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March 24 2012

Vincent van Gogh's house in London for sale - video

Jonathan Jones visits the house in south London where artist Vincent van Gogh lived in 1873. The property is on the market for the first time in 65 years

November 25 2011

Self-build: it's time to go Dutch

With the government claiming self-build is the answer to Britain's housing crisis, we look at how they do it in the Netherlands – and whether it would work here

Half an hour by train from Amsterdam is a vision of a new Britain. On polder land reclaimed from the Zuiderzee lies Europe's biggest experiment in affordable self-build homes. Enthusiasts call it a model of sustainable development, a Grand Designs for the average man. Critics call it an ersatz city, a soulless architectural Legoland. But this week housing minister Grant Shapps declared Almere a "genuinely workable model" as he made self-build a major plank in the government's strategy for solving Britain's housing crisis.

Last year only one in 10 new homes in Britain was self-built. Plots are difficult to find, and finance and mortgage products restricted, while regulations and planning permissions are onerous. Faced with bureaucratic hurdles and frustrations, many potential self-builders abandon projects, sometimes after months of planning.

But outside the UK, self-build is flourishing. In Belgium, which like the UK is densely populated and heavily urbanised, more than six in 10 homes are self-built. In the Netherlands the figure is three in 10.

This week the government set out a vision in which an extra 100,000 self-build homes – it uses the phrase "custom-build" housing – will go up over the next decade in England alone. It wants to "kickstart a revolution" in which local authorities will for the first time be required to take self-build seriously, release publicly owned land to self-builders, and give government support to those taking the first step in building their own futures. For now, it is making £30m available as short-term project finance, and in March next year will unveil a formal action plan to turn the vision into reality.

The Homeruskwartier district in Almere, a city with a population of 180,000, is the first self-build project attempted on a truly large scale. Since 2006, self-builders have erected 800 homes, and thousands more are on the way. The local authority draws up the street plan, then makes the plots available at standard commercial cost. Local people, freed from any further planning restrictions, can then design and build whatever takes their fancy.

Jacqueline Tellinga, one of the driving forces behind the project, describes it as a return to the past. "Take a look at the buildings along the canals of Amsterdam. They did the same as we are trying to do. The plots were parcelled out, the buyers were given a few guidelines over things such as height, but after that it was left to the individual."

Building costs in Almere vary depending on how much the buyers do themselves, but she says they average from €800 per sq m to €1,800. That's around £72,000-£160,000 for someone wanting the same sort of floorspace as the typical British three-bed semi (around 105 sq m).

Keeping homes affordable is key to the Homeruskwartier project, which means creating plots for self-build flats as well as houses. Tellinga cites one group of 25 individuals who built a block of flats. Including the plot and building, the cost of each flat was just £69,000, without any subsidy. Cutting out the developer's profit – and those expensive marketing suites – saves a small fortune.

But self-build is not just about money. "What I like most is the way people develop their curiosity and skills – they bring ideas and test construction techniques more than any developer would. We don't insist on sustainability requirements, but it's amazing how much people just do it themselves," says Tellinga.

In Britain, the hurdles to a self-build revolution remain high. More than 80,000 people are registered on Buildstore's website looking for UK plots. There are virtually no ready-assembled sites such as Almere. Self-build lending is seen as more risky than conventional mortgages (several banks pulled out last year), and lending against larger community schemes is non-existent.

Building standards and codes are complex and expensive. "The number of planning conditions placed on domestic building work has grown inexorably over the years, and there is often very little difference between conditions placed on a single house and those placed on an estate of 100 homes," said a report from Nasba, the National Self Build Association, in July.

Deon Lombard, an architect from Twickenham, is sceptical that the Dutch approach will work in Britain because of the "stranglehold, inherent conservatism and lack of vision in the British planning system".

His own repeated attempts at self-build have fallen foul of Richmond upon Thames planners and the Planning Inspectorate, leaving his plot of land, purchased in 2001 in the hope of building a family home, lying fallow.

"The planning system in Britain is reactionary, incredibly tortuous and open to a wide range of interpretation. My experience of submitting planning applications, both for myself and clients, is that it comes down to the subjective views and prejudices of individual planning officers and inspectors, who can turn down applications using vague criteria such as 'unneighbourly development' or 'impact on amenity'."

Yet there are examples of successful self-build in Britain, even within large towns and cities. In Ashley Vale in Bristol, an action group succeeded against the odds (although this was in 2001) to self-build 26 detached and semi-detached homes, at a typical cost (including plot purchase) of £110,000. Six further flats were completed last year, which won a CABE Building for Life Award.

