Celebrating Diwali

After Diwali on Sunday, student Divyang Patel reflects on what the Hindu festival of lights means to

The clocks are turned back the last Sunday in October as winter begins to grip London. And as I contemplate the depressing reality of afternoons in darkness, I find something to keep my spirits high - the Indian ‘Festival of Light’, Diwali, brings with it a tremendous sense of enthusiasm and occasion.

This is one of the few days of the year - besides my birthday - when I don’t mind waking up before the sun. The day begins with a family trip to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, famously known as the ‘Neasden Temple’, where the bubbling atmosphere and energy attest to the significance of arguably the most important date in the Hindu calendar. One of the things I truly appreciate about this day is that people of all levels of faith take time out of their busy lives to pay their respects to God.

As I look around at families of up to three generations together bowing down to the deities, I am reminded what Hindu culture is all about. Coming together as a family, upholding noble values, and keeping God at the centre of everything you do is never demonstrated as strongly as it is during Diwali.

The afternoon is usually spent with relatives, where there is something for everyone to enjoy. The kids are kept occupied with their numerous presents, and the grown-ups with their food, of which there is a seemingly endless amount and variety.

The evening, however, is reserved again for a ceremony at the Mandir. “Chopda Pujan”, as it is called, is a time for businessmen and women to close their account books for the current year and open new ones in readiness for the New Year the following day. It is also an opportunity for us devotees to take stock of our personal account with God.

As thousands of people visit the Mandir, several of my friends and I volunteer to help out. It isn’t a chore. Indeed, the time spent with friends contributing to the cause provides me with an enormous sense of satisfaction.

The day’s events are rounded off with a spectacular fireworks display, which is always enjoyable and a fitting end to the Festival of Light. It is not a day to stay up too late, however; the following day is the Hindu New Year, and with it comes more excitement, more festivities, more traditions, and yes, more food.

Divyang Patel, 21, graduated with BSc. Economics (First Class Hons) from the London School of Economics. Currently working at Barclays Global Investors, he volunteers at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496