The show is over but the campaign goes on…

Spectres of Modernism was always intended as just one strand in a longer and broader campaign against Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen development. The show proved effective by generating press coverage of the many political and social issues flagged up by the City of London granting planning permission for Taylor Wimpey’s ghost flats – including potential conflicts of interest on the part of City of London councillors Chris Hayward, Michael Bear and James Thomson. As a result of our banner exhibition on the balconies of Bowater House these matters have now entered mainstream media discourse. The show and the issues it raised were covered by the national media in the UK, as well as the art press. Prior to Spectres of Modernism our concerns had only been aired in local papers and/or blogs. But far more important than press as regards Spectres was the way it brought our community even closer together as we fought Taylor Wimpey and the City of London council.

We’re still waiting to hear if the application for a judicial review of planning permission for The Denizen has been successful, which is one way we hope our campaign will move forward. But it is also important to keep raising awareness about social cleansing, a process explicit in the demolition of Bernard Morgan House – with its 110 key worker housing units – that Taylor Wimpey plan to replace with The Denizen’s 99 buy to leave luxury apartments; and with no social or affordable housing in complex whatsoever! Likewise we will continue to participate in the ongoing fight against the uniquely undemocratic political system in the City of London – with the council controlled by business votes – which denies residents a proper voice in local government. If the City of London was run by a democratically elected council like those found in the rest of the UK, The Denizen wouldn’t have stood much chance of winning planning approval in the first place!

While the Spectres of Modernism banners were up on Bowater House we blogged every day. That will stop now and we’ll only make occasional update posts from here on in. The 75 posts we’ve made so far aren’t just about us and the press coverage Spectres received, they were also intended to place our campaign in both a local London and global context; and to let people know about some other campaigns we support.

Please don’t forget our post show event. This is now rescheduled to take place on Friday 2 February at Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane, London E1 7LS, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. There will be an exhibition, performances, screenings, talks and the sale of works from and related to Spectres of Modernism, to consolidate the protest at Bowater House against Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen Development.  With the participation of: Mark Aerial Waller, Stewart Home, Tom McCarthy, Anna Minton, Katrina Palmer, Chris Petit, Esther Planas, Bill Parry-Davies, Iain Sinclair, Claire Louise Staunton, Nina Wakeford and Lloyd Corporation in collaboration with students from Goldsmiths Visual Sociology MA. All proceeds from the sale will go towards the campaign.

Other sites supporting our campaign against The Denizen – including OPEN Golden Lane and Reclaim EC1 – will in future be more active than this one. So please check them out! And activism against Taylor Wimpey’s development still retains a live cultural component via the horror stories various novelists are producing set in The Denizen; the blog featuring some of them is here.

A spectre is haunting the cynical overdevelopment that characterises London’s buy to leave property boom, the spectre of modernism!” #savegoldenlane


London Review of Books on Spectres of Modernism


Free exorcism with every Taylor Wimpey ghost home by Anna Aslanyan, LRB Blog, 7 December 2017.

Colourful banners hang from the balconies of Bowater House: ‘Under London, heaven’s light, grow life, not loot,’ one of the 21 slogans says. Another: ‘One day will this shadow fall.’ The building is part of the Golden Lane Estate, a Grade II-listed social housing complex designed in the 1950s and built on a bomb site in the City of London. Bernard Morgan House opposite is shrouded in white sheets bearing the logo ‘Taylor Wimpey’. The developer is about to demolish the building, which housed key workers between 1960 and 2015, and replace it with a 10-storey luxury block called The Denizen.

The display on Bowater House was designed by Fraser Muggeridge Studio and curated by Clare Carolin. Artists and writers including Fiona Banner, Tom McCarthy and Iain Sinclair came up with the slogans. The installation, entitled Spectres of Modernism (‘A spectre is haunting the cynical overdevelopment that characterises London’s buy to leave property boom, the spectre of modernism!’), was created to support Save Golden Lane, a campaign against The Denizen.

Taylor Wimpey will sell all its 99 apartments privately, meeting its obligation to provide social housing by contributing £4.5 million towards 14 council flats to be built somewhere else. The most expensive properties in The Denizen – a ‘refined haven in the heart of the City’ – are going for over £2 million. The building as currently designed will overshadow Bowater House, Prior Weston School and Fortune Street Park, where local children often play after school. The park will lose afternoon sunshine between September and March.

The sun was still shining in the park when I met Stewart Home there. Concerned that the new apartments will be sold to investors and remain unoccupied, he came up with the slogan ‘Free exorcism with every Taylor Wimpey ghost home’. The developers’ marketing strategy relies on the artwashing of urban decay in an area branded as ‘Culture Mile’. ‘Fashion designers, Turner Prize winners … and you’, a slogan spotted at another development, was co-opted by Eleanor Vonne Brown for Spectres of Modernism (her fellow artists include two Turner Prize winners, Jeremy Deller and Elizabeth Price).

