We are being told that the Edgware Broadwalk development will be a major contributor to solving London's housing crisis. I'm an engineer by trade and if I am asked to solve a problem, the first thing I do is look at what has caused the problem. For ordinary working Londoners, the root cause is that property is far too expensive for ordinary people to buy or rent. The answer that Sadiq Khan and both Barnet's Conservatives and Barnet Labour have proposed, are mega developments, where a majority of the dwellings are not for people who need affordable housing.
Even where there are what are deemed officially 'affordable' they are still out of the reach of junior doctors, teachers, nurses, etc. To try and make them vaguely affordable, there are joint ownership schemes. The drawback for those who participate, is that you pay for decades for a property, which you will never actually own. It is not a solution to the problem, it is a sticking plaster on a festering wound in our city, which is getting ever worse.
But lets take a second to consider what life will actually be like for the new tenants of the skryscrapers in Edgware. Of course the top story penthouse flats will be amazing with views of The Shard and the Chiltern Hills. I wouldn't mind one myself. There will be a gym for the tenants, a cinema and a few restaurants. The tube will be dead handy for trips to The West End and for those who can afford it, there will be a guaranteed parkins space, which the developers will sell at a handsome profit. There are 3365 homes, and 465 student flats, with some 425 parking spaces for residents, so they will be at a premium. Maybe one in ten residents will get a parking space, which means that those with the deepest pockets will be fine. So there you go, if you are a rich resident, life will be good.
Now lets have a look at those struggling to get by, who end up in one of the not so luxury flats. They will effectively be excluded from car ownership. Once the blocks are built, the Northern Line will be full to capacity in busy times. Although being at the end of the line going to work may mean a seat, coming home will be a nightmare. One of the ironies of Sadiq Khan's ULEZ and mega development policy is that people are being forced to use the tube network, which has the worst air quality in the UK. I am a big supporter of clean air, but the fact Khan has done nothing to clean the air on the tube is a sign to me that he is not treating London with honesty. Ulez has done little to stop rush hour congestion and the buses are busier than ever. My son used to get the bus to school in Finchley, from Mill Hill. The 221 was packed with young people and he'd have to get up an hour early to be guaranteed to get to school and college on time. This will be true for all residents of the Broadwalk Towers who need to use the buses in rush hour. It is all very well for the YIMBY contingent to say that Edgware is well connected. If the buses and tubes are rammed, it means that journeys take far longer and are not conducive to good mental health (I know, I commuted on Thameslink for decades and often just went to the pub for hours, as there were no trains home).
And when you are at home and want to chill out, what is there to do in Edgware? If you have kids, where are the local football fields, Netball and Basketball courts, swimming pools, Parks? You've got it, a busride away. Much is made in the plan of improving biodiversity, but this simply seems to be putting footpaths through existing nature reserves (presumably disturbing the wildlife). There is no proper provision for young teenagers to engage in sports in the scheme.
The Ballymore pack states that there will be a better cultural offering. They say residents asked the for the following
“We need more things to do in Edgware, like going to the cinema, and things for families and young people.”
Their response is.
Our proposals are for a range of community and cultural uses which could include a new cinema and gym, in addition to a new library and a range of pubs, restaurants, cafés and an exciting new shopping district.
Whilst most people will be pleased to see a cinema in the plans, for those on low wages, this will be a rare treat. The less well off inmates of Ballymore Towers will not be going to the cinema more than for the odd treat. The talk of a new Library is rather misleading, as Edgware already has a good Library, that will simply be knocked down and moved. As for the new pubs, these are generally not designed for teenagers, who need to prove they are 21 to get in to many local pubs. I doubt that the less well off people struggling to pay their bills will have too much left to pay for the services of the restaurants and cafes and I do not personally see shops as being part of any sort of cultural offering.
So what will life be like for the less well off residents of Ballymore Towers in the dark winter months? If you look at the plans, around 35-40% of the buildings look out onto other towers. The view will be a pretty dismal view of other neighbours sitting in their flats. The expensive restaurants, cafe's and cinema will be a small luxury, to be enjoyed on occasion when the finances allow. Life will be be an endless trudge of crowded bus and tube journeys, passing the more well heeled residents enjoying the delights of the cafe's and restaurants.
When the London County Council built the Watling Estate in the 1930's, a new tube line was put in with a station at Burnt Oak, to augment buses and trams. Parks were built, with football fields. The famous Watling Boys club ran football teams, boxing and other sports, for the children on the estate. Homes had gardens or communal greens out the front for the children. Doctors surgeries and Edgware General Hospital were developed. Everything was easily accessible and neighbours could have conversations over garden fences. When children broke their arm, the hospital was near and when they needed the doctor, the surgery was on the doorstep. In this scheme none of these things is true. Residents will face a long schlep on the 384 bus from Edgware to Barnet Hospital and no doctors surgeries are mentioned.
Whilst I am not at all against high rise builds for professional people, who have no children and can enjoy the cafe culture, these are not the people who are really suffering from the housing crisis. The people at the sharp end are trying to raise families and build lives on low wages. This plan fails them. I don't really blame Ballymore. They are property developers and their sole aim is to make as much money as possible for their shareholders.
That is the truth. Barnet Conservatives who passed the SPD that allowed this, Barnet Labour are overseeing it and Sadiq Khan, who runs TFL that are Ballymore's partners, has facilitated this. All three have failed the working families of London in allowing schemes like this to rise.
Until we see a proper, mass council housing building scheme that is actuallly designed to give families good quality living accomodation that is fit for purpose, nothing will improve in the real world, apart from Ballymore's shareholders bank balances and the highly paid consultants who put these schemes together and pay people to troll people who object on Twitter and Facebook.