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

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Silhouette of clubber dancing Hacienda nightclub  

A comedian has opened an alcohol-free nightclub. Is he having a laugh?

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape