Mayor Marvin Rees is pushing a high rise agenda which is:
  • Destructive of the city's heritage
  • Threatening to its economic future
Why is he doing it? 

A key factor was the 2016 Mayoral election, when a second defeat would have ended Marvin's political career.  His response was to try to secure the traditional Labour heartlands where voting turnout was low, by making a stream of promises, promises which were populist in the sense that they were obviously unwise: 
  • Abolish the 20 mph limit
  • Abolish Residents' Parking Zones
  • Kick back the previous Mayor's pro-pedestrian and pro-cycling policy
These promises were classic 'pro-car' knee-jerk reactions to George Ferguson's promotion of a less car-friendly, more pedestrian and cycle-friendly city.  A greener, more sustainable city. Ferguson's strategy embodied the consensus of forward-thinking experts who had puzzled how to respond to the failure of post-war cars-first planning which had devastated so many UK cities. They concluded the car-intense strategy had failed.

But in further-out wards, many drive to work.
They were responsive to Marvin's pro-car populism.

In addition Marvin promised to build 2,000 homes a year. 
Which did make sense, of course.
But did he have any idea how to achieve it?.

Once elected he had to figure that out.  So City Hall's planning team (the remnants of the previous administration's 'Place' team, now sadly disbanded) told him about densification.   Which suited his ideas.  He interpreted densification, quite mistakenly, as building tall, partly because he actually seems to think tall is wonderful. It 'shows ambition', apparently.  Remember that much of his education, and several jobs, have been in the U.S.   His idea of what a prosperous city looks like is made in the USA. 

It is also very much fits his kind of Labourism. It's the market route.  Very much of a piece with his plans to put ads in parks.  Lift the restrictions!  Let the market free!  Build tall! 

Which of course suits the developers.  And is therefore the easiest way to get the house-build numbers up to the promised 2,000 homes/year.  The politician is happy.  The promise is kept.

Never mind that building high rises is much more expensive, so it won't be the less well-off who will get housed. 

Never mind that concentrations of high rises will actually worsen traffic.  Never mind that densification, which is a good policy, does not require high rises - indeed high rise developments are often less dense than mid-rise.

There's a profound democratic illegitimacy about this.  It is completely wrong to launch such a major plan, which will fundamentally change our beautiful city's appearance, without the Mayor having mentioned it in his electoral campaign, and without ordinary people having been consulted during the long consultations on the future of the city which took place from 2015-2017. 

There was simply no mention of tall buildings in his campaign. 

There was no mention of tall buildings during the popular consultations on choices facing the city held 2015-7.

Yet now the entire appearance of the city is under threat, starting with planning permission being given for a 26-floor sky scraper block of flats on the SE corner of Castle Park.  Which we are told is great - because the Mayor's planning team says it will 'bring legibility' to that corner of the park.  In what theory of urbanism do you need 26 floor skyscrapers at park corners in order to 'bring legibility' to them?

All this is wrong. It is immoral.  It is undemocratic. 

The distinctiveness of our historic city which attracts so many bright and creative young people to its vibrant streets will be spoiled by homogenous high rises, the poor quality of which is already sadly apparent in the artists' drawings for sites to which planning permission has been given. 

Unless we act now, the city will be studded with second-rate tall buildings, which in turn will set precedents for further tall buildings. There will be no going back. The nightmare of the 1970s will be repeated. Already the Mayor is rushing, head-on, in the direction of making the city like Leeds - ugly clusters of high-rises, overwhelming the charm of our much-loved city.

And as one councillor said to me:  "This is perhaps the biggest mistake the City will make in 20 years."

Hence this campaign.
Please get in touch at mmp997@gmail.com

Matthew Montagu-Pollock

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