The future as at best a haze. We can make or break it. My rants, visions, ideas and dreams hope to make a better future. Lets learn to live a better life. Raise your glasses (no it doesnt have to be alcohol - I am using orange juice!), and toast the future!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

High Rise Blocks

I have recently being trying to buy a property - a well sized two bed flat in a purpose built block. The problem being that it is a 1960's block, and a local authority one at that.

You see- I have been renting it for a few years, and the landlord finally had enough of being asked to fix stuff and put it on the market. I thought I got lucky when I realised I was able to get a mortgage to afford it - at least on the strength of my credit. The best thing was - by being the leaseholder myself, and bypassing him as a middle man, I would also save a packet.

Now the property (to put this in perspective) is in a rather pleasant part of North London, uk. Its a little leafy (with a few decent parks, and minutes from Highgate Woods), and its very near to a main Northern Line station. The area - while having an ageing population, has a lot of restaurants and a few nice pubs - a bit of a decent nightlife. In fact - unlike many London parts, it really never has had a bad patch, and still maintains a village like community spirit. There are a number of high-rises, but most buildings are fairly low.

The block itself is fairly decent. I know most of the residents, and less than half of the building are actually council tennants. Most of the flats house small family units - as does ours. Its built with brick sides, and concrete front and back. Its well maintained - as there was a broken window in the lobby area on a saturday night during the recent windy storms, and it was repaired monday morning. There are Ten floors, and being on the ground floor - I escape the lifts. The lifts have got stuck a couple of times, which is inevitable given that some of the blocks younger kids play in them.

I thought - at £120k - the property was a steal. Unfortunately - the surveyor thought otherwise. Now there is a lot of bad sentiment towards 60's blocks. This was all due to a mistake that cost 3 lives, and was political suicide for a number of MP's - Ronan Point. Explained breifly - Ronan Point was the first of many post war buildings designed to solve a severe housing shortage. It was mean to house many, in a purpose built block, that was constructed very quickly from blocks - rather like Lego. Of course- it met great opposition from locals - who saw the blocks as an eyesore, and the architects - who didnt like the implications of buildings being created without needing them, and builders- who didnt like the fact that it might displace their jobs - which was nonsense. So when a great gas explosion caused one side of the block to collapse, they started rubbing there hands and pounced on it.

There were some serious structural faults at Ronan Point. Somethign had been missed - it had not been properly crossbraced (a concept which OrionRobots seem to go on about too much). This meant there was a weak link between the vertical parts of the structure, and the horizontal parts.

The concept however, the basic premise was good. Fast forward to the current situation. At the moment - most of the market is too expensive for a first time buyer. Unless you are earning well in excess of £60k, most homes in London are just unavailable. Cosidering that £30 is already over the average wage - the cost of houses is grossly disproportionate to peoples ability to afford them. There is a lack of homes - and tower blocks, well thought out, could really help the situation. Having seen a number of period conversions, tower blocks also strike me as being a whole lot safer. In Tower blocks, The walls are even, the floors dont creak or sag, the windows can be replaced without crumbling old masonry, and you dont suffer the indignity of being woken up by the upstairs period flat tennants crunching up the stairs. With period proprties - that crunching is often accompanied by a peppermill affect because no matter how often you repaint it, the structural damp in the ancient ceilings will always crack it.

Unfortunately - the modern block is a no-no. Although they may seem to be the only affordable property on the market, which is not some tiny shoe-box studio, or rotting period property, the banks just dont like them. Nor do surveyors. Serveyors often refer to Ronan Point. They talk about them having no marketable value - thus ensuring the banks dont lend, and ensuring the only people able to buy them are the cash-only investors. This becomes self referential - takes first time buyer prices up (they can now only go for the more expensive stuff), and ensures no other mortage buyers can get them.

The worst thing about a catch 22 situation is there is no way out. All the surveyors say the same, most of the banks see it the same. Maybe someone needs to intervene, before the only thing a bank will lend on is a property so expensive that anyone who cannot afford a million pound home will have to carry on renting.

Of course - the cynical banks and surveyors let you pay at least £600 for the priveledge of being told all of this. Heres to a few more years renting..


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