Jackson Moulding, who helped set up Ashley Vale, is a passionate supporter of self-build, but acknowledges the challenges. "The price of land has been bid up by developers who hold it in land banks. They are building for buy-to-let landlords who are charging tenants huge amounts. People are being left stuck with high rents and no control." Still, he is hopeful the new strategy will begin to unblock council attitudes, and encourages anyone interested in building their own home as part of a group or community to visit

But the major construction companies are less enthusiastic. A spokesman for the Home Builders Federation said "everyone likes the idea of self-build", but it probably won't make a big contribution to supply in the next few years.

Grand Designs, which regularly draws four million viewers, may be part of the problem. "It can sometimes present a rather skewed impression of the industry," says Nasba. "In reality, most self-build homes are very modest and look just like every other house."

Above all, self-builders save money: the average self-build house in the UK costs only 59% of its final value, as self-builders cut out the developer's profit. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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September 10 2011

Gesellschaftstheorie - Zukunft Eigentum.

quotation added by oAnth


Als 1989 der osteuropäische Staatssozialismus implodierte und die gesellschaftliche Transformation zur Restauration des Kapitalismus begann, wurde mit größter Selbstverständlichkeit als Erstes die Eigentumsfrage geklärt. Viel Federlesens wurde nicht gemacht; das Staatseigentum, bestehend aus Betrieben, Banken, Immobilien usw. wurde zwar nicht vollständig, aber weitgehend zerschlagen. Zumeist wurde es privatisiert, ein Teil landete bei den verschiedenen Gebietskörperschaften, ein anderer Teil wurde liquidiert. Die in den führenden kapitalistischen Ländern mit dem neoliberalen Umbau der Gesellschaft Ende der 1970er/Anfang der 1980er Jahre in Gang gesetzte Privatisierung öffentlichen Eigentums erhielt einen gewaltigen Schub. »Alles muss raus!« lautete der ironische Titel einer kritischen Analyse dieser Vorgänge.
Wieder einmal wurde dem Publikum die Relevanz der Eigentumsfrage als einer Grundfrage der sozialen und institutionellen Ordnung und Struktur der Gesellschaft praktisch eingehämmert. Was die Bürger im privaten Leben täglich erfahren, den Unterschied von Mein und Dein, gewann mit einem Mal auf einem Feld an Bedeutung, über das sie sich lange Zeit wenig Gedanken gemacht zu haben schienen, das dennoch ihr Alltagsleben fundamental prägt: Kommt der Strom von einem privaten oder einem kommunalen Anbieter? Soll der Kindergarten städtisch bleiben, oder soll er privatisiert werden? Was bedeutet das für die Gebühren und die Bildungs- und Erziehungsinhalte? Sollen profitorientierte Unternehmer über die Wohnungsmiete entscheiden oder haben Kommunalpolitiker ein Wörtchen mitzureden? Sollen Leistungen der Daseinsvorsorge, z. B. des Gesundheitswesens, öffentlich oder privat erbracht werden? Auch die wissenschaftlichtechnische Entwicklung erfordert regelmäßig aufs Neue eigentumspolitische Entscheidungen: Wem gehören wissenschaftliche Entdeckungen, der Meeresboden, die Arktis, das Erbgut von Pflanzen und Tieren, die Rundfunkfrequenzen? Wem sollten sie gehören? Musikkonzerne und Pharma-Riesen senden »Scouts« aus; die einen, um in den musikalischen, die anderen, um in den medizinischen Überlieferungen naturnaher Völker nach Verwertbarem zu forschen, den natürlichen und kulturellen Besitz dieser Völker also faktisch zu enteignen. Hier wird auf ganz praktische Weise klargemacht, dass Fragen der Umweltpolitik, der Kultur, der Nutzung des Internets oder des Zugangs zum geistigen Reichtum der Gesellschaft mit der Frage nach dem Eigentum eng verknüpft sind. Die enorme Ausdehnung des menschlichen Wissens gleicht der Schaffung neuer, virtueller Räume. Aber auch die wirtschaftlich nutzbaren stofflichen Räume erweitern sich; der Mensch dringt tiefer in die Erdkruste vor, er erschließt sich die Tiefen des Ozeans, die Arktis und die Antarktis, das All und andere Himmelskörper. Die Eigentumsfrage stellt sich heute auch in Bezug auf diese neuen Räume, die scheinbar Niemandsland sind. Den Erstzugriff realisiert aber oft nicht die menschliche Gemeinschaft, vielmehr sichern sich private, profitorientierte Verwerter diesen Zugriff.

