Dear Mr Boles, there’s a lot worse than living among disused offices

I'm starting to pine for life among office blocks. 9-to-5 workers don't play loud music in front of open windows, nor do they have noisy children

Share

When the Planning Minister, Nick Boles, called for developers to be able to convert office blocks to housing without planning permission, I wondered why this was hailed as such a departure.

Only yards from our sitting-room windows is a gigantic orange crane; its hook swings menacingly to and fro. You can set your clock by the drilling that starts at 8am, six days a week.

The former building of HM Prisons Department is being converted into flats. Or rather, it’s being demolished to be rebuilt, even taller and bulkier than its ugly 1960s predecessor, after the application sailed through plan-ning procedures. And, no, we aren’t compensated in any way for the – years of – disruption and noise.

This is no isolated example. In a location that was completely built-up when we moved in 12 years ago, we now have building sites on four sides, producing quadrophonic crashing and drilling. The magi-strates’ court was demolished in weeks; part of the Environment Department is well on the way down, and a wing of the Transport Department is next. 

One consequence is that I’m starting to get quite nostalgic for life among office blocks. Offices have the great merit of being quiet. The workers by and large don’t play loud music in front of open windows; they don’t have balconies to hang laundry or football flags from – and even if they did, they wouldn’t be allowed to. They don’t have noisy children; they don’t skateboard, and they keep themselves to themselves.

Now it might be that all the flats in the vicinity will be sold in the Far East and no one will actually move in – which would be a solution of a kind. London councils seem to like the idea of more housing, occupied or not. If the flats are occupied, though, there are implications that seem to have passed the councils by. Not one of the half-dozen conversions under construction comes with any shops on the ground floor. Yet people need services, and residents need more than sandwich and coffee bars. Until now, I could just about persuade myself that our fresh-food desert reflected the lack of real residents. But that is less and less true.

Meanwhile, the  developers build blocks that have no evidence of life beyond the entry phone; only dark doorways that foster crime. If it’s going to become even easier for developers to turn offices into housing – though it seems easy enough already – councils need to be much more demanding about what else developers must provide.

More female brains are what’s needed

Maya, the heroine played by Jessica Chastain, who tracks down Osama bin Laden in the new film Zero Dark Thirty, is supposed to be based on an actual CIA agent, who was at least as single-minded and lone-wolfish as her cinematic depiction. Real female spies have long fascinated, in part surely because they are so few. But also, I suspect, because when they are good, they tend to be very good. Witness Stella Rimington and Eliza Manningham-Buller who rose to head MI5 and MI6.

After Iraq, much was made of new groups set up inside the security services with a brief to challenge the mainstream view. I wonder, though, whether such institutional counterweights would be needed if women were well enough represented not to be shouted down or outmanoeuvred by the men. A healthier gender balance might make decision-making at once less hide-bound and more realistic, whether in finance, government – or spying.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable