Britain is being demolished

“Our town and city centres are being rebuilt, the suburbs enlarged and remodelled, our public buildings reconstructed or replaced, the great Victorian and Edwardian civic structures abandoned, pubs are being turned into restaurants, banks into bars, warehouses into flats, town halls into offices, even churches into cafés. This is change to our way of life on a scale not seen since the war. … The question is: will we get anything better than we did in the 1960s and ’70s? … With a small number of exceptions, like Birmingham, there is cause for concern. The expertise and experience is simply not available in many local authorities to ensure a successful outcome. Commercial developers are playing them for quick profits, building cheaply and selling on, leaving badly built and designed schemes in the centre of historic towns. …

In 1973 the postwar destruction of our towns juddered to a halt. Economic and political crisis was at the root of this, but that was not all. Popular protest and discontent led to people marching on the streets. … Last week the National Trust flexed its muscles at the government’s growth plans, threatening to buy up land in the green belt to stop its development. This, I predict, will not be the last we will see of people power.”

A week after the magnificent re-launch of St. Pancras, I think to write “the great Victorian and Edwardian civic structures abandoned” is perhaps overstating the case. And yet; there is the general presumption that such buildings are unfit for the 21st century, which usually simply disguises a slimy mix of financial interest and a snooty distaste for the fabric of Englishness

“As the station and hotel emerge from scaffolding they bear glorious witness to the maxim: never give up. St Pancras should be patron saint not just of children, but of hope in adversity. There is no such thing as an old building that cannot be reused just because “experts” say so. … How dare the great and good sit there before the Queen and applaud the rescue of a masterpiece they either sought to destroy or stood by for 20 years as it fell to ruin? Whenever conservation pleaded its case, they caterwauled, “You can’t stand in the way of progress, you can’t live in the past.”

There sat London’s leader, Ken Livingstone, who recently championed the demolition of the Bishopsgate station complex, proposed as the Covent Garden of the east, in favour of another of his beloved skyscrapers. He wrecked it, as his predecessors tried to eradicate Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus. Livingstone now wants to desecrate Victoria and Waterloo with towers of gated luxury flats. He must hate St Pancras, yet there he sat with Brown, John Prescott and the entire old-is-awful mob.”