Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Faced with the prospect of Berlusconi becoming president of all he purveys, I suppose I ought to be feeling more generous towards the idea of a non-elected royal family. They aren't all bad, after all, unless useless is necessarily a component of bad, and the Windsors, as my mother always reminds me, work very hard (although the index against which their workload is measured isn't that clear - work hard compared to what? A junior doctor? A rickshaw driver? A crack whore?). Even the House of Lords is beginning to look like a valuable corrective to an elected house of mediocrities with their fingers in the till. But Prince Charles's latest foray into throwing his weight around has really got my goat. He's used his royal connections to pull the plug on a new development designed by Richard Rodgers for an area opposite the home of the Chelsea pensioners in London. The area's owned by the Qatar royal family, which has bowed to pressure from Charlie, presumably under the impression that his opinion has some weight beyond the tea rooms of middle England, the ones that serve Duchy Original muffins. As long as he's selling biscuits, the man's just about bearable, and the shortbread really is rather good. But his views on organic farming are widely regarded as crackpot Little Englandism in a world in which the majority of people now live in cities, etc. His woolly ecumenicalism is irritating tosh, but that's matter for another post. And he's bad at architecture as well. Prince Charles' notion of what constitutes an attractive building is, bluntly, philistine. He's had it in for Richard Rogers since the National Gallery fiasco, where he muscled in to stop London acquiring an interesting new building and had it replaced by something that looks like the warehouse bit of a provincial Sainsbury's. Now he's used his royal clout to block a development that would have provided work for over 10,000 people and over two hundred affordable homes in an area of London that doesn't exactly sing affordability. You can see what Rodgers has to say about this here. The point, as Rodgers says, is not whether his plans are good or not. The point is that procedures already exist for blocking a building that shouldn't be built, and that these weren't followed. What happened was that a non-elected architectural luddite muscled in and made a couple of phone calls to a non-elected dictator who owns a large slab of central London. This shouldn't happen. I hope that Rodgers can get his show back on the road, though it's unlikely. In the meantime, Prince Charles should get back to doing what he - or his employees are - good at: baking a genteelly mean organic cracker.