We’re not building skyscrapers in Stratford to protect the views from Richmond Park

At least these deer will have a good view. Image: Getty.

You're familiar, I assume, with the acronym NIMBY. Literally "Not in my back yard", it refers to any group of people who don't want things built near them because, well, they prefer fields and trees and chemically contaminated flood plains and so on.

You're probably also used to the fact that, by virtue of being pushy and enthusiastic and well-established in their community, NIMBY pressure groups find it easy to get their voices heard, in a way those who'd benefit from new housing development – younger, poorer, more transient – do not.

What you may not have realised, though, is quite how far those back yards can extend, when NIMBYs put their minds to it. Here's a picture of the Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, in south west London, with a group campaigning to protect that park's view of St Paul's Cathedral:

A youthful and dynamic group, I'm sure you'll agree.

What they are protecting, exactly, requires some explanation. London contains no fewer than 13 protected views: legal requirements built into the planning system to ensure that certain buildings are visible from certain places. These have a direct knock on effect on what you can build where: you won't get planning permission for anything that blocks the view of the Palace of Westminster from Primrose Hill, for example.

 

The protected views. Image: cmglee/Wikimedia Commons.

One of these protected views is the vista that looks from King Henry VIII's Mound in Richmond Park to St Paul's Cathedral. Basically, Olney and her gang are fighting valiantly to defend that gap in the trees.

It's quite hard to spot what they're looking at, so let's zoom in. I've circled it in red to help you. Here's the view in all its glory.

Thanks, Sarah, what would we do without you.

So, basically, these campaigners all trying to protect a rubbish view of something 10 miles away that you can barely see anyway. That seems silly enough, in a city with this sort of housing crisis, but it’s actually worse than it sounds.

That’s because the protection afforded by the planning system doesn't just stop developers from building something between Richmond and St Paul's: it also stops them from building anything behind it that may make the view less pretty. It’s not enough to be able to see St Paul’s: these nice old people don’t want to take the risk that they can see anything new at the same time.

Where does your back yard end? If you live near Richmond Park, 15 miles away it turns out.

This problem may be silly, but it is not theoretical. From Paul Wellman at  Estates Gazette:

Six high-rise projects in Stratford could be in jeopardy due to a historic viewing corridor from Richmond Park.

Architects Allies and Morrison have confirmed their proposals for 30- and 40-storey towers, as part of the Olympicopolis proposals, are to be redesigned and reduced in height.

This comes soon after conservation charity Friends of Richmond Park called on London mayor Sadiq Khan to halt the construction of the 42-storey Manhattan Loft Gardens, E20.

I'm not going to bore you by quoting figures about the scale of London's housing need for the thousandth time. I'm not going to bang on about the other various ways in which we tie our hands as to what we can build or where.

I'm just going to note, very simply, that even at one of London's largest brownfield sites – an area which the government has spent a fortune on reviving, which has some of the best transport connections in the whole of London – development is being stymied by a bunch of old people 15 miles away who don't want to take the risk they might just about see a skyscraper behind St Paul's when they're out walking the dog.

And the local MP is on their side.


We are never going to solve the housing crisis in this country, are we.

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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Which pairs of capital cities are the closest together?

Vienna, which is quite close to Bratislava, but not quite close enough. Image: Thomas Ledl

It doesn't take long to get from Paris to Brussels. An hour and a half on a comfortable Thalys train will get you there. 

Which raises an intriguing question, if you like that sort of thing: wich capital cities of neighbouring countries are the closest together? And which are the furthest away? 

There are some that one might think would be quite close, which are actually much further part. 

Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, sits on one side of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, while Montevideo, Uruguay's capital lies on the other side. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But at 207km apart, they're not really that close at all. 

Similarly, Singapore – capital of, er, Singapore – always sticks in the mind as 'that bit on the end of the Malaysian sticky-out bit'. But it's actually pretty far away from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. A whole 319km away, in fact:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Thinking of 'countries that cause problems by being close together', you inevitably think of South Korea and North Korea. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And while Pyongyang in the North and Seoul in the South are pretty close together, 181km just isn't going to cut it. 

