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Why Prince Charles is right about architecture

In truth, the prince has lamentably little influence over what gets built
  • @mirabarhillel

Lord Rogers has made the claim that the Prince of Wales exercises a veto over major planning decisions in London, and called his opposition to the now abandoned modernist redevelopment of the Chelsea Barracks “unconstitutional” and “an abuse of power”.

The row between the architect, 80, and the prince, 64, first began in 1987. The prince and many others were horrified by plans to surround St Paul’s Cathedral with modernist buildings of the kind which had by then already destroyed much of London’s Georgian and Victorian heritage. The prince dared to challenge the architectural establishment by pointing out that most people prefer traditional building styles in stone and brick to bold concrete upstarts, however persuasive their designers.

He was and remains right. On the rare occasions when they are allowed a say, about eight out of 10 people support his views, which is probably why they are never asked. This, of course, alarms superannuated enfants terribles architects. Lord Rogers doesn’t do popular, so when the prince gives voice to the people, the socialist peer has a fit and digs into his scrapbook for oft-repeated slanders. The truth is that Prince Charles has lamentably little influence over what gets built in London, while Rogers – who was architectural adviser to both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson – has and does.

There was no “Chelsea Barracks campaign”. Charles wrote one private letter to the Qatari prime minister, chair of the developer company. The letter was leaked to me by someone who had a financial interest in destroying the Rogers scheme, and its publication struck a chord with all the local residents who loathed the plan and campaigned against it. But they were not listened to until it emerged publicly – not through him – that the prince found it as dismal as they did.

This is not nearly as alarming as what Rogers himself did in 2005. A building by the classicist Quinlan Terry had won a competition for the new infirmary at Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital, Chelsea. It got planning permission and all other approvals, when Lord Rogers decided to write to John Prescott, then planning supremo, asking him to replace Terry’s Wren-style building with a nice modern one, perhaps designed by someone called Rogers.

Yet Lord Rogers keeps peddling his slanderous canard, and journalists keep desperately seeking evidence of a single planning decision directly affected by a princely intervention. They have found none, because there are none to be found. Like the rest of us, HRH is entitled to his opinions, even if they contradict those of the rather grand Lord Rogers’s. And until he is king, he is also entitled to express them and developers are equally entitled to dismiss them, which they mostly do.

Not convinced? Then take a walk across Waterloo Bridge and look towards the City. Its skyline, once dominated by St Paul’s, is now a monument to Mammon. Gherkins, Cheesegraters, Helter Skelters and Walkie Talkies, all designed by Lord Rogers and his chums, pierce the sky – and poke the prince in the eye – with gay abandon. I rest my case.