The government of Jersey once tried to build its own bridge to France

Jersey: not that far from France. Image: Google.

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest shenanigans from what we must currently call the British government, you might have heard that Boris Johnson would like a bridge to France.

Ignoring his desire to pull the country as far away from the European continent as he can in every sense except geography (at least, for now), this isn’t the first time somebody has proposed that the Isles be linked to France by sea. About a decade ago, the Channel Island of Jersey (New Jersey’s estranged parent) saw the prospect of a fixed-link between the European mainland and a British island to be a real possibility.

The scheme originally arose as a proposal from the former president of the island’s Chamber of Commerce, Peter Walsh. A 16-mile bridge would have linked the island with northern Normandy, most likely ending at one of two Normandy communes; Blainville-sur-Mer or Granville. Walsh even went so far as to write to then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with the Élysée Palace writing back with positive thoughts on the matter.  

The Danish-Swedish Øresund Bridge takes much of the credit in terms of inspiration. Opened in 2000, it connects the Danish Capital of Copenhagen with the Swedish city of Malmö, the latter of which has since undergone significant growth. With Øresund as a template, its backers envisaged that the bridge would be able to function as an offshore energy farm that would generate power from both wind and tide. In total, it was estimated that the bridge would coast around £1bn (just under £1.2bn today).

This in turn prompted meetings between Jersey’s environment minister and representatives from Sund & Bælt, the company responsible for the construction of the Øresund. Further assessments were set to be conducted later. Two solutions were considered: either a tunnel link, or a full-on bridge.

And after that? Nothing. The project never got off the ground. No real effort has been made since 2009, thanks to the global economic crisis and a financial black hole, alongside general skepticism from most of the island. To inflict further damage, one of the plan’s most notable proponents, the then-assistant minister for planning Robert Duhamel, lost his seat in the 2014 elections, thus muting any chance for it in Jersey’s States Assembly (its equivalent of the UK Parliament).

It’s doubtful that the bridge would have been able to replicate the economic benefits that the Øresund Bridge has brought to Denmark and Sweden. Whilst Jersey is an offshore financial centre, and carries with it a hefty GDP per capita, a connection to a town such as Granville would be unlikely to merit a great deal of economic benefits. Granville’s economy is primarily based around its port and fishing, whilst Jersey is far more services-driven: as an autonomous jurisdiction that allows it to avoid the fiscal regulations in place in the UK and France, the island specialises in financial and legal services and offshore banking. Its only real exports are cows, potatoes and Superman.


But a bridge might have helped relieve the island’s population pressure. With around 100,000 people spread out over 35 square miles, Jersey is the fifteenth most densely-populated region in the world, and that density looks likely to grow. The bridge would have created closer links between the Jersey and French populations, thereby providing a greater range of options to those working in the island – and potentially dilute the astronomically high house prices.

The energy production elements of the plan would have been plausible, too. Reports published by the States of Jersey from that period demonstrate a strong potential for harnessing tidal power, whilst wind power has long been an idea pursued, but never realised, in the region.

So what does a decade-old concept have to do with Boris Johnson, aside from serve as a bit of niche history? Simple: it’s the Customs Union, stupid. Whilst the Channel Islands are not themselves members of the European Union or the Single Market, they are part of the Customs Union. Their membership hinges entirely on Protocol 3 in Article 355(c) of the UK’s 1972 ascension treaty.

Unlike Gibraltar, the Crown Dependencies – the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man – were never afforded a vote on Brexit in the first place. Nor has there been a great deal of debate on their futures. The only substantial discussion of their future was a House of Lords Report from March last year, highlighting the need for them to be recognised in the negotiations. Since then, it’s been radio silence from Westminster.

It’s now been ten months since Article 50 was triggered, and the Dependencies are still effectively in the dark about the consequences of the 2016 Referendum.

For these and many other reasons, it seems that Jersey’s Bridge is unlikely to happen. But this is also something it has in common with Boris Johnson’s Garden Bridge. Or his Channel Bridge. Or his ambitions to become Prime Minister.

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.