Originally I thought about calling this ‘Life and Art’ but that sounded a bit pretentious so I changed it to Philanthropy or greed. But really the way things that are happening in real life and things that I have already made happen in the book I’m writing, have a very strong resemblance to one another. Let me explain.
I am currently writing a book called ‘The Great I Am’ which is set at the time of the Brexit vote and its aftermath and has a familiar central figure, a politician who tells lies as easily as he breathes, is a womaniser and a misogynist etc, etc and gets a well earned comeuppance in the final chapters (oh I did enjoy writing that!). It is a complicated book with a great many characters, one of whom is an old woman who leads a campaign in the part of London where she was born to prevent a greedy, speculative developer from pulling down the excellent Peabody buildings in which she lived. When I first planned it, I don’t think there was any very glaring example of such wanton destruction but there certainly is now.
The Guardian headline this morning says ” ‘Rushed’ planning shake-up will lead to more slums, experts warn.” And the article below it explains that the Government means to change the way planning applications for new buildings are handled. If a planning application is based on ‘pre-approved design codes’ it will get automatic permission. Land in England would be divided into three categories: growth, renewal and protection. New homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices would be allowed automatically in growth areas. It all sounds very grand but when you think about it you begin to see that it would give speculative builders government permission to build their expensive houses for the rich, virtually wherever they please.
In my part of the world good, rich, arable land is constantly being bought up by speculative developers and turned into huge, lucrative estates full of houses that most local people simply couldn’t afford to buy. A group of locals in Pagham and Aldwick called P.A.G.A.M (Pagham and Aldwick Greenfields Action Movement) have been campaigning for years to stop this happening here. As you can see from this poster, they are very angry about it. But the campaign has had an effect. Their most recent report back to their members says ‘DECISION PROCESS BY ADC DID NOT TAKE PLACE ON THE 24TH. JUNE, WHICH MEANS P/24/20/RES WILL PROBABLY NOT HAPPEN UNTIL THE NEXT DCC ON THE 29TH. JULY, SO MORE TIME FOR OBJECTIONS.’ Or to put it briefly, the development that the locals do not want has been held up but only temporarily.
Back to the book, which as well as the odious politician, shines a light on a man who was the very reverse sort of character. This man was called George Peabody. He was born in 1795 in the USA and in 1863 he began to build comfortable and affordable blocks of flats in London for ordinary working men and their families and pulled down the slums they’d been forced to live in before he took action, because they were the only places they could afford to rent. Mr Peabody had actually grown up in poverty himself, in Massachusetts, so he knew what it was like. And although he made a lot of money during his lifetime, he was a true philanthropist and spent his wealth to help other people, unlike a majority of our entrepreneurs today who give every indication that they are simply, in it for the money.
His buildings are still standing in various parts of London but one was brought up and turned into luxury flats for the rich – hence my story of a campaign to stop those developers taking over any more.
Life and Art all mixed up together.