What a week. Revelations about London’s glut of unsold luxury residential properties are a timely reminder of the fundamental problems at Mount Pleasant and those that have been vocal in opposition.
Motivated by the inappropriateness of the proposals that were approved by the former Mayor, Boris Johnson, or by the wider iniquities the proposals embody, many experts have given their time, wisdom and insights to critique the Royal Mail’s controversial luxury development.
Among the first commentators to voice their abhorrence at this much opposed scheme was Gavin Stamp, aka Private Eye’s vividly astute and vitally acerbic ‘Piloti’. Gavin was a towering figure in architectural scholarship who was a consistent and persistent antidote to the profession’s avarice, affectation and excess. It’s no surprise that he was appalled not only by the scheme’s design, but also by the underlying inequity of the development, founded on the transferal of hundreds of millions of pounds of assets from public to private hands following the Royal Mail’s privatisation.
Four years ago, Gavin penned a prophetic piece in Private Eye in which he wrote: “The Mount Pleasant site, because it belonged to the Royal Mail, was public property and belonged to us. No Longer … Royal Mail managers have regarded its estate as an asset to be stripped, sold off, not to the advantage of the public but to that of the shareholder. Mount unpleasant will be private.”
Gavin was buried this week, following his funeral in the stunning surroundings of St Giles’s Church, Camberwell, where many hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects to a man that possessed a rare decency founded on an independence of mind that spoke truth to authority.
Such decency was entirely absent from another event this week – the first ‘public engagement’ by Mount Pleasant’s new owners, Taylor Wimpey. Hosted by an all-male team in a first-floor meeting room in a pub, the gender imbalance and choice of venue revealed the uncomfortable truth about how seriously developers take ‘public engagement’ in the twenty-first century, marginalising a significant proportion of the community who happen to be infirm, disabled or averse to pubs.
Gavin’s death is a terrible loss, but we are proud that Mount Pleasant was part of his oeuvre. After this rather memorable week, it is perhaps fitting to remind communities all over Britain who are confronted by the avarice of developers to be reminded of Gavin’s prescient words:
“Everyone should be concerned about this development for what it tells us about modern Britain.”