Time to do some Seoul-searching to find the real answer here.

(Sorry.)

(Okay, not that sorry.)

Another place where countries being close together tends to cause problems is the Middle East. Damascus, the capital of Syria, really isn't that far from Beirut, in Lebanon. Just 76km:

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Seeing as Lebanon is currently host to millions of refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria's never-ending civil war and the atrocities of Daesh, or Isis, this is presumably something that authorities in Beirut have given a certain amount of thought to.

Most of the time, finding nearby capitals is a game of searching out which bits of the world have lots of small countries, and then rooting around. So you'd think Central America would be ripe for close-together capital fun. 

And yet the best option is Guatemala and El Salvador – where the imaginatively named Guatemala City is a whole 179km away from the also imaginatively named San Salvador.  

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Another obvious place with lots of small-ish countries is Europe – the site of the pair of capitals that drove me to write this nonsense in the first place. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And in fairness, Vienna and Bratislava do make a pretty good showing of it. Austria's capital sits on the Danube; drift downstream, and you swiftly get to Slovakia's capital. As the crow flies, it's 56km – though as the man swims, it's a little longer. 

There are more surprising entries – particularly if you're willing to bend the rules a little bit. Bahrain and Qatar aren't really adjacent in the traditional sense, as they have no land border, but let's just go with it. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Manama, Bahrain's capital, is 140km away from Doha, the centre of the world's thriving local connecting-flight-industry which moonlights as Qatar's capital. 

Sticking with the maritime theme, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago is 152km from St George's, Grenada. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Good, but not good enough. 

Castries, the capital of the Carribbean country of St Lucia, is 102km north of Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Better, but still not good enough. 

Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts and Nevis, inches ahead at 100km away from St John's, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

But, enough teasing: it's time to get down to the big beasts.

If you ask Google Maps to tell you the distance between the capital of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it comes up with a rather suspect 20km. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

A short distance, but considering the only thing separating the two is the River Congo, something's up: Google places the centre of Brazzaville a little north of where it should be, and the centre of Kinshasa many many miles south of where it should be, in some sort of suburb.


So, in true CityMetric style, we turn to train stations. 

Though such transport hubs may not always perfectly mark the centre of a city – just ask London Oxford Airport or London Paddington – in this case it seems about right. 

Kinshasa's main train station is helpfully called 'Gare Centrale', and is almost slap-bang in the middle of the area Google marks as 'Centre Ville'. On the other side of the river, 'Gare de Brazzaville' is in the middle of lots of densely-packed buildings, and is right next to a Basilica, which is always a good sign. 

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

And when marking that distance, you get a more realistic 4.8km. If you want to be really keen, the ferry between them travels 3.99km, and the closest point I could find between actual buildings was 1.74km, though admittedly that's in a more suburban area. 

Pretty close, though. 

But! I can hear the inevitable cries clamouring for an end to this. So, time to give the people what they want. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you ask Google Maps to tell you how far away the Holy See, capital of the Vatican, is from Rome, capital of Rome, it says 3.5km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

If you set the centre of Rome to be the Palatine Hill, the ancient marking point for roads leading out of Rome, that narrows to 2.6km.

 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Fiddle a bit and put the centre of the Vatican as, well, the middle bit of the roughly-circular Vatican, that opens up a smidge to 2.75km.

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

Mark the centre of point of the Vatican as the approximate location of St Peter's Tomb within St Peter's Basilica, which is after all the main reason the Vatican is a thing and not just a quirky suburb of Rome, and 2.67km is your answer. 

Though obviously in practice Rome and the Vatican are as far away as one single step over the railings at the entrance of St Peter's Square, which fairly blatantly makes them the closest capital cities in the world. 

But that would have been a very boring thing to come out and say at the start. 

Oh, and if you hadn't worked it out already, the longest distance between a capital city and the capital of a country it shares a land border with is 6,395km. 

Click to expand: Image: Google Maps

I know it's tough for you, Vladimir and Kim. Long-distance relationships are a real struggle sometimes.

I can't make a pun work on either Moscow or Pyongyang here, but readers' submissions more than welcome. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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