Mary Dejevsky: Guilty – of being an urban nimby


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The Independent Online

The Planning minister, Greg Clark, used some colourful language to attack the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England for, as he claimed, always objecting to development. "Nihilistic selfishness" was one turn of phrase, while he said he couldn't remember any change in planning policy that the CPRE had not opposed. He was defending moves to simplify the planning laws, which many fear will weight decisions in favour of developers. Clark insists the changes will speed projects local people want and need.

The battle lines, as drawn up in Clark's interview with the Financial Times, relate to the countryside. But something similar applies in towns – where I could certainly be accused of "nihilistic selfishness". Even if you live, as I do, in a completely built-up neighbourhood, you are not protected from intrusive new development. The large government office building we look out on to has been sold (good; the Government is selling off surplus real estate). It's been sold for housing (good, too; replacing redundant offices with much-needed homes). But the developers, having undertaken to preserve the "footprint" of the existing building and printed brochures showing facades worthy of Belgravia, have now submitted their actual plans.

The "footprint" has been transgressed; the roofline of all nearby buildings has been breached (by another three storeys), and the developers want to burrow down three levels for parking. They have produced detailed surveys, "proving", to several decimal points, that the reduction in our light will be within "permitted" limits; ditto, the vibration from heavy drills. There is no way existing residents can afford to commission surveys to verify or disprove this. We have to rely on council planners at least to ensure the regulations are observed. As for five years of disruption, noise, dirt and dust, apparently we have no redress.

Personally, I would forgive some of this if the result were a pleasing piece of architecture. But like so much of what has been built in London recently – the hyper-luxury flats at One Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, the portico around St Paul's, the new Home Office – it looks pedestrian, ugly and bloated: too big for its surroundings.

But compliments where they are due – here, to Capita Symonds architects. The wraps have just come off part of the above-ground structure for the redeveloped Green Park Underground station. It is gorgeous. Long and low, of Portland stone to harmonise with nearby buildings, and with space so you can see the park beyond. Not too big, not too small, a model of stylish restraint. So it can be done. Why isn't it done more often?

In the wrong place at the right time

The BBC's Matthew Price has found himself taking flak of the wrong kind for reporting from his hotel room in Tripoli rather than mixing it with the rebels. As someone who managed to fly out of Beijing only a few hours before the tanks stormed Tiananmen Square, I have some sympathy with the fresh-faced Price. It must have been galling to be confined to the Rixos Hotel, as the star of Sky News, Alex Crawford, was transmitting riveting footage from barely two miles away. Contemptuous bloggers and tweeters dismissed his bullet-proof vest as a cynical prop, and suggested he should more honestly appear in "jim-jams and slippers".

You could say that Price got his reward the following night, when Gaddafi's supposedly captive son, Saif, turned up unannounced in the early hours to boast that his dad's regime was winning. More riveting footage here from the other side. But there are two points worth noting. As a BBC reporter, Price answers to editors who judge where their staff should be deployed, based only in part on advice from those same reporters. If you disobey, the risk is yours. Second, the BBC does seem to have banked on the opposition forces entering Tripoli first from the east and concentrated their (considerable) reporting resources there. With hindsight, that seems an unfortunate misjudgement.

My own footnote is that I had flown no further than Hong Kong, and the Chinese consulate there – probably with other things on its mind – issued me with a new visa. Within hours I was on the first, eerily empty, flight back into a locked-down Beijing.

How and when not to choose a television

My excursions into television-buying seem uniquely mistimed. It's 10 years since I was last in the market, and that coincided with the transition from old-fashioned sets to flat screens. The choice was baffling. The only one I liked carried an enormous premium for being both small and sleek. Now, a similar set would cost a quarter of what we paid for that one.

Alas, it recently developed a terminal defect: a picture with deep purple distortions, reminiscent of a Barbara Rae painting. It seems, though, that the TV world is on the cusp of another transition: to "smart" sets with built-in internet. Of course, they are more expensive; not everyone is yet producing them, and no stockist – including John Lewis, by appointment to MPs – offers completely standardised specifications.

There's another problem. If there is such a thing as a concealed-television gene, I've inherited it. My parents were what would now be called "late adopters" in televisual matters, but when we finally acquired a set, it had to have doors. Unlike rioters and looters, I run a mile from 40-inch plus screen TVs, but there's a gap where medium-sized ones should be. Plus, if you want to hide it away, you are talking serious money (bespoke cabinets, electronic "lifts", projection systems), and a lot of potential to go wrong. Concealment is about to bite the dust; it's going to be small, and mounted on a pole.