Gegen diese »Akkumulation durch Enteignung«, wie David Harvey das nennt,1 treten jedoch auch Gegenkräfte auf den Plan.


Reposted fromnunatak nunatak

June 23 2010

Battersea power station fires up for London stock market listing

• Irish owners refinance and want to list the project on Aim
See our gallery of previous redevelopment plans

The troubled owners of Battersea power station have unveiled plans to float the building on the stock exchange in the latest in a string of attempts to redevelop the derelict London landmark.

Despite numerous plans for the 40-acre site, it has stood empty for more than a quarter of a century while the rest of the Thames waterfront around it has undergone huge change.

Now Irish property group Real Estate Opportunities (REO), which bought the Battersea site in 2006 for £400m, wants to spin it off and possibly float it on London's Alternative Investment Market (Aim). It is also looking for a partner to take a 50% stake in the project and provide the financial firepower.

REO has been hit hard by the Irish property slump. It reported an underlying loss before tax of nearly £1bn for the 14 months to 28 February, reflecting an £811m drop in the valuation of its property portfolio.

The firm has drawn up a shortlist of possible investors after being approached by a number of international real estate groups, private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds from around the world, including the Middle East.

REO hopes to get permission to redevelop the site in September after submitting the largest ever planning application made in central London, in terms of financial value, last autumn. If it gets the go-ahead, the site's value is expected to soar from the current valuation of £388m.

"It's an opportunity to turn the power station into a cultural icon for London," said Robert Tincknell, who runs REO's parent firm, Treasury Holdings. "A year ago, people were saying 'it's not going to happen'. That's changed enormously over the last 12 months, with the planning permission having gone in and the support we have [from the London mayor, Boris Johnson, English Heritage and Wandsworth Council]." The Conservatives launched their election manifesto at the power station in April.

Treasury Holdings was forced to tear up its plans for the imposing building, one of London's most recognisable landmarks, and start again after Johnson decided that a proposed tower would ruin the view from Waterloo Bridge to the Palace of Westminster. The original plan, drawn up by the New York-based architect Rafael Viñoly, included a futuristic 300m glass funnel and atrium, rising from an enormous transparent dome.

Viñoly and Treasury Holdings came up with a new blueprint a year ago that is capped at a height of 60m, as stipulated by the mayor. It includes 3,700 homes, office space, shops, restaurants and leisure facilities, at a cost of £4.5bn. Treasury Holdings also hopes to co-fund an extension of London Underground's Northern Line to the site.

The high cost means the company needs a partner – "someone who can bring big financial strength to it to make sure it happens," said Tincknell. Building work could start at the end of 2011.

When the power station was decommissioned in 1983, its then owners, the Central Electricity Generating Board, wanted to tear down the building and replace it with housing, but it had been given a Grade II listing in 1980. For developers, the real prize is the land around it; most have little interest in its heritage status.

REO said today it had negotiated new lending terms for Battersea with Lloyds Banking Group and Nama – Ireland's "bad bank" – which means its existing bank facility will be extended and all outstanding breaches waived. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 21 2009

'We're not squatters,' says Mayfair art group

The Oubliette is a new regular venue on the arts scene, with an exclusive address, a corporate strategy and 24-hour security. Just don't call it a squat

The first thing Dan Simon would like you to know is that he is not a squatter. The debonair 31-year-old is happy to admit that his current home, a gigantic nine-floor building in London's most exclusive district, does not belong to him or his half-dozen housemates. They pay no rent, and entered the property on Sunday 6 December without the permission or knowledge of the owners, an offshore investment company called Greencap IV Limited, rumoured to be owned by a Prince of Brunei.

But they are not squatting, they say. They are using the enormous empty space to run what they refer to as an "artshouse", an independent cultural organisation called the Oubliette ("the dungeon" in French), which aims to support the arts without the need for public or private sector funding.

Unlike many other squatters, who tend to be rather chaotic and anarchic, the Oubliette is run on near-corporate lines. They even have a sort of business plan, which they plan to tout around the capital's wealthy property magnates. The goal? To persuade the rich to lend their empty properties to the Oubliette to use for exhibitions, concerts and plays. "It's an alternative way of offering extraordinarily wealthy people a way to contribute to the arts without an enormous pecuniary investment," according to the erudite Simon.

The PR-savvy group held a pre-Christmas open house charity event at their capacious new residence at 61 Curzon Street in Mayfair. Empty for 12 years, it is the former headquarters of Reader's Digest, and looks out over Marco Pierre White's society restaurant, Mirabelle, as well as the old MI5 HQ.

