But the car park and surrounding streets that make up the Mount Pleasant Sorting Office site straddle both Bloomsbury and Clerkenwell, locations that nowadays set estate agents’ hearts on fire. So when the plan to build almost 700 luxury homes on it was aired at a public hearing last week at the Greater London Authority (GLA), it inevitably got the green light.
During the three-hour meeting, impassioned speeches were made by those opposed to it on the grounds that ordinary Londoners would not be able to live there and that it would be a blight on the local neighbourhood. But their pleas for a rethink were dismissed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in a three minute summation. It was clear from the beginning that this so-called representation hearing was just a cynical formality. No wonder he yawned from time to time.
The chasm between bureaucrats and the public appeared as great as the chasm the forest of cladded slabs would create in this historic part of Georgian London. Meaningless phrases like the “London vernacular style” – the design of the new blocks – and, of course, “affordable homes” were bandied about. The cheapest rent in the small number of flats designated thus will be around £1,000 a month.
Despite the vociferous campaign mounted against the plan over the last two years, the GLA’s planning officer stated blandly that it would create a “high quality new neighbourhood for London” and that any harmful loss of light created by 15 and 12 storey towers was “acceptable” because of the overall benefits offered by the scheme.
The development, she added, was in something called the central activities zone and also adjacent to somewhere called Midtown. There were occasional guffaws as she confidently droned on and on for an hour, and some shouting out. “You’ve let London down,” bellowed one woman in a deep Scouse accent. But this was as close to democracy as the public were going to get and yet another money-making eyesore posing as regeneration was waived through.