7 other things we should consider building in front of Euston station for no particularly good reason

Old Euston station, complete with arch. Image: Public Domain.

Minister of State for Transport John Hayes made a speech yesterday calling for more “beauty in transport”, by which he means that train stations him and Prince Charles like are good, and that train stations him and Prince Charles do not like are bad. In summary: boo to brutalism, cheers to classicism (and the Boris Bus, for some reason). In the speech’s conclusion, he calls for a totemic step, a statement of his intent: the restoration of the Doric Arch at Euston.

The arch was part of the original set of Victorian buildings that comprised Euston, which were all demolished in the 1960s because the station was no longer large enough for purpose. Serving no particular function other than loudly indicating here is our splendid Victorian railway station, vigorous attempts to save the arch failed and it was unceremoniously smashed up and dumped in the River Lea. Although widely regarded as a crime against architecture, this was not the universal view: Harold Macmillan, the Tory Prime Minister who oversaw the destruction, offered the typically pithy assessment that, “An obsession with such buildings will drain our national vitality”. Sick burn, HM.

A magnificent view of the Euston Arch from Euston Road in 1962. Or it would have been if the Arch wasn’t behind that hotel. Iconic. Image: Geograph/Ben Brooksbank.

 

Hayes is backing the efforts of the Euston Arch Trust to restore the arch to its rightful place or, at least, within a hundred yards of it: plans call it for it to face onto Euston Road, as the section of Drummond Street it previously stood on had the current station forecourt built on top of it, and you'd have to move the artisanal hot dog stand. But they can use quite a lot of the original stone as someone went back and fished it out of the river. It’ll certainly give the drinkers in the bars next door something to look at.

All of which is absolutely super if you, like John Hayes, think 70-foot tall doric arches are absolutely smashing. But if we’re going to build something faintly ludicrous and essentially pointless in front of Euston station, let’s consider all the options first.

We could also build:

A giant toilet

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric

 

This would help rectify London’s terrible public toilet provision AND save patrons of the Euston and Cider Tap bars from having to climb the alarming narrow spiral staircases for a wee.

 

A huge jar of Shippam’s Fish Paste

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.

Things from the past are brilliant, after all, so let’s celebrate Britain’s culinary heritage with a vast glass jar of horrible meat paste from the days of rationing.

 

A miniature version of St Pancras station

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.
 
People seem to love St Pancras station's Grade I listed frontage, so let's just build another, smaller one down the road.
 

A huge Sonic The Hedgehog pog

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.

Only ‘90s kids remember it, but everyone will be awestruck by its audacious use of the classic 'circle' shape.

 

The McDonald’s Golden Arches

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.

What better way to raise money for transport infrastructure than a sponsored Euston Arch for the 21st century. Everyone would be lovin’ it!

 

A statue of that gorilla that escaped from London Zoo and drank 5 litres of undiluted blackcurrant squash

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon/CityMetric.

Truly, a fitting London hero to welcome all our visitors from the north.

 

An invisible Doric Arch made of special air

Image: Geograph/Oliver Dixon.

The cheapest option by far: use a newly-invented kind of air to build an invisible replica of the arch. No-one will be able to see or touch it, but if Minister of State for Transport John Hayes asks it is absolutely, definitely there.


 

 
 
 
 

Is Britain’s housing crisis a myth?

Council housing in Lambeth, south London. Image: Getty.

I’ve been banging on about the need for Britain to build more houses for so long that I can no longer remember how or when it started. But at some point over the last few years, the need to build more homes has become My Thing. People ask me to speak at housing events, or @ me into arguments they’re having on Twitter on a Sunday morning in the hope I’ll help them out. You can even buy a me-inspired “Build More Bloody Houses” t-shirt.

It’s thus with trepidation about the damage I’m about to do to my #personal #brand that I ask:

Does Britain actually have enough houses? Is it possible I’ve been wrong all this time?