The Land Registry has no record of the price paid for the building when it was last sold in 1997, but it is certainly worth several million pounds and is in relatively good condition despite years of neglect. It is the Oubliette's fifth flashy London residence this year – last month they were evicted from a site overlooking all the cinemas in Leicester Square, and in September they occupied two former embassies near Green Park.

In terms of floor space, their new gaff would be the envy of nearly every arts centre in the country. It is so big, in fact, that last Friday's event, a collaboration with homelessness charity The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields, only used parts of the ground and first floors. There was an art exhibition, featuring work by homeless people, as well as the Oubliette's artist-in-residence, Philip Firsov, and a number of different classical music groups staged mini-concerts in some of the building's many rooms.

The event was one of many unusual partnerships the Oubliette are trying to forge in an attempt to turn squatting into a legitimate way of showcasing the arts without the taxpayer's help, while disassociating themselves from wilder, less well organised squatters in other London mansions.

Their hope is that the building's owners – the mysterious Greencap, which bought the property in 1997 for an unknown price and left it empty – will let them act as caretakers of the building. Simon admits this is unlikely, but said he had yet to be served with court papers heralding an imminent eviction. Boodle Hatfield, the London law firm named on the Land Registry as Greencap's UK representatives, said it could not comment on anything to do with its clients.

The group is currently in the process of preparing PowerPoint presentations to give to the owners of empty buildings – both commercial and residential – to persuade them to allow the Oubliette to use their spaces as arts platforms. A draft pitch, seen by the Guardian, attempts to sell squatting as a way of providing free security, preventing property devaluation and adding value to the community.

Twenty-four-hour security costs £7,500 per guard per month, claims the pitch, adding that a derelict property can "result in a loss of up to 18% value on neighbouring property prices". What's more, the Oubliette pledge to improve empty buildings. "Our dedicated team includes certified workers in electrics, plumbing and construction," they say, promising to "return the property back to the owner clean and functional within 28 days' written notice of wanting the property back".

The Oubliette is based around a "live-in core" of eight people with distinct roles, including "IT guru", "PR operative", "graphic designer", "legal adviser" (a trainee barrister), "artist-in-residence" and "copywriter". They have grand plans, according to Simon, who until 2002 was an IT worker living in Chelsea. "Our long-term strategic ambition is to negotiate for consent with an owner of a suitable empty premise for leave to remain," he said. "Occupying properties in high-profile locations allows us to raise public awareness and garner support, whilst also furthering the organisational aspects of our project and pitch to proprietors."

He is confident of success, and claims to have successfully negotiated consent to squat in eight properties in London in the past seven years. He says the Oubliette has already contributed to the capital's arts scene, pointing to the theatre company Donkey Work, which in June put on a quite well-received play at the Oubliette's first base at a former language school in Waterloo. The success of that play led to an invitation to create a new work in conjunction with the South Bank.

Simon admits the Oubliette's highly organised approach hasn't gone down well with the traditional squatting community. "For some people, it's a kind of heresy," he said, before rolling a cigarette and going off to work on his pitch.

Movers and shakers: Other notorious squatters

The Belgravia Squatters

A loose collective of Poles, Spaniards and random homeless people who have hit the headlines by taking possession of high-profile properties in Belgravia, central London. Coups include a property off Chester Square, just doors down from Margaret Thatcher's house, and an occupation of David Blunkett's former grace-and-favour property on South Eaton Place.

The group is led from property-to-property by Mark Guard, a self-proclaimed multimillionaire property developer, who is making a film about their adventures.

Guard claims to have a hit-list of properties he is going to target in the coming months and years to highlight the scandal of London's empty properties – most of which are owned by offshore companies. After being evicted from Blunkett's house last week, the group claims to have temporarily decamped to nearby Knightsbridge.

The Da! Collective

A raggle-taggle of well-to-do young artists and students who earned the tag the "posh squatters" when they moved into an opulent mansion on Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, last November. They organised art and music events from the house, just around the corner from the heavily fortified American embassy, until their eviction.

Then they moved to a £22.5m property around the corner in Clarges Mews, where they organised workshops under the banner The Temporary School of Thought. Now disbanded.

The VHS Video Basement

A group of creative filmmakers who ran a cinema and other events from their squat in a Soho basement. After their eviction, they moved to the abandoned Puss in Boots strip club in Mayfair, where they organised parties and film screenings. On Wednesday the VHS Video Basement lost a court hearing and resigned itself to imminent eviction. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 17 2009

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The Public Domain: enclosing the commons of the mind
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