A reader writes

Alan Trevarthen squeezes in some of his thoughts on the French election just ahead of a three hour l

When I first caught sight of 'Le Blog' I started reading with apprehension, but congratulations, it contains some of the most perceptive comments I've seen yet. No easy achievement because explaining to the Anglophone world the tactical skirmishing and strategic thinking involved in the French Presidential elections must be almost as hard as explaining cricket AND American football to the French.

Before Le blog I had been reading the BBC's blog on the same subject. Their's seems to be unmoderated, open to all. That is democratic, certainly, to let everybody have their say, a noble principle, but alas, too many uninformed opinions kill a blog.

I like the BBC, well at least I like Radio 4 on long wave, (except when the news is put to one side for a month or two of cricket), but I feel the need to give my personal criticisms of their blog here in the hope these comments will encourage you to avoid the same mistakes

1 - Not enough French contribution in the BBC blog.

The French know the 12 candidates. They also know their own Republic and their culture. They themselves have a pretty good idea of what they want in life. Perhaps it is not always achievable but they have done a good job so far (apart from Paris. I'd like to see Paris gain its independance, but that's my personal opinion from where I sit in Brittany). It is the French who should be able to explain themselves best to an Anglophone blogsite. Apparently, too few have found the BBC site, and of those who have, many appear to limit what they say, perhaps to avoid using English compound verbs.

2 - There are too many contributions by outsiders living elsewhere. They may never have lived in France, but through their own country's unbiased press, and their own gut-feeling, they intuitively know what's best for the French.

(Often these are people who have voted George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, or Tony Blair, for themselves)

For example I see contributions from USA nationals whose main statement seems based on a gripe that France 'betrayed them' at the UN by not joining them to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq, and so, it appears, the French should wise up and behave responsibly now, and not worry about their jobs flowing to 50 euro a month wage rate countries.

And I see too many letters from residents of Britain who would evidently tick yes to more than one of the following
a - The hundred years war is still going on
b - The French Empire was less successful than the English Empire because it was in places that did not speak English.
c - The Murdoch press tells us all we need to know about the French.
d - The French were all guillotined during the Revolution, but because they are Catholics they have rebuilt their population.
e - All taxes paid in Britain go directly to French farmers.

I should have let my French wife, Anne, have her say, she is the politically savvy one in the family, but she is out on the terrace, sheltering from the broiling sun under the shade of the fig tree, tearing legs off frogs for our three hour lunch.

Alan Trevarthen is a Cornish born mining engineer, who has spent much of his working life in 20 or so countries worldwide. Now retired he lives permanently in Brittany with his French wife, Anne.
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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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