017 (8) At one time I got the impression that the energy supply company in Graz is owned by the municipality (or the state in some way) – does anyone know if this is the case? Let me know.

The arrivals hall at Graz Airport with an advertising display of local and regional businesses. Note that nearly all of these companies actually make things, adding and creating value. Quite a contrast with what I saw at London City Airport on our way home – it was all accountants, management consultants and banks – value extractors rather than creators. And note that the one bank which is advertised at Graz Airport is actually a cooperative. Graz November 2017 (12) Graz November 2017 (13) Also note the regional Clusters – for example the Styria Autocluster.

Much is made of the region – Styria – and there are two farmers’ markets in the city centre which operate everyday of the week except Sundays, with local farmers (the actual farmers, running small market gardens it would seem) selling their own produce. Local Styrian produce included Pumpkins, Pumpkin Oil, Giant Beans, and Apples. Graz November 2017 (258)Graz November 2017 (17)Graz November 2017 (18) Saturday was the main market day, with many more stalls, and shoppers, than weekdays, but each market was operational every week day with a reduced number of stalls plus the permanent booths.

I liked the metal clad doors and shutters which were a feature of old buildings in the city centre Graz November 2017 (43)Graz November 2017 (56)

The tallest building in the city centre (but across the river from the old city) is the A1 Telekom building. This telecoms, satellite, broadband, TV Satellite company seems to be at least partly state owned – 28% of the shares as far as I can make out. Graz November 2017 (66)

The Kunsthaus Graz November 2017 (75) and a general view across the city Graz November 2017 (76)

They are not afraid of mixing up contemporary and traditional architecture.

Much of the residential development in the city centre is made up of courtyards Graz November 2017 (84) but it is not unusual to find small business amongst the homes – a mixed use we don’t see much of (if any) in the UK. Graz November 2017 (85)

I visited the Botanic Gardens with its new glass-houses Graz November 2017 (120) but it is a shame the old green-houses have been left to deteriorate Graz November 2017 (115) An example of where it is ‘easy’ to get funding for a new capital project but not to cover the running costs of an existing facility?

A nice example of attention to detail – Graz November 2017 (123) individual flues grouped together to form a sculptural effect.

An Art Nouveau district Graz November 2017 (127)It was interesting to see ‘home made’ scaffolding erected on site from timber rather than metal scaffold tubes Graz November 2017 (132)Graz November 2017 (133) Can you imagine this in the UK? Someone would throw a fit.

I liked the rawness and sculptural form of the Technical College Graz November 2017 (135) The photos don’t show it well but I loved the idea of turning the rainwater drainage system into a water feature (when it is raining that is). Graz November 2017 (138)

Another example of new and traditional next to each other without any problem or fuss  Graz November 2017 (139)

There are still examples of run down buildings next to well maintained and renovated ones Graz November 2017 (140)

A new residential estate near the exhibition grounds – at first sight I thought this was a new prison!

Graz November 2017 (145)

The nearby Exhibition site was not much more than an industrial estate – but perhaps that’s all you need for a local exhibition ground Graz November 2017 (146)

An example of a traditional shopping street  Graz November 2017 (158)

New and traditional mixed up and next to each other Graz November 2017 (171)

Another view of the Graz Kunsthaus Graz November 2017 (176)

The Museum of Archaeology Graz November 2017 (183)  – a modern structure in the grounds of a Schloss Graz November 2017 (182)

Traditional houses in the hills Graz November 2017 (203) with new homes in a more contemporary style built in their grounds and amongst them  Graz November 2017 (205)

Graz November 2017 (206)

Graz November 2017 (207)

Graz November 2017 (211)

Typical new apartments being built – note the large balconies Graz November 2017 (217)

There is still industry in the city Graz November 2017 (220) Siemens bogie plant. The bogies for London’s Thameslink Trains were made in Graz –

Simple but effective – Grasses in small bags being used to demarcate public and private space outside a coffee shop Graz November 2017 (226) – an idea to steal and use in UK town centres.

We were in Graz as the Christmas decorations were being put up – upside down Christmas trees above the main shopping street Graz November 2017 (246) One shop sold nothing but glass Christmas decorations Graz November 2017 (29)

A modern office building Graz November 2017 (250)

In Graz they are not afraid to put a modern box on an old building Graz November 2017 (261)

The leisure gardens, often seen in Europe, which help to make high density city living work – something which we, in the UK, are ignoring when we say ‘the continentals live at high density in their cities, so why shouldn’t we?’.

Another new building in the heart of the old city – it was noticeable that many new buildings have had to provide underground car parks beneath them Graz November 2017 (273) Graz has a bit of a bike culture (quite a few times we heard the squeal of bike breaks as one just avoided hurtling under a car), but it is not ignoring cars as a necessary means of transport.

Sometimes it is useful to learn how others see the UK  Graz November 2017 (277)

Traditional and new again Graz November 2017 (278)

An example of traditional courtyard housing in the old town Graz November 2017 (281)

This part of Graz, redeveloped after the Second World War, is considered by locals as the rough part of the city, and is looking a bit run down in places (a nice little find whilst exploring the back-streets was the Bauer distillery – we highly recommend the Hazelnut Schnapps). Graz November 2017 (69) We noticed that even the local SPAR shops had a section for regional produce ‘From Styria’. I don’t see any of our local co-ops in the UK having, say, a Kentish Produce Section – perhaps it’s about time they did.

