Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Prince Charles accused of abuse of power

Lord Richard Rogers (75), who was sacked last week from a multibillion-dollar development in London, has accused the Prince of Wales of “an abuse of power” and “unconstitutional behaviour”. The Age re-printed an article on 17th June that was published by The Guardian last week. The dispute however, is older and involves “the modernist design” for the Chelsea Barracks site in London. The 12.8-acre site is opposite the historic Royal Hospital and the proposed scheme would have built 552 flats in towers of copper, glass and concrete. Naturally Prince Charles, who takes a special interest in architecture, objected and hundreds of thousands of people did as well.

Since the Prince saw off Lord Rogers and his “monstrous carbuncle” extension to the National Gallery 25 years ago, there is no love lost between these two men. The little detail of a long standing dispute is, of course, not mentioned in The Age, because it would explain Lord Rogers’ fury.

And perhaps the audience would like to know, how much “the leading British architect” (The Age) would have earned had this project gone through. How much money out of the £3-billion-project would have found the way to Lord Rogers? His scathing attack on Prince Charles, could it be fueled by pure self-interest? How about a little bit of investigative journalism, dear Age?

Even Rupert Murdoch’s daily The Times conceded: "Lord Rogers is magnificent in his fury - but wrong. There are plenty of issues that the Prince of Wales can't touch: Gordon Brown, the constitution, Europe, the Middle East and whether the country goes to war. Architecture is not one of them.

The problem lies deeper, as an editorial in The Sunday Herald explained:
"Massive housing and commercial developments, new superstores and roads ... such projects come before the public for scrutiny only when developers have already had cosy exploratory chats with local planners and carved up the whole deal behind the scenes. Even then, they are pushed through the so-called planning process with unseemly, and sometimes mischievous, haste. Ever noticed how public consultation plans for municipal mega-projects, with tight schedules for objecting attached, suddenly get launched on a Friday afternoon before a holiday period when no-one can be bothered to scour the council notice section of the local newspaper?

"It's no good architects coming over all democratic and squeaky clean here. With the exception of a few less ruthlessly commercial practitioners committed to working with communities, architects are in on these deals from the beginning, drawing up plans for their developer paymasters and generally schmoozing with the municipal mafia. They have a direct financial interest in seeing such projects go ahead; at least HRH doesn't.

Prince Charles told Royal Institute of British Architects as recently as on 12th May 2009: "Few people dare to speak out ... for the very good reason that if they do they find themselves abused and insulted, accused of being old-fashioned, out of touch, reactionary, anti-progress, even anti-science - as if it was some kind of unholy blasphemy to question the state of our surroundings, of our natural environment, our food security, our climate and our own human identity and meaning. Little wonder, then, that most people shy away from pointing out that the Emperor isn't actually wearing very many clothes any more." The whole speech can be read here.

So, why did The Age re-print the article? After all, if they want examples of architectural monsters and overriding democratic planning procedures, the journalists don’t have to look to London. Melbourne itself delivers lots of examples. Take a stroll through the streets and your eyes will spot one catastrophe next to the other. And unfortunately the heir to the throne does not come to our rescue.

Unconstitutional behaviour” in Victoria
Actually, The Age ran a story on planning in Victoria. True, it was more about Victorian Planning Minister Justin "Harry" Madden, but there were discoveries, that really should let Lord Rogers see “unconstitutional behaviour”:

… Since the mid-2000s, and especially under Premier John Brumby, Labor has started to wind back objector and appeal rights, over-riding councils in a way that would have seemed unbelievable a decade ago.

"Last year,
Madden announced that planning decisions for 27 key commercial centres — including Coburg, Frankston and Footscray — would be taken from councils and given to specially appointed development assessment committees. The program was to begin with five centres. So far this year, he has also seized planning control for 11 major housing and commercial developments, mainly in inner and middle suburbs. Among them is the large riverside industrial plot in Fairfield known as the Amcor site, the future of which was under consideration by the left and green-leaning City of Yarra.

"Other projects include the contentious proposed conversion of the Northcote Bowl into apartments, and the troubled redevelopment of Pentridge in Coburg, currently in the hands of the Labor and Greens-dominated Moreland City Council. Such actions are viewed with real suspicion in the gentrified streets of this former Labor heartland.
Last month, the Government also announced it would fast-track $3 billion in housing and education projects as part of the federal stimulus package, denying councils and residents the right to object or appeal. Under the Government's guidelines for the program, hundreds of largely private housing developments could be rubber-stamped if they contain a component of social housing. No stated minimum of social housing has been stipulated, sparking concern that it will be used as a smokescreen for poorly planned public-private development.

"Notable too is the recent ascendancy of
Madden's Development Facilitation Unit. Just a few years ago, the unit was a minor office in planning, a one-man operation focused on trouble-shooting projects with problems, such as the Pentridge revamp. Now it has grown into a major part of Madden's department.

"While the minister insists he is a
'reluctant interventionist', when The Age suggests that "planning" has largely given way to ' facilitation', he says he does not apologise for that. 'The great challenges at the moment are in housing and, because of the economic circumstances at the moment, jobs,' he says. 'We're committed to delivering housing and jobs in this state. The Opposition and the Greens are anti-growth, anti-housing, and anti-jobs.'…

"An often overlooked influence on his attitude is that he is, by training, an architect. Like developers and builders, the architect's instincts are hostile to consultation with those who do not understand 'the profession' [here you have an explanation for the hatred architects show against Prince Charles]. Objections and appeals only frustrate creativity, and money-making.

"The Victorian president of the Australian Institute of Architects, Karl Fender, is a fan. 'The first thing about Justin is, he's an architect, and therefore he brings an intelligence based on his education to the portfolio ...'

"The scaling back of planning democracy is not unique to Victoria, or even Australia. Nor is it simply a response to the global financial crisis. It has been a trend across the Western world as deregulation has permeated all spheres of public policy since the 1980s. Other states are moving in the same direction, South Australia in particular. But under Brumby and Madden, Victoria is now among the national leaders in sweeping aside obstacles to development.

"But privately, some Labor insiders worry about the sidelining of councils and residents, and fear that in the drive to get billions of dollars
'out the door', projects are being called in and signed off at a dizzying pace without the usual checks and balances. Corruption flourishes in such conditions.

"Labor councillors are among a group of concerned local government figures who this week published an open letter in
The Age accusing Madden of demolishing a cornerstone of Victorian planning — 'the rights of residents to have a say about their neighbourhood … The use of the economic downturn to justify the denial of these fundamental rights is short-term thinking with disastrous long-term consequences.'"

The last word should go to a letter writer of The Times:
"Who do you trust -- the builders, the MPs or Prince Charles?
The one who will not financially profit from more ugly buildings. Thank you for speaking out. Prince Charles is the voice of the people.
Mama S, Atlanta, USA

1 comment:

Nuno Castelo-Branco said...

Everybody will start soon to understand, that the alleged "unconstitutional behaviour" simply means NATIONAL and COLLECTIVE/PUBLIC INTEREST!