Brian Cox and Robin Ince to guest-edit the Christmas issue of the New Statesman

A special edition on evidence, out Wednesday 19 December.

Next week will see a special issue of the New Statesman, featuring contributions from Ricky Gervais, Alan Moore, Mark Gatiss, Phill Jupitus, Alexander McCall Smith, Ben Miller, Maggie Philbin, Laura Bates, Tom Humberstone, Natalie Haynes, Josie Long, Ralph Steadman, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Mehdi Hasan, Jim Al-Khalili and an exclusive interview with David Attenborough.

Inside the 100-page double issue, Brian Cox and Robin Ince address the question of evidence – Why do we need it? How can we evaluate it?

They speak to some of the brightest thinkers in the world of science, investigate the year’s discoveries and bid farewell to Voyager-1 as it leaves the solar system. Inside, Mark Gatiss discusses ghost stories, Alexander McCall Smith writes a short story, Ralph Steadman draws the Large Hadron Collider and Alan Moore demolishes the very concept of evidence.

There are also cartoons from Phill Jupitus and Tom Humberstone, a galaxy of space images and faith leaders addressing the conflict between religious belief and science . . . and Ricky Gervais talking about atheism.

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, said:

“Brian and Robin will be familiar to millions as champions of science, through their join Radio 4 programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, and their separate endeavours. Robin’s Nine Lessons have become a Christmas institution, and Brian’s programmes have brought physics into the nation’s living rooms.

“As David Attenborough says in his interview with them, to be a full citizen in the modern world, it is vital to understand science and technology. We are delighted to devote a whole issue to the cause. This special issue is full of wonder and surprise.”

Robin Ince and Brian Cox said:

“One of the delights of working on Infinite Monkey Cage is the variety of ideas trawled through in the green room beforehand and the pub afterwards. 

“So when asked to hijack a magazine and fill it with our worldview and the views of others we like, obviously our monstrous egos demanded that we say yes.”

The issue will be on sale in London on Wednesday 19 December and in the rest of the country from Thursday 20 December. International buyers can obtain copies on our website at www.newstatesman.com. It will be on sale for two weeks, with the next issue out on Thursday, 3 January.

Other New Statesman guest editors have included Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins, Jemima Khan, David Miliband and Ai Weiwei.

Brian Cox and Robin Ince. Photo: Muir Vidler for the New Statesman
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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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