Across the road, another council block is emblazoned with banners reading ‘Save our sunlight’ and ‘Stop overdevelopment’. The residents of Burnhill House are objecting to plans to redevelop Finsbury Leisure Centre. Islington Council consulted them about the project, but the revised proposals ignore their suggestions. A short distance away, yet another scheme threatens Bunhill Fields, where William Blake and Daniel Defoe are buried. The public garden will be deprived of light by two tower blocks about to be built on its edge. Boris Johnson approved them in February 2016, using his power as mayor to overrule Islington Council. In May 2017, after taking back control, the council gave permission to extend the nearby Finsbury Tower from 16 to 28 storeys.

Permission to build The Denizen was granted by the City of London’s planners, several of whom are associated with consultancies acting for Taylor Wimpey. (The borough has one of the highest approval rates for planning applications in England.) The only way to stop the process is through a judicial review. The campaigners applied for it in October and are waiting to hear from the Planning Court.

Home and I walked around the neighbourhood, stopping by two new Banksy murals; rumour has it they were commissioned by the Barbican to promote its art exhibitions. We passed people sleeping in doorways opposite the offices of Shelter…

Read the full article here:

City of London Has Highest Planning Permission Success Rate in England


A news story about how easy it is to push development schemes through planning in the City of London appeared in a number of places recently. What we didn’t see anywhere was an explanation for this sorry state of affairs: although obviously the fact that this is the only borough in the UK to retain the business vote means there is a lack of democracy and residents don’t have a proper say in local matters – about 80% of councillors are elected by local firms and not by people who live in the area. If local people’s interests were taken into account developments like Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen would not be granted planning permission. The City of London council doesn’t care about local people because overwhelmingly it isn’t local people who elect it. Here’s the more general planning ease story from News Anyway:

Government data has revealed that the London borough saw 100% of major development applications granted in 2016/2017.

The City of London has seen a huge population surge in recent years, growing 29.6% in the decade 2006 to 2016 and newly highlighted data reveals development here is just as popular.

In its recent campaign to educate investors on the planning permission process in England and Wales, commercial finance brokers Pure Commercial Finance unearthed data which reveals you’re more likely to get planning permission accepted in the City of London than almost anywhere else in England.

In the year ending 31st March 2017 there were 18 places in England where 100% of major development applications were accepted: the City, among more Northern locations such as Copeland, Wigan, and Lincoln. The historic financial district also saw the highest percentage of minor development applications granted (98.53%) last year….

…Ben Lloyd, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Pure Commercial Finance, said:

“Commercial property finance is our bread and butter and we help arrange funding for development projects across the country on a daily basis, so we were intrigued to see where these were most likely to get permission and at what rate.

“We are pleased to see a number of planning bodies across the country are keen for the redevelopment and expansion of property on offer in their areas, and are delighted to provide our current and future clients with an insight into this data. 

The City of London is Revealed to Have One of the Highest Planning Permission Success Rates in England by Sam Allcock, News Anyway, November 7, 2017

Read the full story here:

The story title in News Anyway isn’t all it could be, if the City was joint first for allowing major planning applications and first for minor applications, overall it has the highest planning permission success rate in England! We note that the local City Matters newspaper stated in its issue of 15-21 November 2017 that the ‘report highlighted the City’s willingness to rubberstamp bids of varying sizes…’ (Developers in love with City, page 3). The fact that the City of London is willing to ‘rubberstamp’ developments like Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen on Golden Lane – which will steal sunlight from schools, local homes and a park – illustrates exactly what’s wrong with the undemocratic business vote system and why it should be abolished. Local people have no say in decisions that massively impact their lives because faceless financial interests control the City of London council under the business vote system. We want democracy and a proper say in what goes on around us!

Image above shows two of the banners on Bowater House forming part of the protest exhibition Spectres of Modernism against Taylor Wimpey’s Denizen development. Arnaud Desjardin’s French, which he asks people to read, translates as “city = thieves = liars = speculators”. Free Exorcism With Every Taylor Wimpey Ghost Home is by Stewart Home. Ghost homes are residential properties which the buyer neither lives in nor rents out, but on which huge profits can be made due to rising house prices.

“A spectre is haunting the cynical overdevelopment that characterises London’s buy to leave property boom, the spectre of modernism!” #savegoldenlane

Esther Planas: Urban Field Work

To date in these blogs we haven’t really looked at any of the artists in our Spectres of Modernism protest. We deliberately didn’t provide biographies or links to their websites because we wanted our focus here to be on our campaign; we also figured anyone who was interested in one of more of the artists they weren’t already familiar with could look them up online. As our banners will be removed from Bowater House in less than a month, and they’ve achieved the impact we hoped for, it will not be too distracting if we engage with some of the urban interventions our artists have been involved in now.

