Copyright: David Lawson - first published Property Week Summer 1999Home page
I was looking for a chicken tikka the other day and ended up in King's Cross. At least, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it, officer.
Actually, this was a virtual King's Cross. Don't groan: it's nothing to do with microchips. This was a scheme that was virtually built. There are lots of them around London: Paddington Goodsyard, Chiswick Bus Garage, Spitalfields Market, Paternoster Square.
I came across some of them 20 years ago when running a sleazy rag called Estates Times. They filled office diaries, one of which now happens to be a scrapbook for my favourite recipes.
Half-hidden beneath chicken tikka is a fading reference to bold plans for King's Cross. Paddington is duck with asparagus and Paternoster, appropriately, is panna cotta (whatever that is).
The point is not how rarely I cook but how bad we are at getting big schemes cooking. How can London claim to be a world financial capital, aspire to be capital of Europe and boast about leadership into the millennium when we can't even clear up derelict sites.
Ten years ago Welsh beef and beer cobbler found a home in Paddington Goodsyard. Next month Regalian hopes to get planning permission to make a start. In the meantime, Canary Wharf has risen from a derelict dock, fallen into bankruptcy and recovered to join the FTSE 100 this month.
It would be easy to blame the recession for blowing big schemes off course but some recipes have been successful. Broadgate/herrings with mustard happened; Merry Hill/prawn creole and Bluewater/country stew sprang up almost overnight. Yet Paternoster/panna cotta has only just managed to demolish a plant pot.
So what's to do? A mayor with powers to bang heads together? No chance. This is more likely to cause an even bigger drag by adding another layer of decision-making over the colour of bricks, number of waste bins or the style of facade.
We need the very people who have been the target of every Islington dinner-table: big developers with big ideas. Paul Reichmann overcame the worst property crash in UK history to finish Canary Wharf. Stuart Lipton was brought down by Broadgate and bounced back as a major player.
Neither scheme is faultless, yet they both fulfil a crucial need. Where would the City be without the ultra-modern space? Where would Great Blairdom be without City earnings?
Lipton is fielding sneers again since his appointment as Lord High Architectural Overlord. My goodness, squeals Islington. A developer as design guru! In fact, he should have been made Lord High Derelict Site Enabler.
Let him kick in a few planners' heads. Send him into the boardrooms of prissy banks in the same hobnailed boots to mention that their job is to LEND, not twitter on about pre-lets. Otherwise a few cosy tax arrangements might be under threat.
Big companies are desperate for modern space. They will move once they see it coming out of the ground. The economy needs big companies to flourish. So do the banks. Get kicking, Stuart!