Lucky, lazy natives...

Performing for the tourists, bad news about a caddy and ideas for words that rhyme with puffin

A misleading sense of calm has descended upon the isle this weekend. Any visitor lucky enough to be here today, strolling around in the warm sunshine, will be marvelling at the tranquil, trouble-free lifestyles that we islanders appear to lead. Perhaps even a hint of jealousy will cross their minds as they saunter past and wave hello at the lucky, lazy natives. But then they will remember, with a sudden flash of relief, that no, while doing nothing all day is certainly appealing, it really wouldn’t be good to live this far away from Marks and Spencer’s.

It is easy to see how they might come to their conclusion. There is a stillness about everything today. The sea, for once, is pressing gently against the shore, rather than trying to attack it; the sheep and their lambs are lying sleeping, ignoring the discomfort of their thick, winter fleeces; even the windmills have stopped turning now, and stand, motionless, over everything. But what do people expect? It is Sunday, after all.

Our last lamb finally appeared this week, nearly ten days after the penultimate one. We were beginning to wonder if the ewe was simply pretending to be pregnant, but she got it right in the end. The season has been very successful overall, with 44 lambs and only two mortalities. One of the lost lambs was, unfortunately, the first of our two ‘caddies’, who died on Friday night. Bottle-fed lambs are apparently very prone to digestive problems, and this one had been poorly for some time. We tried everything that the vet, our neighbours and we could think of, but she just didn’t quite get through. It was sad to lose such a good-natured caddy, particularly for her companion, who has been moping around the field alone since then, looking bored and lonely.

This morning we planted some of the last few empty rows in the vegetable garden: spring onion seeds went in, as did the red cabbage and curly kale seedlings. Most of the other vegetables have also been planted or transplanted in the past couple of weeks, and not much remains before all the space is filled. Then it’s just a case of weeding, watering and waiting our way through the summer.

This afternoon has provided an opportunity for a brief sigh of relief, before the next sharp intake of breath is required. I felt not a glimmer of guilt as I sat reading in the sunshine, enjoying myself immensely, thank you very much. I am now sunburnt, but satisfied. What more could I wish for on a Sunday afternoon?

On Tuesday the first of this year’s cruise ships will arrive, with just over one hundred people on board, all expecting refreshment, entertainment and suitable things on which to spend their money. Knitwear, crafts and other gifts will be offered for sale; drinks and home-bakes will be provided; music will be played. Even those of us who have no desire to be involved in the tourist industry seem somehow unable to avoid it entirely.

I will be playing and singing, along with some of the island’s other musicians; though I’m sure my songs must be something of a disappointment to people. I imagine that folk want to hear songs about Fair Isle: about birds and cliffs and boats and sheep and things like that. Unfortunately, I don’t know any. If only I could write a song about puffins, I’d be a millionaire by now. But the problem is that puffin doesn’t rhyme with anything; in fact, puffin rhymes with nothing. Well, it nearly does anyway.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
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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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