Many of our ‘artists against overdevelopment’ have produced work that might be described as ‘psychogeography’ or ‘deep topology’. To provide just one example of this here, we’ll now focus on a film and photography series by Esther Planas entitled E2 8DY Walk About 2011-2015. This visually records the neighbourhood in which Planas lived at the time she made the work; it’s about 20 minutes walk east of Golden Lane. We’re just going to quote the English text she provides about this, the Spanish text is longer. We reproduce one photograph from the series above, there are many more on her website. The full project can be found at the link at the bottom of this, and obviously there’s much much more on the many other pages Esther Planas has put online.

The Film: Walking on the whereabouts near my place, with a sound artefact and a small camera, the desolated field and the special totem that holds a whole building with its concrete anima are all manifesting calling up for rebellion. Sound and field recording of a somehow unresolved situation.

The Photos: Doing walking urban research, a series of photos taken between 2011 and 2015, an ongoing journal of walks around the area where I live, the same buildings that I see from my window, the streets, the estates I cross and how they are becoming derelict, the casual gardens, the plants and flowers, the birds and squirrels.

“Affectivity—fear, ambivalence, terror, shame, disorientation, or dispossession—figures prominently in addressing the subject’s identification with, or resistance to, the indeterminacy of change. Affect registers and regulates the subject’s ambivalent and anxious responses as it faces what is new, partially known, or without guarantees; at the same time it provides the agent with an imminent sense of sensory and bodily attentiveness to the task of change. To the extent that affectivity is crucial in positioning subjects in relation to contingent and indeterminate circumstances, affect is an acute measure of the time change takes—in particular, the temporalities of transition or transience.” Homi K Bhabha

See the full project here:

“A spectre is haunting the cynical overdevelopment that characterises London’s buy to leave property boom, the spectre of modernism!” #savegoldenlane

Modernist Living: Golden Lane Estate

Protest on Bowater House, Golden Lane Estate, against City of London giving Taylor Wimpey planning permission for development on opposite corner of Goldenn Lane & Fann Street to the block in the picture.

On 13 September 2015 The Guardian published the feature Modernist estates: what’s it like to live on one? by Stefi Orazi. Residents of various modernist estates were interviewed including Matthew Carter from Golden Lane Estate. This appeared before the architectural integrity of the complex of buildings was threatened by Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen development. It seems unlikely that if The Guardian interviewed someone from the estate now – and in particular a resident of Bowater House – they’d get a quote like the second part of this when Carter is asked what is worst thing about the estate: ‘The shortsightedness of the landlord (the local council)… it’s slow progress but they are starting to take our feelings into account…”

Matthew Carter Lives in: Golden Lane estate, City of London, built 1957-1962. Architects: Chamberlin, Powell & Bon.

The second world war left huge scars across Britain. The bombing had either destroyed or made uninhabitable a million homes and there was a major housing shortage. All the political parties agreed that an ambitious reconstruction programme was needed and optimism to build a better Britain was in the air.

In 1951, the City of London held a competition to design an estate at Golden Lane on two hectares of a heavily bombed site on the southern border of Finsbury. It attracted 178 entries, including streets-in-the-sky solutions by Alison and Peter Smithson, who went on to design Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar. The winning entry by Geoffrey Powell featured nine three- and six-storey blocks around a central courtyard and a high-rise tower as a centrepiece. Powell joined forces with his Kingston Polytechnic colleagues, Peter Chamberlin and Christoph Bon, to complete the project, which is heavily influenced by Le Corbusier. It is a true urban environment, incorporating shops, a pub, a community centre, a swimming pool, a children’s playground, bowling green (now tennis courts), courtyards, a fish pond and underground parking.

Actor Matthew has been a Golden Lane estate tenant since 2001. He lives in a one-bedroom flat in Grade II*-listed Crescent House, which he rents from the City of London.

Did you know much about the estate before you moved here?

I knew it was designed by the same architects as the Barbican and the Barbican had always been one of the places I’d aspired to live in…

How is the council as a landlord?

I feel lucky to live here but it is a little shortsighted. For example, the government’s recent decent homes standard policy meant that all the flats (aside from those belonging to leaseholders) had their kitchens and bathrooms updated. Even though this place is listed, they just ripped everything out, rather than being sympathetic to the original designs, and replaced them with kitchens and bathrooms that looked like they had been in a time capsule since 1985…

Best thing about living here?

Obviously the architecture and the facilities are excellent – we’ve got a swimming pool, a gym and tennis courts.

And the worst?

The shortsightedness of the landlord, although it is trying to change. We have regular residents’ meetings; it’s slow progress but they are starting to take our feelings into account…

Read the full piece here: