Monthly Archives: October 2010

Stake Your Claim – Warning!

I received the dodgiest looking brochure in the post recently, advertising 323 plots of freehold land for sale near Chelmsford in Essex.  Firstly, I’m not sure how these agents got my name and address.  Secondly, the imagery used on the brochure is very odd.  There is an image of some unidentified stately home, under which it says “stake your claim”.  Elsewhere there is an even stranger image of two construction workers erecting a “sold” property sign, in a pose which clearly copies the American flag-raising image of Iwo Jima.

The site is a large farm, subdivided into 323 plots.   Most of the plots are 650 square metres and some are larger, odd-shaped and triangular.  A plot of 36 metres by 18 metres costs you £27,500.  The 20% deposit can be “conveniently” paid for by credit card.  This is all very disturbing.

Really, what use is a freehold plot of land on a site which currently only has planning for agricultural use?  How would this ever be developed?  Would each freehold owner need to apply for planning permission on each plot individually?  If anyone dreamed of developing the community, they would have the task of consulting and reaching agreement with each freehold owner – this is possible which a very patient and coordinated community organising exercise.  Although I am very interested in co-operatively structured and developed communities, I wouldn’t start with the land, I would start with the people first.  This sale is a free-for-all, demonstrates no coordination or attention to community building, and seems to be appealing to the archaic sense of property ownership (and freedom?)

A further search shows that Chelmsford Borough Council has no intention of granting planning permission to develop this land for anything other than agricultural use.  Sadly, the brochure is uninformative and takes advantage of people who do not understand property development or the planning system.  It is sad to see that people are motivated to hand their money over to such unsecure, misleading offers.

The brochure closes with a quote by someone named Lou Scott and is meant to describe what real estate is.  It is a striking contrast to my thoughts on what real estate or property are.  Have a look at my contribution to the Future We Deserve, about a future vision of property.

Other links:

  1. This is Total Essex – warning from July 2009
  2. Chelmsford Borough Council – scroll down to Buyer Beware from July 2010

How to Incorporate Historic Buildings into Contemporary Development

Eight Georgian cottages of yellow stock brick remain of an early residential development on Greenwich Peninsula. These are 70-84 River Walk, SE10. At the west end of the terrace is the Pilot Inn, Fuller’s public house and hotel. A painted stone tablet on no. 68 on the wall of the pub reads “CEYLON PLACE New East Greenwich 1801”. These homes were constructed for workers at the adjacent tidal mill and chemical works and “are a rare survival of late Georgian artisan housing.”

The cottages are grade-II and were added to English Heritage’s buildings-at-risk register in 2009. Although sitting idyllically amongst gardens to the north and south, it is flanked by strange roadways to the west and east. I wonder if someone decided to “preserve” these historic buildings by “protecting them” from further development with parks and roads. This planning strategy appears to have isolated these buildings, making them novel and a bit freakish. The pub is lovely (and has an amazing cheese selection), but eight homes and one pub does not a community make.

Rising to the east, on the riverside, separated from River Walk by the East Parkside road will be the closest residential development, a collection of over-priced urban walk-in closets being built by Bellway Homes (at £270,000 for a 489 square feet one-bedroom flat, this description is not far from the truth – that’s £552 per square foot. Cost per square foot is a measure I frequently use to compare the relative prices of housing.) To the south-east of River Walk is Greenwich Millennium Village with local amenities such as a chemist and small food shop. A saving grace is the adjacent Greenwich Ecology Park with its pondlife, boardwalk, pipistrelle bats, and bridge connecting it to the Greenwich Millennium Village homes. Overall, the housing developments lack cohesion with each other, separated by roads and separated in character.

My idea for River Walk would be to build housing and community amenities around and incorporating the existing cottages. Possibilities include additional terraced homes built using modern materials in a contemporary, but sensitive and complementary style across from the existing cottages. Or they could form a forecourt or courtyard of homes with multi-unit housing built behind it. The main premise being to include the historic homes as part of the new community that develops around them, saving them not only in a structural and physical sense, but also in a social sense.