At City Matters we are always looking to find new ways to serve as the voice for the residents of the City of London. The Golden Lane Gazette is a monthly column written by Billy Mann, who has lived in Basterfield House for more than 20 years. Published in the second edition each month, Billy’s column will keep you informed on the big stories affecting the one of the City’s largest residential pockets.
Hard or soft?
The spirit of Brexit is haunting Bernard Morgan House. The demolition of the old building and the building of a new one has started. The question is whether the journey will be hard or soft.
The contractors want nearby residents to believe it will be a painless transition from old to new, so they are holding a series of monthly liaison meetings in our community hall.
At the first one I arrived five minutes late, missed the introductions and tried to work out quickly who everyone was. I could spot residents and a smattering of councillors, but I was not familiar with the London Demolition crew or builder Taylor Wimpey’s agents.
I figured jointly they were the 10 slightly glistening, freshly laundered people who did most of the talking, albeit in a hesitant tone of voice, as if they half expected a mass killing to break out any minute.
The exchange started badly with a bantamweight tussle sparked by councillor William Pimlott asking whether the purpose of this “liaison” meeting was to “discuss” or to “agree” the roadmap for the controversial project’s public engagement.
That fizzled out quickly and soon we were hearing about the groundbreaking methods intended to be used in the demolition of Bernard Morgan House.
The process is called “Munching”. Briefly, it is this: a state-of-the-art machine bites chunks off the top of an already hollowed-out Bernard Morgan House and spits the rubble into the vacant interior cavity.
It is claimed that this method of destruction reduces noise and vibration, and any stray clouds of nasty concrete dust will be “mitigated” by a water cannon, which squirts out a clingy moisturising spritz. Munching, which makes demolition sound like a sweet-shop treat, wasn’t the only trick of language our hosts used.
They also repeatedly pledged to “try not to…” They will try not to work on Saturdays; they will try not to start electrical fires; they will try not to injure any passing children from the neighbouring school.
They will try not to destroy forever the retro heritage tiles that were one of the original building’s outstanding design features.
The wrecking crew answered questions from a dictionary of platitudes, but it all unravelled slightly towards the end of the meeting when a Bowater House resident made a sincere last-ditch plea for common sense: why was a perfectly useful, not to say historically important building being smashed to smithereens?
Wasn’t there a better way of doing things? The wrecking crew all looked at their shoes and changed the subject quickly.
If the intention of this gathering was to reassure, it failed. Claims of poor site management and corner-cutting got the feeble response of “we’ll look into that” and residents walked home feeling the road ahead was a rocky one.
The storm clouds have yet to break over at the Richard Cloudesley site on the north side of the estate, but it is only a matter of time.
Expect a slew of objections to the current planning application submitted jointly by the City of London and Islington Council.
In anticipation of argy-bargy to come, one clever resident from Bayer House, a grandee of modernist architecture, posted on the estate’s website an alternative design to the one currently proposed by the appointed Hawkins Brown team.
The ‘Fred Plan’ meets the stated specifications and complements the existing design of the estate in a more measured way. And it envisions the planned residential tower block as a companion building to Great Arthur House, with the added bonus of a cocktail bar on the roof.
Needless to say, this triggered a flurry of excitement online to name the ‘new’ partner tower, assuming it were ever to be built.
‘Merlin’ and ‘Guinevere’ were early contenders, but top marks goes to a marriage of the paired skyscrapers as ‘Arthur and Martha’.
Party time… excellent!
Our local community centre is closing for refurbishment on 2 September. It’s an excuse for an end-of-an-era knees-up and we have fantastic day of events planned, including silent discos for all ages, films and pictures from the estate’s past, top nosh, bags of banter, and lots of cake and biscuits.
Everyone is welcome, and if you have any skills you’d like to bring to the party (home baking, face painting, magic tricks), email [email protected].
City of London time credits will go to the best offers.
Billy Mann has lived in Basterfield House on the Golden Lane Estate for more than 20 years. He is membership secretary of the Golden Baggers allotment group, and earlier this year was made a Housing Hero by the City of London Corporation.
He writes a blog about neighbourhood happenings at basterfieldbilly.blogspot.com
Lead image: Chris Dorley Brown