Sat, 27 Mar 2010
So Beautiful Britain magazine — a magazine that I could find no evidence of anybody having ever heard of — is putting out press releases about their latest "survey". It's a survey of Britain's worst eyesores and best loved buildings. But wait, doesn't that press release get a little bit, er, weird?
Beautiful Britain magazine stresses need for more red tape and launches e-petition.
Turns out that the purpose of the survey is not entirely to attract publicity for the magazine that nobody has heard of. Rather it's a chance for some poor provincial nimbys with money enough for a PR company to push their grudge against the planning laws. Their meaningless survey has come up with some brilliantly bizarre and entertaining "facts", though.
The main purpose of the press release then is to promote Beautiful Britain's publicity stunt petition to the prime-minister:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to defend, encourage and enhance local democracy in the planning process, ensuring that everyone has a voice in decisions about large-scale and significant developments that affect them, and so deliver urban and rural communities that people can live and work in and enjoy.
Number of signatures? Five.
I hesitate to make fun of absurd press releases and publicity flops like this because the hyperactive children in PR will, on cue, claim that the fact that somebody is making fun of it means that it must have been a PR triumph. But by that meaningless metric, this one has already been a triumph: everyone is already making fun of the parochial nimbys at Beautiful Britain for including two of Britain's best loved landmarks in the list of eyesores: Antony Gormley's Angel of the North, and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's Battersea Power Station:
Europe's largest brick building, a great art deco cathedral of industry and progress, literally the source of our power, the light that lit our homes for fifty years.
A cavernous hall hung with golden brown bricks that light up each time the sun goes down over Chelsea Bridge.
It is true that Battersea Power Station makes the eyes sore.
And it makes the heart ache.
A building that is such a part of the nation's history and heritage and culture — from its fundamental position in the development of the modern city infrastructure, through the iconic films and album artwork that defined an era, to the time that it decided to catch fire and have a blackout on the day that they had wanted to launch BBC Two.
Now roofless and rotting, surrounded by rubble in a neglected neighbourhood.
Empty inside, where once there were great panels of art deco controls for early electronics, quietly keeping the city moving through every shift and surge.
Paint peeling on crumbling chimney stacks supported by scaffolding that could fall in the next storm, already too late to save.
It is in this desolate state of destruction because nimbys and greedy developers have pissed around for thirty years with toy models and red tape. Beautiful Britain have cited this "eyesore" as evidence that planning laws need reform to give more power to local people to block modern eyesores in favour of the good old fashioned "old-style" old buildings from the good olden days, which three quarters of Brits would prefer to see in place of run-down industrial estates. Meanwhile, the actual local people of Battersea fight tirelessly to save their monument of maturing modernity from the red tape of the councils and the bullshit of the developers who calmly stand by watching the clock count down the remaining days before it simply topples over in the wind and washes away into the river.
Planning laws, corrupt councils and ineffective politicians really do alienate local people. They make it difficult for local people to improve their homes and communities, and easy for outside companies to come in and mess up. That makes people feel helpless, ignored, oppressed, and angry. There is a productive reaction to this: to organise and fight for the right progress and the right improvement. And there is a counter productive reaction: to oppose modernity whatever its individual merit, and hide away in a sickly-sweet mock-tudor facade of "Beautiful" Britain.
Catch it while you can. "The ruins of Battersea Power Station" are exhibited on the south bank of the River Thames from now until their collapse. Nearest tube: Pimlico.