This question has been niggling away at me for some time. As far back as 2015, certain right-wing economists were publishing blogs claiming that the housing crisis was actually a myth. Generally the people who wrote those have taken similarly reality-resistant positions on all sorts of other things, so I wasn’t too worried.

But then, similar arguments started to appear from more credible sources. And today, the Financial Times published an excellent essay on the subject under the headline: “Hammond’s housebuilding budget fix will not repair market”.

All these articles draw on the data to make similar arguments: that the number of new homes built has consistently been larger than the number of new households; that focusing on new home numbers alone is misleading, and we should look at net supply; and that the real villain of the piece is the financialisation of housing, in which the old and rich have poured capital into housing for investment reasons, thus bidding up prices.

In other words, the data seems to suggest we don’t need to build vast numbers of houses at all. Have I been living a lie?

Well, the people who’ve been making this argument are by and large very clever economists trawling through the data, whereas I, by contrast, am a jumped-up internet troll with a blog. And I’m not dismissing the argument that the housing crisis is not entirely about supply of homes, but also about supply of money: it feels pretty clear to me that financialisation is a big factor in getting us into this mess.

Nonetheless, for three reasons, I stand by my belief that there is housing crisis, that it is in large part one of supply, and consequently that building more houses is still a big part of the solution.

Firstly I’m not sold on some of the data – or rather, on the interpretation of it. “There is no housing crisis!” takes tend to go big on household formation figures, and the fact they’ve consistently run behind dwelling numbers. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? By definition you can’t form a household if you don’t have a house.

So “a household” is not a useful measure. It doesn’t tell you if everyone can afford their own space, or whether they are being forced to bunk up with friends or family. In the latter situation, there is still a housing crisis, whatever the household formation figures say. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that’s the one we’re living in.

In the same way I’m not quite convinced that average rents is a useful number. Sure, it’s reassuring – and surprising – to know they have grown slower than general prices (although not in London). But all that figure tells you is the price being paid: it doesn’t tell you what is being purchased for that payment. A world in which renters each have their own property may have higher rents than one in which everyone gets one room in an over-crowded shared flat. It’s still the latter which better fits the label “housing crisis”.

Secondly, I’m entirely prepared to believe we’ve been building enough homes in this country to meet housing demand in the aggregate: there are parts of the country where housing is still strikingly affordable.

But that’s no use, because we don’t live in an aggregate UK: we live and work in specific places. Housing demand from one city can be met by building in another, because commuting is a thing – but that’s not always great for quality of life, and more to the point there are limits on how far we can realistically take it. It’s little comfort that Barnsley is building more than enough homes, when the shortage is most acute in Oxford.

So: perhaps there is no national housing crisis. That doesn’t mean there is not a housing crisis, in the sense that large numbers of people cannot access affordable housing in a place convenient for their place of work. National targets are not always helpful.


Thirdly, at risk of going all “anecdote trumps data”, the argument that there is no housing crisis – that, even if young people are priced out of buying by low interest rates, we have enough homes, and rents are reasonable – just doesn’t seem to fit with the lived experience reported by basically every millennial I’ve ever met. Witness the gentrification of previously unfashionable areas, or the gradual takeover of council estates by private renters in their 20s. 

A growing share of the population aren’t just whining about being priced out of ownership: they actively feel that housing costs are crushing them. Perhaps that’s because rents have risen relative to wages; perhaps it’s because there’s something that the data isn’t capturing. But either way, that, to me, sounds like a housing crisis.

To come back to our original question – will building more houses make this better?

Well, it depends where. National targets met by building vast numbers of homes in cities that don’t need them probably won’t make a dent in the places where the crisis is felt. But I still struggle to see how building more homes in, say, Oxford wouldn’t improve the lot of those at the sharp end there: either bringing rents down, or meaning you get more for your money.

There is a housing crisis. It is not a myth. Building more houses may not be sufficient to solve it – but that doesn’t meant it isn’t necessary.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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