Graz has a lot of small ‘squares’, each one setting up the Christmas booths which seem to have much more of a social function that the copies which we have recently introduced in the UK. We really need to made our own traditions, and do them in our own way, instead of trying to copy them (badly) from others. Graz November 2017 (45)

A view of the fields from which the produce for the farmers markets came from Graz November 2017 (9) A nice little reminder of how different UK fields look from those on the continent.

So, to end, some quick thoughts and observations on spending a week in Graz:

  • a city with a population of 230,000 (in a metropolitan area with a population of 430,000), can be a centre for manufacturing;

  • there is a strong regional influence with industrial clusters and a strong tradition of regional food and produce;

  • A city of 230,000 can have two farmers’ markets, selling fresh food, every day of the week, except Sundays;

  • 230,000 is the population of a small London Borough -so there is no reason why London Boroughs (or a grouping of them) can’t have their own industrial cluster strategies; nor why they can’t link with their rural hinterland to promote regional and traditional food and produce;

  • we (in the UK and London) shouldn’t be frightened of building new and modern next to old and traditional, but at a small and local scale rather than the large scale which intentional investors want;

  • there are different ways of running our businesses; we in the UK could have locally owned and controlled utilities and banks.


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Draft New London Plan – based on wrong assumptions?

I have just submitted my response to the Draft New London Plan consultation.

I won’t paste in the whole document here, but thought I would repeat just one section where I raise what I think are important points which the New Draft Plan ignores:

“This London Plan seems to be based on two incorrect assumptions:

  1. that neoliberal economics has not recently been seriously challenged and that the next 30 years will be based on the economic philosophy and assumptions of the last 40 years;

  2. that leaving the EU will not make any difference to the rate at which London grows over the next 30 years: in short there is no recognition that the UK’s and London’s economy may not follow the pattern of the recent past.”

I close my response by saying that

” ‘we’ (the public, central government, the London Mayor, the GLA, The London Assembly etc) really need to debate and decide who London is for – those who live and work in London (not ignoring London’s effect on the rest of the UK and the wider world), or is it for the rest of the world to treat as just an investment opportunity and a safe place to store their wealth?”

So, even ignoring all of the other points which my response addressed, these above issues are enough for me to say that I cannot support the London Plan as proposed.


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The Dangers of Data

The following, from the new Vietnam War series on BBC broadcast in 2017, leaped out to me:

Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defence 1961-1968, wanted information and data but didn’t really know what to measure.

So the military collected data on everything; so much data that they didn’t have the time or resources to read most of it – but this data distracted them from real thinking and plan making which made sense. I can’t help thinking that this is something that we would do well to remember and think on today – even (or especially) with massive computing power.

What is required, across the board, is real thinking and plan making which makes sense.

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Shopping Centres into Residential Developments

Earlier in December it was reported that the retail ‘giant’ Hammerson, which owns 23 UK shopping centres, is taking over Intu which owns 20 in the UK. Some have speculated about what Hammerson will do with their combined assets – it has been suggested (Russell Lynch, London Evening Standard) that Hammerson will build on Intu’s assets and experience in Spain by expanding there, and sell off some of the poorer performing UK centres to raise £2bn to do so.

But, who will want to buy the more marginal shopping centres and why?

I say that Hammerson will sell these off for redevelopment into residential sites, or mixed use residential sites with retail below and residential above (or entering into Joint Venture deals to do so). In general I think we will see owners of shopping centres discovering the opportunities which are available from the current policy for the intensification of town centres in order to proved more housing. So, watch out for this.

This brings me to a general concern of mine – the ownership of town centres by a single or dominant company, and the increasing tendency for the UK’s retail facilities to be concentrated into the ownership of a few large companies, especially if the income streams are then shipped abroad.

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4 Lessons from Chicago which we could learn from in the regeneration of UK cities

I’ve just read a report about Chicago by The Boston Consulting Group which found that part of the gap in economic performance and well-being between Chicago and the coastal cities of the USA is driven by much greater inequality and underperformance in Chicago’s struggling neighbourhoods as compared with its coastal competitors.

This is a nice little reminder for the UK’s struggling coastal areas that it is not necessarily their location on the coast which is their problem.

However, what I want to draw attention to, as it could have lessons for the regeneration of UK towns and cities, is what the report calls the four imperatives which Chicago must commit to.

These four imperatives are:

  • develop capabilities that capitalise on its diversified economy;
  • focus on its struggling neighbourhoods;
  • lift the bottom, but also strengthen the middle and give a hand at the top;
  • and highlight its hidden strengths to attract talent and tourists.

It seems to me that many UK places can be inspired by these four points.

The full report can be found here: –

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Do Local Authorities know enough to be allowed to borrow more?

On this morning’s BBC Radio 4’s ‘flagship’ news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ we heard from an economics expert that the UK needs more devolution down to a local authority level and that local councils need the powers and freedoms to borrow more for infrastructure investment.

Yes, we do need to allow local authorities to be able to borrow to finance some infrastructure, especially to build new social housing, but we need to be very careful about how we let them borrow and who we let them borrow from and under what terms.

What we don’t need is ‘innovative’ financing and funding which ends up costing more than central government can borrow at.

What we don’t want is a repeat of the deals were some local authorities thought they were capping their interest payments should interest rates increase, but ended up paying much, much, more than they thought they would when interest rates actually decreased.

Some local authorities are now paying a fortune (more than they can really afford) because they were ‘mis-sold’ loans which they thought capped their risk but in fact increased it. They haven’t got far in the courts because the argument is that they are big enough to have known what they were doing – they obviously weren’t.

Link to The Today programme: at 2.58.05

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