Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Prince of Darkness

The architecture profession, led by Lord Rogers, is all over Prince Charles' meddling in the proposals, now withdrawn, to redevelop Chelsea Barracks. I have a close affinity to this story as will become clear. To recap:

1. Peace dividend - The Government has been flogging off old barracks and airbases since the fall of the Warsaw Pact in the early 90s, cashing in on the endless rise in land values in our property-led economy. (In my recent professional life, I have helped redevelop some of them).

2. Auction - Perhaps the greatest prize the MoD had was Chelsea barracks, a 13 acre site right in the middle of the most expensive corner of London. They had been trying to sell it for years. (In my past professional life, I was based there).

3. A couple of years ago, the now infamous doyen of the UK residential property boom, Candy and Candy - a couple of rather flashy and brash young men backed by lots of Middle Eastern money - stumped up just under a billion quid for the site. The market groaned as this was a considerable over valuation (nearer £250 million was expected) and was perhaps the moment many realised that a property crash was inbound. (I have met Candy and Candy. Their corporate HQ is like a set from a James Bond film. Absolute corporate vanity which reeks of an entirely unsustainable business built on a boom. It is currently imploding).

4. Lord Rogers - Such iconic sites almost always attract a trophy architect. Lord Rogers did not disappoint. A truly spectacular modernist vision was planned. (I've met him too. A surprisingly muddled thinker for such a big cheese. He is a one trick pony: he does modernist, tall and expensive......oh and ego!)

5. Prince Charles - Now Charles has for many years opined about architecture. Let us be clear, he has no architectural training and no experience but lots and lots of opinions. He only likes classical architecture and a group of so-called ‘classical architects’ has surrounded him, drooling over his every utterance. Having been born into a frumpy, 1950s, sycophantic cocoon and never having left it, he kind of thinks that his views on anything matter because….well he is the PoW. Thus, he entirely misses the point of his future role: keep one’s mouth shut, smile at the poor people, cut the ribbon and look regal. That way, the proles continue to like you and don't rise up and question your gilded lifestyle too much. (In my past professional life, I met him too. His mother and father are utterly brilliant people. I mean that. They are a totally class act. Charles is thick, vain and arrogant; a terrible mixture and bad news for the future of Monarchy plc).

6. Misreading by Qatar royal family - Charles decided that the modernist proposals for Chelsea barracks were not to his taste so sent one of his endless and boring letters to the Qatar royal family telling them so. Now in Qatar, the royal family rule everything so you can kind of understand them believing that if the British monarchy does not like the proposals, then they ought to change them so as to not upset their British kindred spirits.

7. Weak council officers - As ever, when confronted with a difficult political problem, the council officers running the day-to-day operations of Westminster Council have stuck their heads in the sand and instead of recommending approval of the scheme, have offered no recommendation, a little used way for local government civil servants to cop out of having to make a decision.

Putting aside what should get built at Chelsea barracks, there is a very fundamental issue at stake here: in a constitutional monarchy, what role does the monarch’s family have in local government decision-making? Answer: none. Prince Charles’ views should be no more influential than mine. Did he take part in the local consultation exercise mounted by the developer? No.

What should happen is that tonight, at Gordy’s weekly evening audience with Her Majesty, Gordy should tell her to get Charles to fuck off and mind his own business, and then quickly through diplomatic channels, get the Qatar royals to continue splashing their cash to redevelop the site, creating much needed jobs in a recession and much needed homes thereafter.

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