What happens when urban development corporations inexplicably decide to make terrible pop music?

"You've never been shopping as it should be/Until you've been to Central Milton Keynes!" Image: Wikimedia Commons/Prioryman

Development corporations have been, for good or ill, a big part of the growth and regeneration of UK urban areas and new towns in the late 20th century (and beyond): many areas had their fortunes turned around, if not necessarily for the original inhabitants, and they’ve given us some bizarre non-places like Canary Wharf and Milton Keynes.

But we also have to development corporations to thank for some absolutely brilliant (not absolutely brilliant) pop music!

Energy In Northampton

Back in 1980, someone at Northampton Development Corporation’s marketing department was struggling to work out how to they could get the message out the world that Northampton was now The Place To Be. Presumably this person then sustained some sort of head injury and decided to recruit the lady who sang on Video Killed The Radio Star to record a song about aliens.

The result, Energy In Northampton, tells the beautiful story of a lost starship fleeing a 'neutron war', its crew seeking somewhere to start a new life: luckily their scanners light up and direct them towards… NORTHAMPTON, a town of energy, a town where they could be free! Indeed.

"Calling planet earth! Calling planet earth! Stop beaming this song into space!"

The host of the promotional video that accompanied the song theorises that the aliens were mainly attracted by the lager produced by the local Carlsberg brewery, just another absolutely brilliant thing brough to you by the Northampton Development Corporation.

"A love affair with Northampton is a journey into space." Is it? Is it, indeed. Image: This Is Of Interest.

Is the idea of lager-swilling aliens off-putting? Don’t worry, there’s a more down-to-earth track on the B-side, which economically uses exactly the same tune with different lyrics. It tells a love story for the ages, about how all the singer’s fantasies have come true since she met a guy from Northampton, which is only 60 miles by road or rail!

"I just can't wait to be in Northampton!"

But Northampton was not the only development corporation to release some plop pop.

We Are Teesside

In 1995 the Teesside Development Corporation made the questionable decision to celebrate its achievements by releasing “We Are Teesside”, a recording by New Ground, a group which apparently included members of Middlesbrough FC (the name presumably referencing their then brand new Riverside Stadium, built on Development Corporation land.)

The football team were relegated the following year, presumably as karmic punishment for their involvement.

“Teesside - we’re the future, we’re the pride!” boast the saccharine lyrics, before explaining that “the gift we leave behind is the promise of tomorrow for our children”. Also this bucket of vomit. The Teesside Development Corporation was disbanded three years later; a local MP later condemned it for “often inappropriate and threadbare development”, presumably referring to this musical tragedy.

You've Never Seen Anything Like It, Central Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes, the archetypal new town, had to get on the crap urban pop train as well. The opening of the town’s shopping centre, developed by Milton Keynes Development Corporation, was celebrated with a promotional silver flexi-disc. The song largely consists of ambiguously ambitious claims all the lines of: “You’ve never been anywhere like it, Central Milton Keynes!”

This was, inexplicably, written by the drummer from The Troggs.

“Sunny CMK! Wouldn’t mind staying all day!” sings a man who has presumably never been.


Come on modern day development corporations, raise your awful song game. Hey, London Legacy Development Corporation - we'll give you "If you need a lark/Head to the Olympic Park!" for free.

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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